I propose that a sociological and historical examination of nanotechnologists can contribute more to an understanding of nanotechnology than an ontological definition. Nanotechnology emerged from the convergent evolution of numerous “technical knowledge communities”—networks of tightly-interconnected people who operate between disciplines and individual research groups. I demonstrate this proposition by sketching the co-evolution of computational chemistry and computational nanotechnology. Computational chemistry arose in the 1950s but eventually segregated into an ab initio, basic research, physics-oriented flavor and an industry-oriented, molecular modeling and visualization, biochemical flavor. Computational nanotechnology arose in the 1990s as a synthesis of these two subgroups, infused by people and practices from computational materials science, engineering, computer science, and elsewhere. I show that to understand the aims and outcomes of computational nanotechnology—and nanotechnology more generally—we need to understand relationships between different, but related, nano knowledge communities and their dependence on particular practices, artifacts, and theories.

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