If you want to know how far nanotechnology has come, you only need to ask the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It just awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to researchers Bernard Feringa, Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir J. Fraser Stoddart for their work on the "design and synthesis of molecular machines." All three have been instrumental to making nanomachines possible. Sauvage kicked things off in 1983, when he linked ring-shaped through a mechanical bond instead of the usual electron-sharing bond. Stoddart carried the torch when he slipped a moving molecular ring on to an axle in 1991, while Feringa built the first molecular motor in 1999.
The technology has come a long way in the years since, but that's not the point of the prize, the Acadamy explains. It's an acknowledgment that the scientist trio got the ball rolling. They brought nanomachines to the "same stage" that electric motors reached in the 1830s -- while they're simple novelties right now, they could lead to a revolution. Researchers are already working on microscopic drug delivery systems and smart, property-changing materials, and those are likely just the start of what's possible.