Foresight Update 24
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Institute Offers $250,000 Feynman
For Major Advances
Institute is offering a $250,000 cash prize to the first
individual or group to achieve specific major advances in
To win the newly announced Feynman Grand Prize, entrants must
design and construct a functional nanometer-scale robotic arm
with specified performance characteristics, and also must design
and construct a functional nanometer-scale computing device
capable of adding two 8-bit binary numbers.
"Foresight Institute expects this large prize to attract the
interest of talented people working in the many sciences and
technologies bearing upon molecular nanotechnology," said K.
Eric Drexler, Ph.D., Chairman of Foresight Institute.
Prizes have long played a key role in technological advancement.
For example, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic Ocean to claim a
$25,000 cash prize. More recently, the £50,000 ($95,000) Kremer
prize led to the realization of humanity's age-old dream of
human-powered flight. "The Feynman Prize will recognize one
of the most significant technological breakthroughs in human
history," Drexler said. "However, the rewards awaiting
those who achieve significant nanotechnology breakthroughs will
be far greater than the prize itself."
Funds for the $250,000 Feynman Grand Prize have been donated to
Foresight Institute by two Foresight Institute supporters - James
R. Von Ehr II, formerly founder of Altsys Corporation, and
currently vice president at Macromedia, a leading computer
software company; and Marc Arnold, chief executive officer of
Angel Technologies, a St. Louis-based wireless telecommunication
company. Arnold suggested the concept at a Senior Associates
meeting last November. Fund raising is continuing in an effort to
increase the prize to $1 million, Drexler said.
Foresight Institute will continue to offer its biennial Feynman
Prize for the most significant recent advance in nanotechnology.
In recognition of pioneering work to synthesize complex
three-dimensional structures built from DNA molecules, Foresight
Institute awarded the 1995 Feynman
Prize in Nanotechnology to Nadrian C.
Seeman, Ph.D., chemistry professor at New York University.
Specifications for the Feynman Grand Prize require the
winning entrant to:
- design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a
robotic arm that initially fits into a cube no larger
than 100 nanometers in any dimension, meeting certain
performance specifications including means of input. The
intent of this prize requirement is a device
demonstrating the controlled motions needed to manipulate
and assemble individual atoms or molecules into larger
structures, with atomic precision; and
- design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a
computing device that fits into a cube no larger than 50
nanometers in any dimension. It must be capable of
correctly adding any pair of 8-bit binary numbers,
discarding overflow. The device must meet specified input
and output requirements.
The Feynman Grand Prize is named in honor of Nobel Prize
winning physicist Dr. Richard
P. Feynman, who in 1959 pointed in the direction of molecular
nanotechnology in a talk at California Institute of Technology,
Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Carl Feynman, son of the
late Nobel laureate, has participated in the definition of
requirements for the Feynman Grand Prize and comments, "I'm
delighted that Foresight Institute chose to name this prize after
my father. It will be an important prize for an important
specifications of the Feynman
Grand Prize requirements will be posted on the Foresight Web
by Lew Phelps
Naval Research Laboratory's
comprehensive survey of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in
Europe outlines the scope of significant nanotechnology
research in Western Europe. Indirectly, it also points to the
need for Foresight Institute to continue playing a strong role in
public discussion of nanotechnology-related issues.
The 152-page report, written by NRL's Associate Director of
Research for Strategic Planning, William M. Tolles, covers a wide
range of both "bottom up" and "top down"
research efforts underway in Europe as of 1995.
"The nanoscience community is uncovering information that
will make us see a world that we do not now even envision,"
Tolles writes in his "Conclusions" section. "With
an improved view of the forces, limitations and opportunities
that may be controlled through intelligent application of the
laws of physics, biology and chemistry, many opportunities can be
foreseen for producing new materials. These materials are the
basis for new products, enhanced performance, and capabilities
that may now only be envisioned. A futuristic field such as
robotics, as it unfolds, will inevitably make use of a great
variety of new ideas emerging from this frontier."
Tolles goes on to relay a concern expressed by many of the
European scientists he interviewed for his study - that the
subject of nanotechnology "could attract practitioners bent
on hypothetical postulates or excessive 'salesmanship' without a
realistic appraisal of the products of experimental
Translation: much of the scientific community is restrained in
its willingness to discuss the potential applications of
nanotechnology. This reticence arises out of fear of
over-promising results that scientists do not believe they can
While valid, such views create real concern for those who believe
the economic, social and political consequences of nanotechnology
are too significant to be limited to verbal discussion only.
Indeed, one of Foresight Institute's primary roles is to enhance
awareness and discussion of nanotechnology-related issues. This
role inevitably leads to discussion of technological advances
that have not yet been achieved. Foresight Institute intends to
continue to fulfill that role even if it sometimes appears at
odds with the prevailing approach of the scientific community.
The NRL report itself covers a range of top-down research efforts
in Europe, such as new means of lithography, that do not bear
significantly on efforts to realize "bottom-up"
molecular nanotechnology. However, it also describes significant
work in Europe of interest to Foresight members, mostly in the
self-assembly arena. European researchers appear "less far
along in creative use of probe technology than their American
counterparts," the NRL report says. The most significant
work described includes:
- Research in the Chemistry Department at the University of
Birmingham, UK, is largely focused upon catenanes and
rotaxanes - molecular structures with switching
properties which may provide piezoelectric or
photochromic behavior of interest. "In many
respects, the research undertaken in this laboratory
represents an attempt to transfer knowledge and
techniques involving self-assembly operating in life
processes to more general molecular systems not found in
life," the report states. "From success in
using supramolecular interactions to form unique product
structures, there are thoughts of forming autocatalytic
systems (or self-replicating molecular systems) in which
the products would depend on the presence of a product
already in the reactant mixture. In this case, the
product would depend on the seed originally present. This
then would resemble cell reproduction and life processes,
areas of future research." (Italics added by Update
- Research at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands)
is reported to be investigating organic compounds with
optically active properties. These appear to have
potential for reversible optical data storage
applications. Staffing and funding there for
nanotechnology research were reported to be expanding.
- A "novel approach" is reported under study at
the University of Twente (The Netherlands) to make
molecules that may switch between two stable forms. Such
molecules are based on modified calixarene structures.
The molecule forms a cage that can contain an introduced
molecule with a dipole moment relative to that on the
outside of the cage. Aligning or opposing configurations
might be induced by an applied magnetic field, creating
the molecular-scale equivalent of ferroelectric materials
widely used today in computer data storage. Such
molecules can be switched by devices such as a scanning
tunneling probe. Organic chemistry Professor David
Reinhoudt has been working for two decades on molecular
recognition, the report says.
- Also in The Netherlands, the research laboratory of Royal
Dutch Shell is involved in some aspects of self-assembly.
Given the nature of Shell's business, it's no surprise
that their main motivation for the study of
nanostructures relates to emulsification of oil (such as
for oil spill cleanup) and catalysis, the basis for
petroleum product manufacturing. The laboratory recently
upgraded its computing capability with a new IBM SP-2,
rated at 6 Gflops, used for molecular dynamic
- Some scanning probe microscopy work at the Techniche
University of Munich (Germany) involves modification of a
passivated amorphous silicon surface that has been doped
with phosphorous. A small exposure of this surface to
electrons from an STM modifies the phosphorous from P3+
to P4+, which is an insulator. The effect can be reversed
by heating the surface. The applications for thermally
reversible multiple-read memory are obvious.
- The Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) is
reported to be setting up a new nanofabrication facility
with extensive proximal probe capabilities, including a
chamber for manipulation of clusters and atoms with
proximal probes. The initiative is funded by special
government support (through the Dutch equivalent of the
National Science Foundation) to introduce major hardware
- IBM in Switzerland is of course home to Dr. Heinrich
Rohrer, a Nobel Laureate for his co-invention of scanning
tunneling microscopy. Report author Tolles observes the
irony that "The U.S. picked up on local probe
techniques faster than did Europe or Japan... In
Switzerland, people had many electron microscopes and
were not interested in introducing a technique that was
- Elsewhere in Switzerland, the Paul Scherrer Institute
(the largest government-supported Swiss laboratory)
established a nanotechnology group in 1993. The group has
four main areas of emphasis, including molecular work.
One program involves an immunosensor in which a ferrocene
molecule is found to interact with an antibody to act as
- Perhaps the most exciting work in Switzerland comes at
the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a technical
university in Zurich. Francois Deidereich, an organic
chemist formerly at UCLA, leads a group of 30 people (and
growing) working on chemical fabrication of
nanostructures. "Steve Benner is able to fabricate
interesting geometric structures from proteins containing
modified base pair sequences," the report states.
Efforts there include those that would fall generally
into the category of supramolecular chemistry. One
program under way seeks to design molecular systems to
recognize cholesterol, in order to filter the substance
A good deal of the report deals with top-down research work,
conducted in France, Belgium and Austria, where little bottom-up
effort appears underway. The report does mention some work in
Toulouse, France, to model images obtained by STM and AFM.
The 154-page report includes over 350 references to specific
The report is published by Naval Research Laboratory, Washington
DC 20375-5320, publication NRL/FR/1003-94-9755.
Set for April 10-11 in Copenhagen
NanoTech®, a newly formed subsidiary of BioSoft (both Danish
firms), is preparing to stage a major nanotechnology conference
in Copenhagen - the Continent's first, according to its sponsors.
Just starting as we go to press, the planned dates are April
10-11 at Symbion, the Copenhagen Science Park. The conference
will be conducted in English.
"Our intention will be to create a new European
Nanotechnology Initiative (ENI) as a natural extension of our
Conference," says Bent Hundrup, BioSoft Group's Research
Coordination Manager, who is spearheading the conference. The ENI
will be based in Copenhagen, but active from the Walther-Nernst
Institute in Germany as well, he says. The goal is to "cover
the European angle on future research in nanotechnology, making
Europe very active, coordinated, determined and visionary."
Organizers also seek to promote cooperation between industry,
universities, organizations, governments, and European Union
commissions and institutes.
Topics for the planned conference include many areas that will be
familiar to those attending Foresight's Nanotechnology
- supramolecular chemistry
- self-assembling mechanisms and technology
- computational chemistry and molecular modeling
- materials science
- application areas (perspectives)
The list of possible attendees provided by conference
organizers indicates a focus on both molecular nanotechnology and
top-down approaches such as low voltage electron beam
lithography. Many of the individuals cited for key research in
the Naval Research Laboratory report on European nanotechnology
(see related story)
are on the roster of invited participants.
For further information contact:
Mr. Bent Hundrup
3 Fruebjergvej, DK-2100 0
Phone (+45) 39 17 98 28
Fax (+45) 39 27 90 11
He also lists an email address,
but at press time it was not yet operational:
From Foresight Update 24, originally
published 15 April 1996.