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Ideas 2003: The next little thing

Ideas 2003: The next little thing

Look out Web services, you're about to be out-buzzed by a small fry called nanotechnology. Perhaps the Next Big Thing on the horizon, nanotechnology is the science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale. Though it's still early, engineers at some of America's major computer companies are making headway with nanotechnology, announcing breakthroughs in research and potential new products.

At the forefront of this research are superconducting carbon nanotubes -- tiny tubes of conductive carbon atoms that are being used to build transistors. Nanotubes are behind Hewlett-Packard's recent announcement of a 64-bit memory chip, a chip so small that thousands can fit on the end of a single strand of hair. A similar announcement from IBM regarding nanotube transistors says that the technology will enable the production of smaller, faster and low-power computer chips than what is currently possible with silicon.

Even skeptical industry analysts are impressed with those not-so-small feats. Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on nanotechnology, finds the research of these companies and nanotechnology's future encouraging but says that "the challenges are still huge." But those huge obstacles seem like something nanotechnology can shrink down to size.

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