Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities

© 1999 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 1999


1.3.2 Nanomedicine: History of the Idea

Conclusive proof of the existence of atoms was not obtained until the close of the 19th century. This may explain why the idea of nanomedicine is an exclusively 20th century phenomenon. The first hint of it may be found in a famous 1929 essay written by J.D. Bernal:2972

"The discoveries of the twentieth century, particularly the micro-mechanics of the Quantum Theory which touch on the nature of matter itself, are far more fundamental and must in time produce far more important results. The first step will be the development of new materials and new processes in which physics, chemistry and mechanics will be inextricably fused. The stage should soon be reached when materials can be produced which are not merely modifications of what nature has given us in the way of stones, metals, woods and fibers, but are made to specifications of a molecular architecture. Already we know all the varieties of atoms; we are beginning to know the forces that bind them together; soon we shall be doing this in a way to suit our own purposes. The result -- not so very distant -- will probably be the passing of the age of metals and all that it implies -- mines, furnaces, and engines of massive construction. Instead we should have a world of fabric materials, light and elastic, strong only for the purposes for which they are being used, a world which will imitate the balanced perfection of a living body."

Development of the concept of nanomedicine has followed two principal paths2244 which Richard Smalley has termed "wet nanotechnology" in the biological tradition, and "dry nanotechnology" in the mechanical tradition. Both approaches were presaged in speculative fiction. The following abbreviated history focuses on nanomedicine largely to the exclusion of broader issues in molecular engineering, manufacturing and nanoscopy, and includes a number of inspirational, speculative, or fictional early references from non-refereed sources.

We will first consider the biotechnology approach (Section, followed by the molecular nanotechnology approach (Sections, and then these two approaches will be contrasted and compared in Section 1.3.3.


Last updated on 5 February 2003