A talk by Richard P. Feynman
at the annual meeting of the
American Physical Society
on 29 December 1959 in which he almost single-handedly delineated
It begins thusly:
I imagine experimental physicists must often look with envy at men like Kamerlingh Onnes, who discovered a field like low
temperature, which seems to be bottomless and in which one can go down and down. Such a man is then a leader and has
some temporary monopoly in a scientific adventure.
Percy Bridgman, in designing a way to obtain higher pressures, opened up
another new field and was able to move into it and to lead us all along. The development of ever higher vacuum was a
continuing development of the same kind.
I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This
field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, ``What are the
strange particles?'') but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange
phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous
number of technical applications.
What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale.
As soon as I mention this, people tell me about miniaturization, and how far it has progressed today. They tell me about electric
motors that are the size of the nail on your small finger. And there is a device on the market, they tell me, by which you can
write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin. But that's nothing; that's the most primitive, halting step in the direction I intend to
discuss. It is a staggeringly small world that is below. In
the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why
it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in this direction.
This talk was printed in the Caltech magazine
Engineering and Science in 1960.