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Brits take lead toward advanced nanotechnology

Earlier we expressed enthusiasm for the UK Software Control of Matter project, and sure enough, they have already made progress toward setting themselves an ambitious, visionary goal which is expected to be funded:

We propose to create a molecular machine that will build new materials under software control. The output of the machine will be chains of building blocks linked by covalent bonds. The machine is modular and is designed to accept many different building blocks, from small molecules to nanoparticles, with a wide range of physical and chemical properties. In order to drive its development we will concentrate on using it to create two target products: a molecular wire, capable of transporting energy and electrical charge, and a catalyst. Software control starts with specification by the end-user of a sequence of building blocks. The target sequence is encoded in an instruction tape which can be read by the machine: the tape is itself a molecule, a synthetic DNA oligomer. The target sequence of building blocks is automatically converted into a control sequence of DNA bases, and the tape is produced by commercial solid-phase synthesis. The job of the machine is to read the instruction tape and to form the bonds between building blocks in the specified sequence. Every component of this molecular factory is itself a molecule: our ambition is to develop the system to the point where it could be distributed to end users as chemicals in plastic vials.

If you’re not sure why this is important, see the comments on the page cited to get an idea of how exciting this is. And then ask, why the U.K.? Why can’t U.S. government research funders be this visionary? (Or, insert the name of your own country.) Credit: Advanced Nanotechnology blog. —Christine

11 Responses to “Brits take lead toward advanced nanotechnology”

  1. Martin G. Smith Says:

    My crew has been following the Ideas Factory voraciously from when the first comment hit the Highway of Light. I rarely seen such focus with this group, the buzz was high and the Techs were glad that I had insisted we put in the fastest line available because the term ‘Gobbling up Bandwidth’ was certainly tested this past week.
    There was the weekly meeting at the ‘Safeway Centre” this morning and the following resolution was passed unanimously – ‘It is resolved therefore to commit 30% of all profits generated by the Safeway Centre in Fiscal Year 2007-08 be committed to A] the advancement on the implementation of the ABOTA Nanotechnology Lab and B] for the purchase of First product generated by the ‘Software Control of Matter’ Ideas Factory.’
    Many people have expressed surprise at how this group has come to be so fascinated with this technology. Many of the young people I deal with daily have fallen through the cracks of our education system only to find the only way out is a trip into the abyss, which goes nowhere and never leads up.
    What I have demonstrated to these young people and more significantly to the people watching is there is a way, there are things to learn. Not to put too fine a point on it, humble as I know you are, the Foresight Institute and the insight it provides has been a large part of that.

  2. Richard Jones Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. We were very pleased at how the week went – now we just need to get these great ideas to work!

  3. John Papiewski Says:

    Does this Matter Compiler project have a website? I’ve looked and haven’t found any.

  4. Christine Peterson Says:

    Martin — thanks for crediting Foresight. We have certainly been trying to do that, for twenty years now!

  5. Nanoman Says:

    This is excellent news! TRUE Molecular Manufacturing research! At last! I mean, we have seen step by step bit by bit progress, but this is enlightening! Read about more nano assembler-directed research in the latest Scientific American (no longer so hostile towards MNT it seems) about molecular building blocks for artificial enzymes and nano assemblers.

  6. Martin G. Smith Says:

    Christine – Credit goes where credit is deserved. Fact is, I can ‘Blame’ you and Chris Phoenix for getting my crew jazzed about this technology – [Do yo have any idea what an AFM/SPM suite costs, Dang!!]
    What happened in the UK is something unique and I will have something to say about that in my next comment.

  7. Mike Paquette Says:

    Am I missing something here? Why do the Brits get the credit for being the first to go down this road?

    I am not deeply entrenched in the research scene in the US, but I can see that in the US, the current NNI Strategic Plan, which was embarked upon in December of 2004, defines seven major subject categories of investment, or Program Content Areas (PCAs), which are viewed as areas critical to the accomplishment of NNI goals. One of these PCAs is Nanomanufacturing, which ‘includes R&D and integration of ultra-miniaturized top-down processes and increasingly complex bottom-up or self-assembly processes.’ Also, a supplement to the Presidents fiscal year 2006 budget called ‘The National Nanotechnology Initiative: Research and Development Leading to a Revolution in Technology and Industry’ specifically identifies facilities in the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation that emphasize research in areas that would make molecular assembly possible, including the development of a ‘database of properties of atomic and molecular interactions with various materials to facilitate autonomous atom-by-atom assembly of nanostructures’ and the development of ‘high-accuracy positioners.’ One of these facilities, the National Nanomanufacturing and Nanometerology Facility, cantered at the Advanced Measurement Laboratory opened and began its initial operations in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 2005.

    Investments from the US NNI, US States, and US industry into nano R&D are more than any other nation in the world. I welcome comments to the contrary, but I refuse to believe that the US has just sat on its laurels and overlooked trying to figure out advanced nanotechnology and a bottom-up approach to nanomanufacturing.

  8. Christine Peterson Says:

    Mike — I am not aware of a specific publicly-funded project in the U.S. that is nearly as exciting as the U.K. one described here. If anyone knows of such a project — directly aimed at programmable, atomically-precise manufacturing — I’d love to hear about it and will certainly mention it here on Nanodot immediately.

    The best thing I do know if is our own Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, but it does not yet include an experimental component. –Christine

  9. Mike Paquette Says:

    Christine –

    This last year has been very interesting for me, as I delve into the world of nanotechnology. But even with my limited background in the field, I am as frustrated as you must be with this. After looking into the programs I mentioned before, even though the words are there on paper, their work is leaning more towards mass nanomanufacturing of fullerenes and advanced measurement technologies. While some of their work may be applicable to the problem of creating a molecular assembler, their motivation is elsewhere.

    I do think that this is too important of an issue for the US to overlook, though. One can only speculate whether these types of experiments are going on in secrecy somewhere. I would bet that they are, but it will be a long time before we hear about them. Of course, this doesn’t help the rest of us today, does it.


  10. Nanodot: Nanotechnology News and Discussion » Blog Archive » Nanotechnology, Elvis, and the Beatles Says:

    [...] If we can get past the humorous quality of this automatic translation, it appears to be saying that those who are interested in productive nanosystems have not taken an interest in the Software Control of Matter project, or possibly in the work of Seeman and Rothemund. But Nanodot readers know that we at Foresight have been publicizing the project, and that Foresight has given Feynman Prizes to both Seeman (1995) and Rothemund (2006). [...]

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