Engineering Our WorldThe e-newsletter of the MIT School of Engineering

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Vol. 1, No. 4, July 2004

Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives.Past Issues

Tiny Technologies: Why Small Is BIG at MIT

by Dean Thomas L. Magnanti

You may have heard that the size of a nanometer is a minute fraction of the diameter of a human hair (approximately one fifty-thousandth the thickness of a hair). Another way to describe the almost incomprehensibly tiny scale of nanotechnology is to imagine the length your fingernails grow in one second. That's a nanometer.

Small is very BIG these days. Tiny Technologies -- what we in the MIT School of Engineering call the wide range of technologies measuring from the nano- to the micro-scale -- have captured the world's imagination with unprecedented promise to significantly improve our future well-being. The National Science Foundation has predicted the national market for nanotech products will reach $1 trillion in a dozen years.

Just think of a future . . .

  • in which artificial muscles aid those with debilitating conditions,
  • where nano-robots manipulate molecules on the surfaces of materials to give them different properties,
  • where light beams bend at 90-degree angles to facilitate a broad range of communications,
  • where self-assembling polymers revolutionize the manufacturing process,
  • where microturbines or microreactors in shoes generate additional energy to lighten strenuous work,
  • where the pervasiveness of computation using ultra-small devices changes daily life in unimagined ways.

These examples provide only a glimpse into the range of possibilities of the ultra-small envisioned by some of our brightest minds. Taking a look at the extraordinary research that our faculty, researchers, and students are conducting, it appears that the future, a tiny future, is only a small step away.

Our major initiative in Tiny Technologies is now one of the broadest and most comprehensive areas of study underway in the School of Engineering. Through advanced interdisciplinary research, we seek to create new knowledge and novel technologies on the nano- and micro-scale.

Why We Can Take Big Steps in Tiny Technologies – Reason #1
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