1.3. Top-down and bottom-up approach

Current manufacturing technology is based on the approach known as “top-down” which consists of, in a similar way to a sculptor does, starting from a large block and shaping and chiseling it, to obtain, progressively, a smaller object with a desired shape.
In the nano approach, we progress in the opposite way, from the small structure, building up to a bigger one. This method is called the “bottom-up” approach, in which like lego (with a large number of pieces with different shapes, colours and size), we are going to begin with basic elements such as atoms, nanoparticles, nucleic acids or proteins to assemble molecules or even to build diverse sensors and devices.
To enable manufacturing using nanotechnology, special tools which enabled the visualization as well as the manipulation of objects at nanoscale are required. The scanning probe microscopy (SPM), for instance, accomplishes this task by allowing us not only to observe but also to move atoms on a surface.

The progress of nanoscience and nanotechnology and the use of this highly advanced instrumentation created one of the most significant features of this field: it is multidisciplinary. By reducing the scale, atoms and molecules become the basic “bricks” which physicist, chemists, biologists and engineers work with, using a common language. One example of this multidisciplinarity is the design and manufacturing of a biosensor where a biologist must have knowledge of quantum physics and a physicist about biology in order to design their end product successfully.

Assembly on a molecular or particle basis to develop all the technology we demand may seem unrealistic, nevertheless this is what the Earth has been doing for the last 4 billion years, since starting from simple molecules it formed really complex structures by linking and auto-assembling substances. Any living organism is, undoubtedly, a clear example of bottom-up building; starting from certain organic molecules and a genetic sequence it has been possible to create very complex structures functionally and structurally. As a consequence, nanotechnology can learn from these processes to imitate and adapt them, even, to other kinds of problems very different to biology.

The development of nanoscience and nanotechnology, according to experts, will occur in three stages. The firt one between the years 2000 and 2020, where industries will mainly keep using conventional production techniques (top-down). The second stage between 2010 and 2030, where bottom-up methodology will begin to spread, and ultimately become the leading manufacturing scheme for the rest of the XXI century. But this fact does not mean that our current procedures will totally disappear, because the use of one system or the other will be dependent on many factors like raw materials, labour, environmental and social costs and, of course, economic profitability.
Nanotechnology is already a major industry, worth 50 billion dollars globally market in 2006, with expected growth to a trillion dollars in 2015. Therefore, this market will benefit those companies whose countries are investing in this field long term.

Sources: Fundación española para la ciencia y la tecnología (FECYT). Nanociencia y nanotecnología. Entre la ciencia ficción del presente 
              y la tecnología del futuro, 2009.

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