If you wanted to build a fort out of pillows you would go around the house and collect several cushions then simply arrange them with your hands. What if you wanted to build a fort out atoms? How could you build a structure out of something you can’t pick up, let alone see?
When scientists want to build something on the nanoscale they have two choices:
(1) they can have the different building blocks come together on their own (also known as self-assembly),
(2) they can move the different building blocks individually.
The smallest building block out there is the atom. Within the last 20 years scientists have learned how to move atoms individually – an amazing feat because atoms are extraordinarily small. This process is called atom manipulation.