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Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us
compared with today. The field can be seen as the logical continuation and combination of three separate trends in science that are all intersecting at a common point, opening the doors to revolutionary concepts and capabilities. The three trends are these: (1) the continuation of Moore’s law and the nonstop shrinking of electronic circuitry, (2) the rapid advances in molecular biology that have completely changed people’s understanding of life over the past 30 years, and (3) the evolution of chemistry from the study of single atoms and molecules to the fabrication and exploitation of very large complexes such as quantum dots and proteins. This scientific “perfect storm” will change the world profoundly over the coming decades.
When scientists and engineers created the first human nanotechnology, the integrated circuit (see Figure 1.5 in Chapter 1), it redefined the modern world. In actuality, it is a very limited technology, focusing on just a few materials (silicon, copper, gallium arsenide, and so forth) patterned by a single class of lithography-based techniques, and aimed at one major goal, the manipulation of electronic information. The goal of nanoscience is to perform the fundamental scientific studies needed to create even more nanotechnologies, ones capable of manipulating matter, energy, and light the way that integrated circuits manipulate electrons. Scientists are thus laying the foundations for the next set of revolutions. Nature shows what is possible (Figure 1.5). Using carbon-based building blocks such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), proteins, and lipids, life creates self-replicating complex structures that can harvest energy, store information, and control matter, from the atomic scale to the macroscale. Will we someday be able to duplicate and improve on the incredible abilities of life? Will we someday be able to build complex, functional (and beautiful) structures from nothing but a patch of dirt and a splash of sunlight?
To progress down the path, researchers must face a huge number of challenges. First, they must learn to construct and quantitatively understand the basic nanoscale building blocks, discussed below. For example, the energy levels for an electron spiraling down a nanotube (Figure 6.1) are quantized like those in an atom, but these quantum properties are designable: The levels can be tuned by choosing the diameter and chirality of the nanotube. The next decade will see an explosion of designable nanostructures, along with new techniques to probe them and new ideas to understand them. As researchers master these nano-building blocks, they face an even greater challenge: How does one connect these blocks into larger assemblies, and how does one predict the properties of these assemblies? In other words, how does one create the kind of complex, functional structures such as the nanopore discussed in the following section? At the end of the chapter, the new experimental and theoretical tools necessary to make these revolutions happen are discussed.
The kinds of technologies that are being envisioned seem almost like science fiction. As an example, consider the quest to replace the complementary metal oxide