surface science, and molecular structure. New variations and refinements of scanning probe and atomic force microscopy can be expected to improve imaging of the physical and biological worlds, helping to solve issues in biochemistry and nanostructure synthesis and fabrication, and to advance the quest for biomolecular devices such as high-density processors, optical-communications elements, and high-density storage media.
Fabrication at the micro- and nanoscale level will yield a number of new devices and products, ranging from exquisite sensors to tiny walking robots and automated labs-on-a-chip. Key to such advances is understanding how to control the materials used and the development of new molecular manipulation and micromachining tools. Advancements in photonics will help meet the demand for greater bandwidth for communications, and innovations in photonic-integrated systems will expand their use for signal processing. Both high- and low-temperature superconductors pose challenges and promise commercial applications over the next decade, including in the distribution of electric power and as ships’ engines. Creation of new materials will have effects throughout society, and the versatility of polymers makes them a particularly attractive target for research. Self-assembly, by which molecules form into structures on their own, also has gained increasing attention.
Emerging micro- and nanominiaturization techniques promise to transform the typically planar world of these scales into three dimensions and to enable new devices and technologies of scientific, industrial, economic, and security import, including a host of new sensors, walking microrobots, nanomotors, and new polymers. Understanding how to control the chemical composition, physical properties, and configuration of materials at the molecular level is a key element in devising nanoscale building blocks for assembly into working devices and machines. Achieving this knowledge and integrating it into products requires an interdisciplinary effort by chemists, physicists, materials scientists, and engineers.
Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices have gone from relatively simple accelerometers to devices that enabled the successful flight of twin tethered experimental communications satellites, each of which is only 12 cubic inches and weighs 0.55 lb. The challenge now is to improve MEMS techniques and develop new ways to do three-dimensional microfabrication of things such as metallic coils. MEMS devices—already in commercial use as sensors and actua-