Volume 12, Issue 3, Fall 2008
Christopher P. Toumey
Reading Feynman Into Nanotechnology
A Text for a New Science
As histories of nanotechnology are created, one question arises repeatedly: how influential was Richard Feynman’s 1959 talk, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”? It is often said by knowledgeable people that this talk was the origin of nanotech. It preceded events like the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope, but did it inspire scientists to do things they would not have done otherwise? Did Feynman’s paper directly influence important scientific developments in nanotechnology? Or is his paper being retroactively read into the history of nanotechnology? To explore those questions, I trace the history of “Plenty of Room,” including its publication and republication, its record of citations in scientific literature, and the comments of eight luminaries of nanotechnology. This biography of a text and its life among other texts enables us to articulate Feynman’s paper with the history of nanotechnology in new ways as it explores how Feynman’s paper is read.