BBC Carries Major Program on Nanotechnology
BBC's Horizon program last November 13 carried a major program on nanotechnology that provides an excellent video introduction to the topic. Featuring interviews with Foresight Institute Chairman Eric Drexler, nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle at Xerox, computer scientist Carl Feynman, and others, the program "Nanotopia" provides an excellent layman's introduction to the technical aspects of nanotechnology (showing, for example, how a scanning tunneling microscope can precisely move individual atoms) and a thoughtful discussion of the potential real-world outcomes when nanotechnology is realized.
Economic considerations may repeal - at least temporarily -
Moore's Law, describing the exponential density increase of
semiconductor chips. Gordon Moore, an Intel founder, observed
that since the early 1970s chip density has doubled every 18
months. Forbes Magazine (March 25 issue) reports on
the newly formulated Moore's Second Law, the exponential growth
in the cost of building a new chip fabricating plant. In coming
years, Forbes says, technology will continue to expand the
number of transistors per chip, but companies won't be able to
afford plants to take advantage of the new technology. "The
price per transistor will bottom out between 2003 and 2005,"
Forbes says. "From that point on there will be no
economic point to making transistors smaller. So Moore's Law ends
in seven years."
Comment: probably true, but only as an extension of existing lithographic technology. That's why many firms in the semiconductor industry are watching bottom-up nanotechnology technology very closely.
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Prague-born chemist Josef Michl, now on the faculty at the University of Colorado, is working to build a "molecular construction kit" using rods and connectors the size of molecules, reports the English publication New Scientist in its June 1995 issue.
Michl is working with simple molecular structures that form stiff, flexible rods. Michl has assembled rods from a mixture of carbon-hydrogen molecules and carbon-boron molecules, providing fine control over the total rod length. The rods are built up from such molecules as propellane, a "strained" form of C5H6, and cubane, a strained form of C8H8. "Strained" molecules are constructed with bonds that are forced out of their normal angles - 90° in cubane, for example, compared with carbon's normal orientation of 109.5°. So far, Michl has made rods whose lengths vary from 5 to 25 angstrom (10-10 meters), with precision within 1 angstrom.
Michl envisions that "his construction kit of such rod-like molecules could be used to make an inert scaffolding on which could be hung more reactive molecules with useful electronic or mechanical properties," New Scientist reported. While there are other ways of making rod-like molecules, Michl's are highly inert. They do not absorb visible or ultraviolet light, and they are stable at temperatures of at least 200° C and often much higher.
Related work is underway on connectors to join the rods together, the story reports. Metal atoms would be the simplest solution, offering the useful quality of strong joints that can be easily disassembled. Different metals give different binding geometries - square, octrahedral, and so on.
One application Michl proposes is a nano-scale "wind farm," with turbine propellors made from fused aromatic rings. It could also be run backwards, using microwaves to spin the rotors and propel helium atoms, creating nano-scale turbopumps.
Michl's real agenda, New Scientist reports, is "to get chemists thinking about the possibility of mechanically conceived molecular structures. When he presented simulations of his turbine concepts at a meeting in Paris in 1995, he encountered significant scepticism, the magazine reports. It quotes English chemist Fraser Stoddart, from the University of Birmingham, that, "'I don't think chemists' contributions will be to make mini-mini-mini computers or mini-mini-mini cars.'"
"But Michl holds to his belief in molecular machines-if not the turbines he is working on now, then perhaps molecular waterwheels or something completely different," New Scientist concludes. He says that many ingenious molecular devices, including a molecular shuttle devised by Stoddart himself, for instance, have been invented, but as yet they simply float freely in solution. "Michl's construction kit could be the 'bricks and mortar', coupling such devices together to make microscopic machines that are now just pipe dreams. And if he has set his sights high, he has an answer: 'I have always taught my children that a hiker who is lost in the woods and comes to a fork in the trail should always take the branch that goes more steeply uphill. I should live up to my own admonitions, right?'"
USC Professor Aristides
A.G. Requicha directs the Programmable Automation Laboratory,
part of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the
University of Southern California.
In his December 1995 newsletter he writes, "I gave an invited talk at the 4th Nanotechnology Conference in Palo Alto, which was probably the most interesting conference I have attended in the last few years. There is really a lot of excitement in the nanotech area! People at the conference reacted very positively to my talk, and thought that putting together robotics folks with chemists and materials scientists was 'obviously' a great idea. That means we had better hurry up, before others follow us into the area."
Those interested in nanotechnology-relevant work at USC can visit their Web site at http://www-pal.usc.edu.
Byte Magazine, one of the oldest and most respected publications in the computer world, devotes its April cover to the question, "When Silicon Hits its Limits, What's Next?" It answers with a look at three "new directions for the future of computing: Quantum computers, protein memory, and holographic storage." The story cites Moore's Law (see above), discusses the rapidly approaching limits of photolithography, and concludes that for computer memory storage, both holographic devices and protein molecules as bit storage devices offer hope. The latter approach is described by Robert R. Birge at the W.M. Keck Center for Molecular Electronics at Syracuse University, who has been working with bacteriohodopsin, a photosensitive protein obtained from nature. His work is also extensively discussed in the BBC television program "Nanotopia," discussed above.
Weird is the name of the Web site where
Foresight Director Chris Peterson has posted a breezy, but
informative, article for teenagers about nanotechnology. It's
located at http://www.spiv.com/nrrrd/weird,
a site to help enlist younger minds in the cause of science.
"Learn more about the technical side of things," Chris
writes. "The book Engines
of Creation-the first and still classic vision of a
world with nanotechnology-is going up on the Web, complete and
free for all, as you read this. Watch the Foresight page for the
publication announcement. Once you're up to speed, geek out on
sci.nanotech. To become a nano-whiz, try grinding through Nanosystems."
Club Wired hosted nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle late last year. The interactive online "chat" forum provided by Wired Magazine invited Ralph to discuss nanotechnology in the context of a Wired Magazine scenario, The Museum of Nanotechnology. This was part of Club Wired's Future of the Future series. He describes the experience as "like trying to carry on a dozen simultaneous conversations by typewriter."
Earthshaking news sometimes appears on the quake.unr.edu site, but that's where Stephen L. Gillett, Department of Geological Sciences, has placed the poster and manuscript of his talk at last November's Nanotechnology Conference. They're available by anonymous ftp in the directory /pub/gillett. Look for nearterm.wrd, the Microsoft Word file for his poster presentation "Near-term Nanotechnology: the molecular fabrication of nanostructured materials," and extract.wrd, his talk on "Nanotechnology, Resources, and Pollution Control." Both are in MS Word for Windows format and must be downloaded as binary files.
Do you know of an Internet site related to nanotechnology you'd like to bring to the attention of the Foresight community? Send the URL and a brief description to Foresight Update Editor Lew Phelps at Lew@PhelpsConsulting.com. Please do not duplicate site references already posted on Foresight and other key nanotechnology sites.
Foresight Institute is greatly expanding its presence on the
Web. Check out the ever-growing content on the site by pointing
your Web browser to http://www.foresight.org.
Among other things, the site now houses an expanded (and more timely) version of Foresight Update, the quarterly newsletter of Foresight Institute.
The site also has become a primary means of response by Foresight Institute to an extended, and highly inaccurate, story in Scientific American about nanotechnology. (See article above.)
Foresight has expanded its staff to further the growth of its Web site. "We view the Web as the single most valuable means of expanding awareness of nanotechnology developments and discussion of relevant issues," said Chris Peterson, Director of Foresight Institute.
The "webmaster" for the Foresight Web site is Robert Armas, who joins the staff part-time. He is a Senior Associate of Foresight Institute. He previously has served Foresight as a speaker, conference volunteer and active member since 1991. He recently left a nanotechnology information service to teach classes about Web Authoring and the Internet. As a freelance writer, Robert examines how future technologies may impact human cultures and the planet.
Our World Wide Web activity is ramping up, thanks to Robert Armas and Marcia Seidler, with major assistance from volunteers Russell Whitaker (internal webmaster at Silicon Graphics) and Jim Lewis. Jim did the work to get the 1981 PNAS paper up, and Russell is putting the entire Engines of Creation into Web format. Meanwhile, thanks to Ralph Merkle and Josh Hall for maintaining Foresight materials on their sites until we're fully up to speed.
Thanks also to Ralph Merkle for providing an excellent rebuttal to the Scientific American news story on nanotechnology (see elsewhere in this issue). Thanks also to Lew Phelps and Niehaus Ryan Group for timely media assistance on this. Additional thanks go to all of those who wrote letters to the editor of SciAm, especially Carl Feynman. Please keep these coming, and remember to cc Foresight.
Thanks go to Richard Terra for starting implementation of a major new Foresight project, the annual technical report.
For sending information, we thank John Burke, Jeff Cavener, Gino Coviello, Chuck Estes, Keith Farrar, Dave Forrest, Robert Freitas, Eric Geislinger, Frank Glover, Norm Hardy, Mark Haviland, Tad Hogg, Graham Houston, Marie-Louise Kagan, Rick Lewis, Joy Martin, Hugh McLarty, Anthony Napier, Chris Portman, Brian Reed, Mark Reiners, Tanya Sienko, Alvin Steinberg, John Walker, John Wynkoop.
Finally, ongoing thanks to Josh Hall of Rutgers, who moderates the sci.nanotech newsgroup, and our two hard-working staffers, Judy Hill and Elaine Tschorn. These three routinely do massive amounts of work benefiting Foresight and IMM.
With nanotechnology-relevant activity ramping up, it's getting harder to thank everyone who's helping. Your assistance, ideas, and contributions are greatly appreciated.
-Chris Peterson, Director
Structure Controlled Macromolecules of Nanoscopic
Dimensions, symposium within Materials Research Society
Meeting, April 8-12, 1996, San Francisco. Includes nanoscale
assemblies and nano-devices. Tel 412-367-3004, fax 412-367-4373,
email email@example.com, Web http://www.mrs.org
European Nanotechnology Initiative, April 9-11, Copenhagen Science Park. Contact BioSoft, tel 45-3917-9828, fax 45-3927-9011.
Minnesota Molecular Nanotechnology Study Group, regularly scheduled monthly meeting April 10 and second Wednesday of each following month, at Science Museum of Minnesota, 30 East 10th Street, St. Paul MN. Contact Steve Vetter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Conference on Protein Folding and Design, April 23-26, NIH, Bethesda, MD. Contact Ms. Feldman, tel 301-496-2968, fax 301-496-8496.
De la microtechnique a la nanotechnologie: évolution ou révolution?, April 24, Centre d'Appui Scientifique et Technologique de L'Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland. Contact CAST, tel 41-21-6933575, fax 41-21-693-4747.
Proximal Probe Fabrication, Manipulation, and Measurement, June 23-28, Gordon Research Conference, tel 401-783-4011, fax 401-783-7644, email email@example.com.
Chemical and Biological Nanostructures, June 23-28, Gordon Research Conference, see above.
Protein Engineering, June 30-July 5, Gordon Research Conference, see above.
Workshop on Computational Nanotechnology, July 11-13, Colorado Springs Marriott. Contact Dr. Sally Meyer, tel 719-389-6437, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fullerenes (C60 and related), July 21-26, Gordon Research Conference, see above.
4th International Conference on Nanometer-Scale Science and Technology, Sept. 8-12, Beijing. Includes supramolecules, molecular recognition, SPM fabrication of devices, self-assembly, self-assembled molecular nanostructures. Contact Prof. Shijin Pang, fax 86-10-255-6598, email Pang@image.blem.ac.cn
Micro- and Nano- Engineering 96, Sept. 23-25, Glasgow, Scotland. Contact Dr. Carol Clugston, fax 0141-330-4907, email email@example.com
German Conference on Bioinformatics, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, University of Leipzig. Includes molecular modeling, molecular recognition, self-organization, DNA computing. Contact GCB '96, tel 49-341-9716100, fax 49-341-9716109, email GCB96@imise.unileipzig.de
Nanometer-Scale Science and Technology Division meeting, American Vacuum Society, Oct. 14-18, Philadelphia. Includes session NS7 on "Nanofabrication: Manipulation of Atoms and Molecules." Contact AVS, tel 212-248-0200, fax 212-248-0245, email firstname.lastname@example.org, Web http://www.vacuum.org
Senior Associate Gathering, Oct. 18-20, 1996, Palo Alto. Foresight and IMM Senior Associates meeting covering technical, entrepreneurial, applications, social topics related to nanotechnology. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email email@example.com
Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, Nov. 5-9, 1997, Palo Alto, CA. Enabling science and technology, computational models. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email firstname.lastname@example.org, Web http://foresight.org/Conferences/MNT05/Nano5.html
From Foresight Update 24, originally published 15 April 1996.
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