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Debate update — Nanotechnology: Radical new science or plus ca change

You may recall this nanotech debate held at University of Nottingham. Organizer Philip Moriarty reports that “The debate video footage is currently being put together by the team from Sheffield who filmed the event. As soon as the video stream is available, I’ll let you know. Moreover, the debate will be transcribed for a journal entitled Nanotechnology Perceptions.” Debater David Forrest let us know that his slides from that event are available. To see the animations, you’ll need to also download these two files (1,2) and put them in the same directory.

David comments on why there is still skepticism about artificial molecular machine systems: “My sense is that it’s related to the cultural divide between science and engineering, exemplified by my exchange with [one debater, who] basically failed to understand that the larger errors of force field models, while completely inappropriate for the surface science problems that he is studying, are just fine for many aspects of engineering design in molecular machine systems.”

Despite a couple little oddities — e.g., why was the anti-MNT debater allowed to speak four times as long to make his case? — we salute the organizers and participants. We especially salute those who are trying to test some of these concepts in the lab, such as Philip Moriarty.

I hope that all involved will still be around to see how nanotech evolves, at which time we’ll ask the losing side to treat the winners to a round of drinks! –Christine

[Update: David's point about science vs. engineering is shown in the very title of the debate: "Nanotechnology: Radical new science or plus ca change?" A technology, or set of technologies, is not a science, new or old.--CP]

3 Responses to “Debate update — Nanotechnology: Radical new science or plus ca change”

  1. David Forrest Says:

    Although I didn’t always agree with our soft machines protagonist, I did find it refreshing to be on the same side of the fence in terms of agreeing that molecular manufacturing is possible. All realistic approaches to achieve the goal of developing productive nanosystems should be encouraged. My post-debate comments can be found at

  2. Philip Moriarty Says:


    The debate has now been transcribed and will be published in the next issue of “Nanotechnology Perceptions”. Both the transcription and the video footage have taken rather longer to sort out than was first imagined. In the next issue of “Nanotechnology Perceptions” (i.e. that following the issue in which the transcript of the debate will be published), I will comment in detail on the very many scientific questions and issues raised during the debate.

    On your “why was the anti-MNT debater allowed to speak four times as long to make his case?”, could I please bring your attention to the following timings of the introductory presentations by each of the speakers.

    04:40 – 15:28: Richard Jones
    15:40 – 21:40: John Storrs-Hall
    21:50 – 31:15: Jack Stilgoe
    31:20 – 40:20: David Forrest
    41:09 – 47:57: Saul Tendler

    (I was required to provide these timings to the editors of “Nanotechnology Perceptions” to facilitate the transcription process). As you can see, Richard’s presentation runs to a little until 11 minutes and Saul’s to a little under 7 minutes. Josh’s intro was 6 minutes long whereas David’s ran to 9 minutes.

    Best wishes,


  3. Philip Moriarty Says:

    At long last, streaming video footage of the Nottingham Nanotechnology debate is now available (via Google Video) here .

    Best wishes,


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