Everything is made of atoms. So to make anything, you need to start off with atoms. Usually a lot of atoms. A whole lot of atoms. What is the smallest thing that you can see with just your eyes? Maybe a grain of salt. Well that grain of salt is made of a lot of atoms, about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a million, million, million or a quintillion). With so many atoms laying around, why do scientists want to make things out of just a few atoms?
Sometimes when you make something out of just a few atoms, they do remarkable things. This is the reason why scientists are so excited about nanotechnology. Using nanotechnology you can make things out of a few atoms which can do things that you can’t do any other way. For example, inside of your computer is a chip and inside of that chip are lots of really tiny switches. They are called transistors. Inside, this chip has about 100,000,000 tiny switches. That is a lot of switches but in a few years that won’t be enough! These switches are so small that you can put 1,000 of them across the width of a hair.
Scientists make these tiny switches using a process called photolithography. But in the future we will need something different. We need to make switches out of a few atoms. Sound impossible? Well it is already being done. Scientists have made switches out of a few atoms, a switch about one nanometer in size. That means we can fit 100,000 of them across the width of a hair. And we can put a hundred-times more of them into our computer chip.