Herbert Gleiter promoted the development of nanostructured materials on a variety of levels. In 1981 already, he formulated research visions and produced experimental as well as theoretical results. Still he is known only to a small community of materials scientists. That this is so is itself a telling feature of the imagined community of nanoscale research. After establishing the plausibility of the claim that Herbert Gleiter provided a major impetus, a second step will show just how deeply Gleiter shaped (and ceased to influence) the vision of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the US. Finally, then, the apparent invisibility of Gleiter's importance needs to be understood. This leads to the main question of this investigation. Though materials research meets even the more stringent definitions of nanotechnology, there remains a systematic tension between materials science and the device-centered visions of nanotechnology. Though it turned the tables on the scientific prestige of physics, materials science runs up against the engineering prestige of the machine.
A first draft of this study was presented at the CHF Cain Conference on “Nano before there was nano,” March 19, 2005. It draws on many conversations, especially with Horst Hahn (Darmstadt Technical University, Research Center Karlsruhe), Hanno zur Loyen (USC, Columbia), James Murday (Naval Research Laboratory), Gary Peterson (CHF Fellow, also at University of Pittsburgh), Eckart Exner (formerly at Darmstadt Technical University), and Herbert Gleiter (formerly at Saarbrücken and Research Center Karlsruhe). I thank Cyrus Mody, Aant Elzinga, and various referees for stimulating and detailed critical commentary. I couldn't do justice here to all the points they raised.