Lisa Yaszek - A Brief History of Nanotechnology in Science Fiction
From Katie Gentilello on March 3rd, 2020
Physicist Richard Feynman is generally credited with formulating the concepts that seeded nanotechnology in his 1959 talk, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In this talk, Feynman claims that “there is nothing in the laws of physics” that prevents us from engineering at a very small—perhaps even molecular—scale. But of course Feynman was not the first person to speculate about exploring and engineering things below human perception. In this presentation, science fiction studies professor Lisa Yaszek maps a rich history of stories about small-scale engineering that extends back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). This has been a particularly rich area of speculation for science fiction authors, who have been telling such tales since the inception of genre fiction in the 1800s. Yaszek proposes that such stories can be organized into four broad chronological categories that correspond with specific phases of scientific and social history. In particular, while stories written before the formal development of nanoscience and technology emphasize the exploration and engineering of miniaturized worlds, those written since Feynman’s famous speech focus on the new kinds of engineers and tools that may be produced by nanoscience and technology itself.