Origins The first use of the distinguishing concepts in 'nanotechnology' (but predating use of that name) was in "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," a talk given by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at Caltech on December 29, 1959. Feynman described a process by which the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules might be developed, using one set of precise tools to build and operate another proportionally smaller set, so on down to the needed scale. In the course of this, he noted, scaling issues would arise from the changing magnitude of various physical phenomena: gravity would become less important, surface tension and Van der Waals attraction would become more important, etc.
This basic idea appears feasible, and exponential assembly enhances it with parallelism to produce a useful quantity of end products. The term "nanotechnology" was defined by Tokyo Science University Professor Norio Taniguchi in a 1974 paper (N. Taniguchi, "On the Basic Concept of 'Nano-Technology'," Proc. Intl. Conf. Prod. Eng. Tokyo, Part II, Japan Society of Precision Engineering, 1974.) as follows: "'Nano-technology' mainly consists of the processing of, separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or by one molecule." In the 1980s the basic idea of this definition was explored in much more depth by Dr. K. Eric Drexler, who promoted the technological significance of nano-scale phenomena and devices through speeches and the books Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1986) and Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation, (1998, ISBN 0-471-57518-6), and so the term acquired its current sense. Nanotechnology and nanoscience got started in the early 1980s with two major developments; the birth of cluster science and the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM).
This development led to the discovery of fullerenes in 1986 and carbon nanotubes a few years later. In another development, the synthesis and properties of semiconductor nanocrystals was studied. This led to a fast increasing number of metal oxide nanoparticles of quantum dots. The atomic force microscope was invented five years after the STM was invented. The AFM uses atomic force to see the atoms.