Is there a successor to Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman's legendary lecture The ideal hour of birth of nanotechnology 60 years ago

"What I want to talk about is the manipulation and control of things on a tiny scale."

December 29, 1959, the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology. At the lectern a physicist who is considered a sharp-tongued lateral thinker: Richard P. Feynman, 41 years old. His lecture will go down in the history of physics. The title: "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom", in German: "Much leeway downwards".

"Feynman wanted to explain that there is an area in physics that has not yet been explored at all, where there was still a lot of space," says Guido Burkard, physics professor in Konstanz:

"When things were made smaller, things could be made much smaller. He was very visionary about the future."

Reduce to one 25,000th

Feynman was actually a particle researcher and dealt with the fundamentals of quantum physics, for which he received the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics. But occasionally he looked outside the box of his sub-discipline - as in the lecture when he was thinking about the future of technology. One of his mind games: How much can information be condensed in the smallest of spaces? For example, how much can fonts be made smaller? By the end of the 1950s, it was already possible to banish the Our Father to the size of the head of a pin - that is, in such tiny font that the entire prayer fits into an area of ​​one square millimeter.

"He was totally unimpressed and said: It has to be much better," explains Burkard.

Feynman said at the time: "This is at most the most primitive, hesitant step. A breathtaking, much smaller world emerges below! Why can't we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica on the head of a pin?"

To do that, you would have to reduce a text to a 25,000th. That should be possible, believed Feynman - and made a kind of bet: "I intend to advertise a price of $ 1,000 for the first one that brings the information on a book page into an area 25,000 times smaller."

"This 25,000-fold reduction was actually achieved in the 1980s. And then, maybe five years later, the people at IBM wrote the letters IBM with individual atoms - much, much smaller than Feynman imagined at the time has, "says Burkard.

(Piper Verlag) 100. Birthday / the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman was considered a brilliant and unconventional physicist. Like no other, he knew how to get laypeople and students excited about physics. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Richard Feynman's vision has long been exceeded today. Just like another bold idea the physicist voiced in his lecture.

"Back then, computers took up entire rooms. He foresaw that we would have computers today that were very, very small. That was of course also very visionary," says Burkard.

Feynman said in his lecture at the time: "I know that calculating machines are very large and can fill entire rooms. Why can't we make them very small, from small wires, small components - and by small I mean small. The wires, for example, should 10 to 100 atoms in diameter. I can't see anything in the laws of physics that says that the components of computers can't be made much, much smaller than they are now. "

Thought leaders of the computer chip

In his lecture, Feynman outlined the main features of the method with which computer chips are manufactured today: The course of conductor paths and transistors on the chip is exposed using a shadow mask - the recipe for success of the digital revolution. Another idea, however, did not come true.

"He suggested that you could build nano-machines that could then build smaller nano-machines yourself," says Burkard: "You have to say that this has not been the case so far. That turned out to be much more difficult than maybe he thought so at the time. "

Nevertheless: Today Feynman's lecture is considered the ideal hour of birth of nanotechnology, technology on a scale of a millionth of a millimeter. And:

"Feynman was famous for making jokes and making fools of people," explains Burkard: "Besides being considered a genius, he was also a bit of a juggler and a rogue among physicists. He was a special personality. And I think that's why his lectures have become very famous. "

Richard Feynman's departure into the nanoworld was not the only stroke of genius that he bequeathed to posterity: in 1981, seven years before his death, he sketched a completely new type of computer - the quantum computer. Today, international corporations are working flat out to develop prototypes for such a wonder machine that is supposed to complete certain computing tasks much faster than the fastest supercomputer.