The long-awaited report on the U.S. NNI from the National Academies’ National Research Council has just been issued. For Foresight, the most important part is the review of molecular self-assembly and molecular manufacturing. Here’s the short form:
Molecular Assembly: Self-assembly for the manufacturing of simple devices and materials is feasible, but because the probability of error increases as complexity grows, self-assembly for the manufacturing of more complex devices and materials has not been experimentally demonstrated.
Engineering of biological systems that can operate outside a living cell provides a model for future manufacturing systems. Predicting the reliability of such manufacturing systems, however, is very difficult and verifiable experimentation to support such prediction does not appear to exist. Experimentation leading to demonstration supplying ground truth for abstract models is appropriate to better characterize the potential for use of bottom-up or molecular manufacturing systems that utilize processes more complex than self-assembly.
The full report (free req. req’d, see pages 80-86 of the PDF, esp. 85-86) characterizes theoretical studies of molecular manufacturing as “visionary engineering analysis” and gives specific suggestions on how to move forward on site-specific chemistry for large-scale manufacturing with atomic precision.
Some advocates of atomically-precise manufacturing may have wanted more, but I think this is quite good compared to previous reports out of DC. We too would like to see funds directed toward “proof-of-principle studies that, if successful, would provide knowledge or engineering demonstrations of key principles or components with immediate value” on the path to molecular manufacturing.
Based on the list of committee members, I’m guessing that Peter Diamandis — who also serves on the Foresight board of directors — had a big role in this part of the report. Also helpful may have been the workshop held in early 2005 (see end of this post) at which many names familiar to Nanodot readers presented, including from Foresight, Zyvex, CRN, and IMM, as well as academic researchers who have been friendly to these ideas for many years. Bravo to all who put in their time to assist this committee. Now let’s see NNI funds flowing in this direction. —Christine