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Will a "’proto-prototype’ for a nanoassembler" lead to atomically precise manufacturing?

A special issue of the International Journal of Nanomanufacturing presenting topics on manufacturing in 3D at the nanoscale (derived from the 4th International Symposium on Nanomanufacturing held at MIT in November 2006) contains a report of a nanomanipulator for the complex assembly of nanoparticles. Although the press release from Inderscience Publishers, via AAAS EurekAlert (“Are nanobots on their way? US researchers have built a proto-prototype nano assembler“) explicitly references Eric Drexler’s 1986 description of an assembler, it is not clear (to me) from what is presented how close this mechanism might come to atomically precise manufacturing.

…Jason Gorman of the Intelligent Systems Division at the US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) … and his colleagues at NIST have taken a novel approach to building a nanoassembler and reveal details in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Nanomanufacturing [abstract]. “Our demonstration is still a work in progress,” says Gorman, “you might describe it as a ‘proto-prototype’ for a nanoassembler.”

…The NIST system consists of four Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) devices positioned around a centrally located port on a chip into which the starting materials can be placed. Each nanomanipulator is composed of positioning mechanism with an attached nanoprobe. By simultaneously controlling the position of each of these nanoprobes, the team can use them to cooperatively assemble a complex structure on a very small scale. “If successful, this project will result in an on-chip nanomanufacturing system that would be the first of its kind,” says Gorman.

“Our micro-scale nanoassembly system is designed for real-time imaging of the nanomanipulation procedures using a scanning electron microscope,” explains Gorman, “and multiple nanoprobes can be used to grasp nanostructures in a cooperative manner to enable complex assembly operations.” Importantly, once the team has optimized their design they anticipate that nanoassembly systems could be made for around $400 per chip at present costs. This is thousands of times cheaper than macro-scale systems such as the AFM.

Gorman points out that it should be possible to have multiple nanoassemblers working simultaneously to manufacture next generation nanoelectronics. At the moment, his team is interested in developing the platform for scientists and engineers to make cutting edge discoveries in nanotechnology. “Very few effective tools exist for manipulation and assembly at the nano-scale, thereby limiting the growth of this critical field,” he says.

“The work described in the IJNM paper is somewhat preliminary and focuses on the design and characterization of the micro-scale nanomanipulator sub-components,” adds Gorman, “We are currently fabricating a somewhat revised micro-scale nanoassembly system that we believe will be capable of manipulating nanoparticles by the end of the summer,” Gorman says, “We will publishing those results once they are available.”

This could be quite an advance, but the news report and the journal abstract are too sparse to guess how small are the building blocks that would be manipulated. Would the system (as it is now or with incremental improvements) work with atomically precise nanoparticles and could the orientation and position of the nanoparticles be determined to atomic precision? The precision might be limited to a few nanometers—useful for assembling nanoparticles but about an order of magnitude too large for atomically precise positioning. Alternatively, perhaps larger atomically precise building blocks could be developed that would fit together with atomic precision if manipulated to within a few nanometers of the correction position. If anyone can afford €30 (about $47) to purchase the paper, it would be interesting to hear more. Otherwise, we will await further progress and hope that this nanoassembler proves to be a step on the road to productive nanosystems.
—Jim

4 Responses to “Will a "’proto-prototype’ for a nanoassembler" lead to atomically precise manufacturing?”

  1. The latest on Precision Assemblers » Blog Archive » Fast Wednesday links Says:

    [...] http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/?p=2729US researchers have built a proto-prototype nano assembler“) explicitly references Eric Drexler’s 1986 description of an assembler, it is not clear (to me) from what is presented how close this mechanism might come to atomically precise … [...]

  2. The latest on Precision Assemblers » Blog Archive » Quick Roundup Says:

    [...] http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/?p=2729US researchers have built a proto-prototype nano assembler“) explicitly references Eric Drexler’s 1986 description of an assembler, it is not clear (to me) from what is presented how close this mechanism might come to atomically precise … [...]

  3. Phillip Huggan Says:

    Haven’t yet read the Foresight Roadmap. I’ll throw down some thoughts I’ve had in the meantime.
    Backwards chaining to full Drexlerian MNT requires an SPM that can manufacture all the parts of itself. Whether this SPM comes from the world’s engineering community, or more speculatively industrially designed by diamond surface scientists is irrelevant. To make SPMs, you need to manufacture: a laser, the bulk UHV lattice, the UHV filter, a filter-lattice interface (carbide?) if necessary, the tool tips and recharge parts, and an actuator, among other parts.

    If only some of these parts can be made via mechanosynthesis, the technology won’t be science-fiction revolutionary. What R.Freitas et al. are computer modelling right now are tool-tip structures and recharge metabolisms. No idea how to build them, but the results suggest slowly building a diamond lattice will be doable. IDK much about “lasers”, but I’d guess you need Yttrium-doped (or some other laser-ly atom) diamond computer simulations to know if this AFM part is a potential mechanosynthesis component; depositing Yttrium on a diamond lattice. An innovation may be to use a Boron-doped diamond comb-drive in place of PZT as an SPM actuator. This might be easier to make using CVD; I don’t know anything about electrical engineering, but if computer simulations demonstrate mechanosynthesizing boron atoms on a diamond lattice is feasible…given that CNTs yield one degree of dimension, by the time this comb-drive could be ready in a decade or two, there may already be fullerene-based actuators (A.Zettl’s type of research) on the market.
    I’m not even going to hazard incorporating the UHV filter into the proto-SPM. Whatever the smallest UHV filter is at any given time may restrict the miniaturization of a proto-SPM. I’m going to magically assume the semiconductors (Intel, Sun) will work with tiny diamond-containers encapsulating tiny UHV chambers for some aspect of their manufacturing process, and that diamond surface chemists will be able to purchase these square micron “SPM shells”. It is about as hopeful as is E.Drexler’s eutactic ferris wheel filter.

    Anyway, I’m envisioning a few *specific* but potentially impossible-in-practise scientific experiments from which to forward and backward chain some sort of overall diamond manufacturing process. Here is one that may not work: Somehow, a very specific carbon nanohorn topography is made. There is a paper (I can’t find at the moment) that computer simulates a specific polymantane barely slipping into a specific SWCNT. It also notes a slightly narrower SWCNT (without endcap) could “touch” the polymantane molecule with its edges, in effect using London Forces as a grip. Somehow, this diameter of CNT is incorporated into a nanohorn. So what you get is a pylon-shaped carbon allotrope incorporating a single open volume. I’ve no idea how to manufacture this shape (electron “soldering” from the outside of a cut nanohorn and the open end of a CNT?). But the shape is key, in that I’m hoping it can be used to guide both the smaller CNT, now used as an SPM tool-tip (demonstrated, again no link for now) into the interior of the larger CNT, and that the open end of the allotrope can be attached to a centrifuge and used to incorporate polymantane molecules into the interior of the allotrope (ie. the capped CNT end, not the open shell surface).
    Then, the filled nanohorn would be taken off the centrifuge and mounted onto an SPM. Here, the inner CNT forms the SPM tool-tip which would hopefully be guided into the allotrope to extract one of the column of polymantane reservoir molecules. That’s basically it. I’ve no idea if a centrifuge would work to force polymantanes into the end of a novel nanohorn. There is much backwards chaining to manufacture or find such a useful allotrope. But the really ambitious part is using a polymantane in CNT to form diamond tool-tips! I’m envisioning somehow affixing a reactive moiety to the SPM’s CNT tip and introducing it to the allotrope interior to remove a hydrogen atom(s) from the polymantane’s surface. Then, again somehow, introducing a carbon dimer to the polymantane ion’s reactive surface to build up a polymantane. If getting the carbon atom to the polymantne ion requires a large diameter moecule on the SPM CNT, this might be overcome by “filling up” the allotrope’s CNT-end with polymantanes and using the junction of the allotrope’s CNT end and wide end as the reaction site, though perhaps there would still be steric hinderance issues. As the product polymantane molecule becomes bigger, “fit” it into progressively larger allotrope containers until the desired R.Freitas tool-tip is produced. Maybe the polymantane would recontruct into an unreactive DLC surface where a hydrogen atom is removed? IDK.

    Even given mature MNT, it would be tough to produce products cost effectively. The obvious is computer circuits, but in two decades CNT diodes may be ubiquitous already. Big lasers and space infrastructures, for sure. But those are massive.

  4. Brent Says:

    I also think that even given mature MNT, it would be tough to produce products how ever I have gotten the information down pat for the diamond lattice. All of this is looking quite ready from what I have researched so I will keep you informed of other findings.

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