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NanoBusiness Alliance downplays role in MNT study deletion

Formerly implying they played a primary, or at least major, role in getting the MNT study taken out of recent legislation, NbA is now downplaying their part in the process. Perhaps they got some flak about it? See Howard Lovy's blog item. Note to Mark M.: it is a risky thing to make fun of bloggers–they can make a difference. Just ask Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader.

3 Responses to “NanoBusiness Alliance downplays role in MNT study deletion”

  1. RobertBradbury Says:


    To be specific the study on MNT was not taken out of the legislation. See section 5b from Public Law 108-153. It says:

    STUDY ON MOLECULAR SELF-ASSEMBLY- As part of the first triennial review conducted in accordance with subsection (a), the National Research Council shall conduct a one-time study to determine the technical feasibility of molecular self-assembly for the manufacture of materials and devices at the molecular scale.

    The problem with this is that it is obvious that molecular self-assembly is possible for manufacturing *now*. All life and all products produced by cells are based on molecular self-assembly. So the problem is not that the study was "taken out" but that the final language is pointless. The fact that the study will not be conducted for three years makes it even more pointless.

    Now, the wording which was in the House version of the bill (H.R. 766) was not much better:

    (b) STUDY ON MOLECULAR MANUFACTURING- Not later than 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act a review shall be conducted in accordance with subsection (a) that includes a study to determine the technical feasibility of the manufacture of materials and devices at the molecular scale. The study shall–

    1. examine the current state of the technology for enabling molecular manufacturing;
    2. determine the key scientific and technical barriers to achieving molecular manufacturing;
    3. review current and planned research activities that are relevant to advancing the prospects for molecular manufacturing; and
    4. develop, insofar as possible, a consensus on whether molecular manufacturing is technically feasible, and if found to be feasible–
      (A) the estimated timeframe in which molecular manufacturing may be possible on a commercial scale; and
      (B) recommendations for a research agenda necessary to achieve this result.

    This would have been better but to the extent that the version passed in P.L. 108-153 focused on "self-assembly" H.R. 766 focused on "molecular manufacturing". The arguments that apply to proving "self-assembly" are similar to those that apply to proving "molecular manufacturing". A significant fraction of materials produced (from leather car seats to popcorn) are produced using "molecular" manufacturing.

    So neither the initial versions of the House bill, nor the final signed into law bill really address the critical issues with respect to real MNT. If one is going to deal with real MNT one has to deal with some very technical details such as (a) the atomic precision of the manufactured product; (b) the fraction of bonds per unit volume which are covalent vs. hydrogen or ionic bonds; (c) the ability to assemble structures which have stressed covalent bonds; (d) the ability to perform rapid molecular assembly (perhaps using extensive parallel assembly processes).

    IMO, the language of both the House and the final bill that was passed were insufficient to resolve the debate within the nanotechnology community (though the House version was probably closer to the desires of hard core MNT fans).

    I have made further comments in the discussion section of Howard's blog (though it appears to be unavailable currently).


  2. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    Correction to Correction

    "Molecular manufacturing" and "molecular self-assembly" are almost completely different.

    Molecular manufacturing uses programmable, mechanically guided covalent chemistry to fabricate complex and useful molecules.

    Molecular self-assembly is not about how the molecules are built, and generally does not use mechanochemistry at all; instead, it's about one, limited but useful way of joining molecules into useful supramolecular structures.

    MNT is virtually synonymous with molecular manufacturing. From the point of view of MNT, molecular self-assembly is basically just an enabling technology.

    So yes, the study of MNT was removed from the bill. What is left is a study of a useful, short-term, nanoscale technology that may someday make MNT easier. It's not at all the same thing.


  3. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re:Correction to Correction

    Chris, we may have somewhat different definitions of molecular manufacturing. Does the manufacture of a molecular structure have to use "mechanically guided covalent chemistry"? I would agree that much of the emphasis by Eric, Ralph, et al has been on this path but I would strongly object that that is the only path. In fact work over the last couple of years seems to suggest that self-assembly paths may be making much faster progress (in spite of the fact that I would expect them to be more difficult). Your statement suggests that it is difficult (or impossible) to have structures that self-assemble become bonded in such a way as to provide greater strength. Mechanochemistry is *not* the only way that molecular nanotechnology (or supramolecular structures) can be achieved. It is simply one path that at least a few individuals have a good understanding of.

    I do not view molecular self-assembly as an enabling technology. It is perhaps the ultimate technology — throw the right stuff together and it assembles itself. No need for a factory, no need for power inputs, no need for factory workers, etc. I do view robust self-assembly as much more difficult than MNT because the assembly path has to be built into the components rather than be directed by external control processes. But who is to say whether or not in the future component designers might not simply instruct computers to the effect of "ok, now make it self-assemble", just as drug designers now instruct computers "ok, now make it water soluble", or IC designers now instruct computers "ok, now lay out the wires to connect millions of transistors"?

    If you view that "molecular manufacturing" == "MNT" (primarily restricted to mechanosynthesis) then you have a very narrow view of how atomic precision, high covalent bond density, etc. might be achieved.


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