Nano@Tech: A Brief History of Nanotechnology in Science Fiction

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Lisa Yaszek - School of Literature, Media, and Communications, Georgia Tech

Abstract: Physicist Richard Feynman is generally credited with formulating the concepts that seeded nanotechnology in his 1959 talk, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In this talk, Feynman claims that “there is nothing in the laws of physics” that prevents us from engineering at a very small—perhaps even molecular—scale. But of course Feynman was not the first person to speculate about exploring and engineering things below human perception. In this presentation, science fiction studies professor Lisa Yaszek maps a rich history of stories about small-scale engineering that extends back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). This has been a particularly rich area of speculation for science fiction authors, who have been telling such tales since the inception of genre fiction in the 1800s. Yaszek proposes that such stories can be organized into four broad chronological categories that correspond with specific phases of scientific and social history. In particular, while stories written before the formal development of nanoscience and technology emphasize the exploration and engineering of miniaturized worlds, those written since Feynman’s famous speech focus on the new kinds of engineers and tools that may be produced by nanoscience and technology itself. 

Bio: Lisa Yaszek is Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, where she explores science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. Yaszek’s books include Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction (Ohio State, 2008); Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction (Wesleyan 2016); and The Future is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women (Library of America, 2018). Her ideas have been featured in The Washington Post, Food and Wine Magazine, and USA Today, and she has been an expert commentator for the BBC4’s Stranger Than Sci Fi, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the AMC miniseries James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. A past president of the Science Fiction Research Association, Yaszek currently serves as a juror for the John W. Campbell and Eugie Foster Science Fiction Awards.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Christa Ernst
  • Created:12/12/2019
  • Modified By:Christa Ernst
  • Modified:01/16/2020