The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schön - programme summary
Imagine a world where disease could be eradicated by an injection of tiny robots the size of molecules. That is the hope offered by nanotechnology - the science of microscopically small machines. But others fear nanotechnology could lead to a non-biological cancer - where swarms of tiny nanobots come together and literally devour human flesh.
"The amazing thing about Hendrik was that everything he touched seemed to work."
Professor Paul McEeun, Cornell University
Sounds like science fiction? It certainly did until a brilliant young scientist called Hendrik Schön seemed to bring it a step closer.
Schön's great breakthrough was to make a computer transistor out of a single organic molecule. It was an achievement of almost incalculable brilliance. Some speculated this technology could spell the end of the entire silicon chip industry.
Crucially, Schön's transistor was organic. Suddenly, this seemed to be the first step towards true nanotechnology, where minute computers could grow as living cells.
Scientists speculated about how these tiny machines could be used to target diseases with astonishing precision. Others wondered - could the military use them as a new weapon? Others, including Prince Charles, were terrified. If these machines can grow by themselves, how do we stop them from growing?
What happened next would destroy reputations and shatter lives - because there was more to Hendrik Schön's discovery than anyone knew.