K. Eric Drexler: Biography & Nanotechnology

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you're going to learn a bit about a man by the name of K. Eric Drexler. You may not have heard of him but you have definitely heard of a term he popularized.

K. Eric Drexler

You've most probably heard of the term nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science, understanding, and engineering of matter on the scale of about 1-100 nanometers. This term was popularized by K. Eric Drexler, an American engineer who is often termed the 'godfather of nanotechnology' or, better yet, the founding father of nanotechnology. We'll learn a bit about his life in this lesson.

Early Life

Kim Eric Drexler was born on April 25, 1955 in Oakland, California. He was born to a pretty smart family. His dad was a speech pathologist and his mom was a mathematician.

Growing up, Drexler was more interested in books than he was in making friends. In fact, he was known to be a bit of a social pariah and a nerd. Of course, that's not a bad thing. In fact, Drexler's intellect and keen interest in knowledge enabled him to enter into MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Not bad, right?

And what would young Drexler do during his time at MIT? Just study quietly away? Of course not. Drexler went on to:

  • Present his findings about how to mine asteroids
  • Study at NASA and even help create important metal films used in space
  • Patent several things, including those involving space radiators

Drexler received his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Science in 1977 and his M.S. in Astro/Aerospace Engineering in 1979 from MIT.

Later Life and Career

As you can kind of see, Drexler actually wanted to be a space scientist early on. However, he later realized that looking down using microscopes is just as cool as looking up using telescopes. There was plenty to do at the molecular level as well. Space wasn't the final frontier!

Drexler wanted to find if there was a means by which one could engineer what cells do through tiny machines. So, Drexler refocused his studies onto the molecular scale. He eventually earned the first PhD in Molecular Nanotechnology from MIT in 1991 as a result.

But before that, Drexler published a very important paper in 1981, titled Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation in the prestigious Proceeding of the National Academy of Science. Here, Drexler outlined his ideas about nanotechnology. In 1986, Drexler would go on to publish a book, Engines of Creation, which would popularize the concept and term of nanotechnology to the wider world, not just the scientific community.

In 1992, Drexler published Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation, a book that set out the principles of how nanotechnology could be created.

Today, Drexler lives in Oxford (UK) with his wife, Rosa Wang. He is an academic visitor at Oxford University, works as a consultant, and is on the speaking circuit.

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