http://www.stanford.edu/group/evanreed/media/ancac3 to listen to them talking about it.
The above picture is of a Scanning Tunneling microscope. An Stm was invented in the 1970s; they are true quantum technologies much like electron microscopes. I don't mean they work similarly; i mean they are both quantum technologies. An Stm works by 1) piezo-electronics(a hint of why I've posted about piezo electronic graphene above) in each spacial dimension. Piezo-electronics are materials that either generate electricity by being squeezed, or bend materials by applying electricity. Now, the piezos in an Stm are stimulated by electric currents that comes from moving a tip(as close to nanoscale as possible) across a surface. The electric current is generated by a quantum phenomenon - that of electrons tunneling from one surface barrier to another; that is, electrons can be in one place(say on one side of a wall or another) to another place(say to the other side of a wall), because of the wave nature of electrons(quantum mechanics associates a wave nature to all matter - mostly by De Broglie, but Shroedinger generalized Bohn quantum mechanics by means of De Broglies suggestion, and more or less created quantum mechanics as we know it today; some, would say Paul Dirac's combining special relativity to quantum mechanics is the true starting point of quantum mechanics; i've said enough about this for now).
Scanning tunneling microscopes can image individual atoms(just like we discovered the solar system indirectly, we discovered atoms, electrons and much else, indirectly; see my nature and origin of mathematical knowledge for much more! We discovery 'mathematically', or 'indirectly', and then much later, we send off space probes to look back and see the earth and planets revolving around the sun, and likewise, we discover quantum mechanics and much later create fantastic technologies to actually see atoms 'directly.').
Stm's can also pick up and place atoms. Only, don't worry, we can't make every object to atomic specifications because to do so by Stm's would require billions of years to see the final product(maybe a small cell phone or even a snall calculator). But, what if we could scale down an Stm to the size of a large molecule?
Well, then the frequency of picking up and placing individual atoms becomes astronomically faster! Hence why I'm posting about this graphene piezo-electronics. There's been some other breakthroughs in making microscopic piezos; but, this is graphene, a new wonder material of the last ten years or so. Graphene is a atomic width two dimensional material(daming up nature; see my article about the nature and origin of mathematical knowledge - the third article posted on my blog here) that is able to do much - energy generation . . .
http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_blog.aspx?id=27625 Here we have almost a perpetual motion machine! Basically, it can keep generating electricity till the universe gets too cold! This is just one wonder technology of the coming nanotechnology revolution(others would be a.i. supercomputers in your hand, the library of congress in your hand, you start to get the point!)
One problem with sizing down Stm has been piezos(I've been wondering for decades now really why they don't just use the same silicon chip making technology they use to make microtechnology gears to make microscale Stms!). There was a previous piezo breakthrough; but, this maybe even more exciting! Maybe we could use that new rapid prototyping technology I posted about just below to print piezo-graphene. Maybe these piezo graphenes can just fold up into any nano-mechanical part we wish!? Plus with the printing of these piezo graphenes, we can assemble these nano-mechanical parts(by means of piezo graphenes) into nanomanufacturing systems!? The coming months could tell the tale!(Drexlerian nanotechnologists have been mentaly and emotionaly preparing themselves to the idea that the road to nano-manufacturing could be twenty years down the line(probably based on dna-nanotech. I'm thinking, well wait a few months to see just how fast this stuff advances . . . do we hear advances in a week, maybe a month? . . . but, I'm hopefull that the breakthroughs may finally be in place; we could be living in a nanotechnological future within the year! I would say dna-nanotech alone can pattern these piezo graphenes into molecular scale Stms!)