For solid‐state physicists and engineers the “ultimate in miniaturization” would be to produce devices with structures that are about 8 or 10 nm across—about a tenth of the smallest scale that can currently be produced. (See PHYSICS TODAY, November 1979, page 25.) Biological systems, however, have, in a sense, solved the problems associated with such small microstructures. The fundamental unit of many cell functions, the lipid bilayer membrane (figure 1), is 4 nm thick; in regions where the membrane carries proteins it may be as much as 10 nm thick. Other elements of the cell, such as the microtubules that provide its structural framework, have similar dimensions.

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