WTEC Holds Workshop on
Assessment of Nanotechnology Worldwide
by J. Storrs Hall
The WTEC workshop on the global assessment of R&D status
and trends in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and
nanodevices was held in the Rosslyn Westpark Hotel in Arlington,
Virginia, February 10, 1998. WTEC is the World Technology
Evaluation Center at Loyola College. The study had 12 sponsors,
mostly agencies of the federal government, including the National
Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force
Office of Scientific Research, NIST, the Department of Commerce,
and NASA. The panel included scientists from RPI, the UCSB,
Exxon, Motorola, Cornell, N.C. State University, Kodak, and SUNY
Buffalo. Their charter was to assess the status and trends in
research and development in nanotechnology, to identify promising
areas for future research and commercial development, and to
encourage and identify opportunities for international
The meeting was a review of a global survey and evaluation
which had been convened by WTEC in order to study the state of
the art in nanoscience and nanotechnology around the world. The
study primarily covered nano structured materials, nano
particles, and other materials science; however, there was a
reasonable amount of emphasis in molecular manufacturing, as
evidenced by references to functional nanodevices and to self
assembly. It was enlightening to note that the presenters used
the term "nanotechnology" in a very matter-of-fact
manner throughout their presentations.
The background of the study was presented by M. C. Roco of
NSF. He gave a definition of nanotechnology as used in the study:
"the exploitation of a novel properties and phenomenon at
the scale of one tenth to one hundred nanometers between
individual atoms or molecules and bulk behavior." He said
that the panel was looking for revolutionary discoveries and
technological advancements. Expected near term nanotechnology
applications included the use of giant magneto-resistance in
nanocrystalline materials (with applications to disk drives),
nanolayers with selective optical barriers (with applications in
photographic film, filters, cosmetics, etc.), hard coatings and
other materials applications, chemical and bio detectors, and
drug delivery systems using nano particles.
The study was divided into several parts. A major emphasis was
on nanostructured materials. Nanoparticles are used in both
materials and in what are called dispersions and coatings, which
are things like emulsions used to make a film and paint. Another
area of concern was the synthesis and assembly of molecules,
clusters, and nanoparticles which could be used as building
blocks. A major use of bulk nanoparticles is as high surface area
materials. This includes catalysts, porous membranes, and other
molecular scale filters and sieves such as zeolites, materials
used in combustion processes such as rocket fuels, and other
applications such as energy storage and sensors. The area of most
interest to molecular manufacturing was that of functional
nanoscale devices. Unfortunately that part of the study did not
cover much of the research that we would like to see in the area
of atomically precise structures. It concentrated on single
electron transistors, and giant magneto-resistance devices for
use in data storage.
Besides the materials talks, there were two areas covered that
might be considered relevant to those of us interested in
molecular nanotechnology. These were Synthesis and Assembly of
Nanostructured Materials, covered by Evelyn Hu of UCSB and David
Shaw of Suny Buffalo, and Biologically Related Aspects as covered
by Lynn Jelinski of Cornell.
The synthesis talk ranged over various methods, from
nucleation of monodispersed nanoparticles, through
high-resolution lithography and etching (with some very nice
pictures of some 30-nm pillars done with a e-beam/ion etching
technique), to self-assembly using DNA, mentioning the work of
Seeman and of Mirkin. They covered a number of groups working on
nanowires, with techniques ranging from track-etching of
membranes to nano-channel array glasses to carbon nanotubes.
There was some discussion of the semiconducting and quantum
electronic properties of such structures. Finally there was a
mention of STM assembly of molecular building blocks and the work
of Jung et al.
Jelinski's talk covered what is becoming known as
"nanobiotechnology". This includes protein engineering,
novel and de novo proteins, the self assembly of nucleic
acids (with another pointer to Ned Seeman's work). She referred
to antibodies with their highly specific binding and recognition,
proteins folding into precisely defined three-dimensional
structures, and molecular motors such as are found in bacteria.
Several different approaches were discussed. Protein polymers,
both natural and with artificially enhanced proteins, directed
evolution using artificial reproduction of DNA to produce enzymes
with enhanced catalytic activity, and the assembly of artificial
shapes using the self assembly properties of DNA were discussed.
She also addressed self assembly for monolayers from chemically
engineered molecules on surfaces. The assembly of nano-sized
objects using elastomeric stamps, as is done by Whitesides, was
Herb Goronkin of Motorola discussed functional nanodevices.
This was to me the most disappointing talk, not because there
wasn't exciting work going on, which there is, but because
Goronkin's talk centered almost exclusively on single-electron
devices. Some of this work is quite interesting, including the
synthesis of quantum-well devices using gold-colloid
nanoparticles with chemical coatings for self-assembly. However,
there was no mention of molecular electronics, and no survey had
been made of the state of progress in harnessing the properties
of nanowires and fullerenes, even when directly questioned on
The other talks generally covered technologies and properties
associated with nanostructured consolidated bulk materials.
The day ended with a rapid-fire series of 5-minute
presentations by representatives of various funding agencies. The
bottom line is that US agencies are spending over $100 million a
year on research that is labelled "nanotechnology", and
Europe and Japan are spending in the same range (each), $100 to
$120 million. Nanotechnology research funding by the rest of the
world brings the global total up to over $400 million. Much of
this, of course, is actually nanoparticle-based bulk processes,
sinters, colloids, paints, films, and the like; Siegal in his
conclusions talk did address the question of whether the field
was merely the collection of people who liked the prefix
"nano". However, there does seem to be a commonality of
scientific and analytical concerns, and engineering and
manufacturing techniques seem to be pressing the boundaries of
the envelope with equal force in all directions. I came away
feeling quite optimistic about the future of nanotechnology in
general, and of atomically-precise molecular engineering in
Much more information about the study can be found at the WTEC
web page, http://itri.loyola.edu/nano/welcome.htm.
A complete paper version of the report can also be ordered from
that site when it is completed.
The 1998 Senior Associates Gathering of Foresight Institute,
the Institute for Molecular
Manufacturing (IMM) , and the Center for Constitutional
Issues in Technology (CCIT) in Palo Alto on May 29-31, is shaping
up as a tantalizing blend of reports from the leading edge of
nanotechnology research and explorations of possible futures in a
Confirmed speakers on the technology development and
applications side of the program include Eric Drexler of Foresight/IMM, Josh Hall, formerly of
Rutgers and now a full-time IMM Research Fellow, Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC, and
Jim Von Ehr of
nanotechnology startup company Zyvex.
Bob Santer of Ford Motor Co. will speak on the future of
transportation, which like everything elsewill look
very different with nanotechnology. Pat Parker of the Naval
Postgraduate School has led efforts to get the U.S. military to
look at nanotechnology, will discuss what's happening at The
Front, within the limits of security restrictions. And Foresight
Executive Director Chris
Peterson will discuss the ability of nanotechnology to
"heal the earth." Philippe
Van Nedervelde, head of Foresight Europe, also will speak on
the rapid rise of nanotechnology research in Europe.
A number of speakers are slated to discuss broader
implications of nanotechnology. Their discussions will be led off
Saffo, Institute for the Future, who has been watching
nanotechnology and other emerging technologies for years, and has
thought deeply about their implications. Greg Burch,
a very nontraditional (extropian) lawyer will sketch an early
take on legal issues affecting nanotechnology. Jim
Halperin, whose newly published novel The First
Immortal is likely to be the most prominent cryonics 'n'
nanotech fiction we've seen for a long time, will discuss science
fiction as a means to introduce new ideas to society. David
Brin, whose new book The Transparent Society
looks at what happens under ubiquitous surveillance, will discuss
the implications of its arrival even before nanotechnology
arrives. (Paul Saffo also has discussed this topic; see Update
29.) Tom McKendree, University of Southern California
will sketch how to use nanotech for robust settlement of the
solar system and beyond.
Although not yet able to confirm her presence with certainty, Virginia Postrel
of Reason Foundation, is slated as a probable speaker
[subsequently CONFIRMED]. Progress on Foresight's Web Enhancement project
also will be discussed.
However, to be part of this stimulating and challenging
weekend, you have to be a Senior
Associate. In addition to making you eligible for joining the
Senior Associate Gatherings, becoming a Senior Associate brings
you a special quarterly newsletter from the desk of Eric Drexler,
on-line interactions, and networking opportunities.
Individuals can become Senior Associates by pledging an annual
contribution of $250 to $5,000 a year for five years. Support at
this level is an invaluable contribution to the research and
education programs of the Foresight family of organizations and
to the responsible development of molecular nanotechnology.
Senior Associates choose to participate at one of four levels:
Associate ($250 annually for five years) Fellow ($500 annually
for five years. Includes signed gift book.) Colleague ($1000
annually for five years. Includes framed signed artwork.) Friend
($5000 annually for five years. Includes engraved crystal
"Friend of Foresight" award on ebonite base and the
signed framed artwork.) For
There's a saying that "Getting an
education at MIT is like trying to get a drink from a fire
hose." This can also be said of tracking nanotechnology here
at the center of the Foresight network.
We had always assumed that the pace of developments was on an
exponential curve, but early exponentials look fairly
flatnot hard to keep up with. That time has gonenow
hardly a day goes by when we receive news that would have rated
as "the year's big event in nanotechnology" not so long
And it's getting harder to tell this amidst all the
"nano" hype. Again, this was expected: sexy terminology
gets picked up by wannabes looking for funding, forcing the rest
of us to come up with new terms for our goals: nanotechnology,
molecular nanotechnology, molecular manufacturing...we'll
probably have to keep migrating.
One of our favorite terminology innovators is Prof.
Ari Requicha of USC, who coined "molecular
robotics" years agoboth technically accurate and
catchyand now has started using "NEMS":
nanoelectromechanical systems. We're not sure who coined NEMS,
but if Prof. Requicha uses the term, it will probably catch on.
Nanotechnology in Europe
Meanwhile, those who are new to tracking this field find
themselves floundering in a sea of "nano" terms: their
reports tend to focus on simply trying to figure out what to
include. Quite a respectable effort has come out of the European
Commission Joint Research Centre: "Nanotechnology in Europe:
Experts' Perceptions and Scientific Relations between
Sub-areas," prepared by Ineke
Malsch of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies
(IPTS) in Seville. A few excerpts:
"Molecular nanotechnology as well as computer
modelling scored relatively high" [among areas
considered to be part of nanotechnology].
"Molecular nanotechnology, the vision promoted by the
Americans Drexler and Merkle and their Foresight Institute,
and the most cited in the popular press, can also be
considered a central element of nanotechnology."
"...the apparent increasing acceptance, or social
acceptability, of the term molecular nanotechnology...does
not surprise me. It is a fundamental distinction which
Drexler and Merkle have made since the beginning of these
discussions...molecular nanotechnology is just beginning to
The report also distinguishes between top-down and bottom-up
approaches, and gets its definition of molecular nanotechnology
right as well. By now you may be wanting a copy, but the one we
have lists no ordering information or price: just the report
number (EUR 17710 EN) and the address for IPTS: W.T.C., Isla de
la Cartuja s/n, E-41092 Seville, Spain. Visit their web site at http://www.jrc.es for some visionary
The innovation potential of nanotechnology covers a very
broad range of applications, including biomedical,
information, environmental and production technologies.
Nanotechnology looks set to become one of the dominant
technological fields of the 21st century. It is almost
certain to reshape many industrial areas and so have
important implications for society and the environment.
Springtime in Rome = Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology may not be the first topic that occurs when you
think of Rome in spring, but in 1999 that will be the place to
be: the Foresight/Elba Forum on Nanotechnology, our first
European technical conference. We are fortunate to have two
stellar co-chairs: Claudio
Nicolini and James
Gimzewski, both of whom have been working to further the
field for years, Prof. Nicolini in Italy and Dr. Gimzewski in
Switzerland. The latter's name will also be familiar to our
readers from last
year's conference, at which he won the Feynman Prize in NanotechnologyExperimental.
Based on the quality of speakers that this meeting is
attracting, it's clear that there's a lot of pent-up European
interest in nanotechnology. So if youlike meare
looking for a good reason to go to Italy next spring, this is
Let's Meet Earlier
For those of you who are most serious about participating,
technically or otherwise, we can offer an earlier meeting, May
29-30, described elsewhere in this issue.
Yes, the speakers are great, but this is really about networking:
meeting potential employees, employers, investors, activists,
entrepreneurs, and most of all, friends.
There aren't too many places to meet with people who choose to
look ahead a couple of decades. We keep this off-the-record, to
enable us all to speak freely without worrying about what the
newspapers or our current employers will think of our views,
which can sound quite like science fiction. But as Gayle Pergamit
and I say in our lectures: If you're looking 30 years out and it
"sounds like science fiction," it may be wrong; but if
it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely
Join us, to stretch your brain, to scope out future job
prospects, and to meet new colleagues who share your values and
views. The conversation is unbeatable.
Action Up, Costs Increase
The booming of the Silicon Valley economy has caught up with
us; costs are high here. With Foresight's increase in activity
over the past few yearsespecially on the webit's time
to adjust annual contributions to reflect that, so you'll be
seeing a minimum request of $45 starting with your next renewal.
This is only the second increase since our founding in 1986, and
we hope you agree with what we're often told by members: that we
accomplish more per dollar donated than just about any other
organization they know.
Thanks, and we look forward to working with you over the next
decade. No one has lived in more "interesting times"
than those ahead of us right now.
Chris Peterson is Executive Director of Foresight
As scientists and policy-makers in Europe begin to focus more
closely upon the technical feasibility of molecular
nanotechnology and the implications of its realization, Foresight
Institute has recognized the need to establish a physical
presence in Europe.
Philippe Van Nedervelde, a Foresight Senior Associate who has
participated intensively in Foresight affairs in recent years and
who has been involved in the re-design and expansion of
Foresight's Web site, has been named Executive Director of
"Philippe understands both the science and policy
implications of nanotechnology. He has served as a spokesman for
Foresight with European media. This is a natural extension of the
relationship between him and the organization," said Chris
Peterson, Executive Director of Foresight Institute.
"Research in fields related to molecular nanotechnology
is expanding exponentially in Europe," Van Nedervelde said.
"I expect within another year that Europe will ascend to at
least a level of parity with Japan in the amount and quality of
research underway, and in some fields will become the leading
focus of research."
He also noted that a major conference on Molecular
Nanotechnology is planned for Spring 1999 in Rome, co-sponsored
by Foresight Institute and the Elba Foundation. Also, three
conferences on nanoscale materials are scheduled during 1998 in
EuropeStockholm, Birmingham, UK, and Lausanne, Switzerland.
See the Upcoming Events column
on the last page of this issue for details. All will have some
program content related to molecular nanotechnology, as well as
top-down nanoscale topics.
As this issue of Update goes to press, Foresight
Europe is completing the arrangements necessary to conduct
business in Europe, including leasing and furnishing an office in
London, going through the formal process of establishing
Foresight Europe as a UK charity, and completing a plan to
establish Foresight in Europe with the same high stature it has
achieved in the U.S.
Van Nedervelde already has conducted an interview with The
Guardian, which was available online, but unfortunately
the link has expired
More details about Foresight Europe, including the location of
the office, means of contact with it, and the scope of its
planned efforts, will be available in the next issue of Update.
In the meantime, Van Nedervelde can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chu shared the 1997 award with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji of the
College de France, and William D. Phillips of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology for their work in the field
of laser cooling and trapping. It has meant a breakthrough for
both theory and experiment within the field and has led to deeper
understanding of the interaction between light and matter. It has
also led to intense world-wide activity within the atomic,
molecular and optical physics community and has opened up new
roads toward the study of the quantum behavior of dilute atomic
vapors at very low temperatures.
The Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology is
scheduled to be held November 12-15, 1998 at the Westin Hotel in
Santa Clara, CA, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Foresight Institute established the Distinguished Student
Award in February 1997 to provide a $1,000 award each year to the
college undergraduate or graduate student whose work in
nanotechnology is deemed most notable. The first award (for 1996)
went to John M. Michelsen, a University of California at Irvine
Collins' paper, co-authored with Dr. Alex Zettl, addressed use
of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to explore the local
electrical characteristics of single-walled carbon nanotubes.