The normal course of any technology might be classified as follows: pre-buzz, buzz, rave reviews, saturation, overhype, backlash, and backlash-to-the-backlash. This can be applied to almost anything new, including movies and other cultural events [1].

I’m old enough to remember when we grew beautifully perfect bulk crystals and thin films. Now we collect residue off the reactor walls, take scanning electron micrographs, and marvel at our ‘nanostructures’ (below). In the old days, these products were known by their technical terms of ‘crud’ and ‘junk’.

Where are we now in the life cycle of hype over nanotechnology? Here is my highly personal view of the state of many common materials past and present. Feel free to add additional items.

Economics has its ‘Laffer curve’ [2], which suggests that governments can maximize tax revenue by setting tax rates at an optimum point, and the semiconductor industry has its International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors [3]. Now we have our own curve (above right). I modestly suggest it be called the ‘Florida Law of Original Prognostication’, or FLOP for short. It is important not to apply FLOP to situations where there is no possibility of improvement, such as the performance of English cricket teams, and its powerful implications are not for the faint of heart.

As examples, it seems biomaterials are at the initial peak of their potential (see FLOP curve). We talk in awe of a future in which the occurrence of diseases in an individual are predicted in advance, maladies diagnosed in a rapid fashion, and organs switched in and out the way we once repaired cars.


The Florida Law of Original Prognostication maps the shifting tide of expectations in materials science.
The Florida Law of Original Prognostication maps the shifting tide of expectations in materials science.

By contrast, fields like semiconductor spintronics, which once promised fast new electronics and computers that do not need to boot up, have faded because of an absence of technological spin-offs.

Superconductivity was completely oversold in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but recently has regained some traction through small demonstration projects in the US involving low-loss transmission of electric power [4].

Organic electronics seems to be rapidly gaining new researchers as the interest in energy-saving technologies continues to increase. Solar energy peaked in the early 1980s, fell into somewhat of a decline when gas prices remained low, and has leapt back to prominence again as energy-related research has come back into fashion.

ZnO nanostructures, once known by the technical name of ‘crud’.
ZnO nanostructures, once known by the technical name of ‘crud’.

Nanotechnology to me seems poised to suffer a backlash in the coming years, only because it is difficult to see it succeed at the level of the hype surrounding it.

So please remember, these are my subjective judgments as an outsider to many of these fields (complaints can be directed to the editor!). A wise man once said “the future ain’t what it used to be” [5], but our FLOP curve seems to indicate the cycles of a research field may be predicted, at least in some general form.

Further reading
[1] See for the application of ‘The Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations’ to books, movies, actors, and musicians
[2] Wikipedia, Laffer Curve,
[4] See, for example, National Electric Delivery Technologies Roadmap (2004)
[5] Often attributed to Yogi Berra, US baseball player, coach, and manager (1925–)

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(07)70221-3