Richard Feynman Introduces the World to Nanotechnology with Two Seminal Lectures (1959 & 1984)

In Decem­ber of 1959, Richard Feyn­man gave a talk called “There’s Plen­ty of Room at the Bot­tom” at an annu­al meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Soci­ety at Cal­tech. In this famous lec­ture, Feyn­man laid the con­cep­tu­al foun­da­tions for the field now called nan­otech­nol­o­gy when he imag­ined a day when things could be minia­tur­ized — when huge amounts of infor­ma­tion could be encod­ed onto increas­ing­ly small spaces, and when machin­ery could be made con­sid­er­ably small­er and more com­pact. He asked his audi­ence:

I don’t know how to do this on a small scale in a prac­ti­cal way, but I do know that com­put­ing machines are very large; they fill rooms. Why can’t we make them very small, make them of lit­tle wires, lit­tle ele­ments, and by lit­tle, I mean lit­tle?

Although some have ques­tioned the degree to which Feyn­man influ­enced the rise of nan­otech­nol­o­gy, his lec­ture is still seen as a sem­i­nal event in the short his­to­ry of the nano field. It’s impor­tant enough that, 25 years lat­er, Feyn­man was invit­ed to give an updat­ed ver­sion of “There’s Plen­ty of Room at the Bot­tom” at a week­long sem­i­nar held at the Esalen Insti­tute in Octo­ber, 1984.

This time around, he called his talk “Tiny Machines.” And while stick­ing close to the 1959 script, Feyn­man’s revised lec­ture shows what tech­no­log­i­cal advances had been made since he first out­lined his vision for a nano world. You can watch the full 79 minute talk above.

Final­ly, since we’re talk­ing about things nano, let me leave you with this — Stephen Fry’s 2010 primer on nanoscience. Pro­duced in part­ner­ship with Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty, NANO YOU was named the best short film at the Scin­e­ma Sci­ence Film Fes­ti­val and it does a pret­ty good job of explain­ing the nano world in 17 short min­utes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: Richard Feynman’s Physics Course from Cor­nell (1964)

The Richard Feyn­man Tril­o­gy: The Physi­cist Cap­tured in Three Films

Richard Feynman’s Ode to a Flower: A Short Ani­ma­tion

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