Molecular engineering studies molecules that are used to create new molecules which may not exist in nature. This process is difficult requiring manual manipulation of molecules using such devices as a scanning tunneling microscope. It is expected that eventually to exploit lifelike self-replication ‘helper molecules’ that are themselves engineered. Therefore, the field can be seen as a precision form of chemical engineering.
Molecular engineering is an important aspect of pharmaceutical research and materials science. The advent of the scanning tunneling microscope and picosecond-burst lasers in the 1990s, plus discovery of new carbon nanotube applications to motivate mass production of these custom molecules which drove the field forward to commercial reality in the 2000s. Future developments in molecular engineering hold out the promise of great benefits, as well as risks. Nanotechnology discussions spark more controversy in the fields of science and engineering.