Foresight Update 22
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Probe Interface Price Cut 90%
A little-noted but significant advance made last year was a
sharp drop in the price of haptic (also known as touch-feedback
or force-reflecting) interfaces; they went down tenfold from
about $200,000 to $20,000. Credit for this advance goes to Thomas
Massie (firstname.lastname@example.org). The
name of his device is the "Phantom" (Personal Haptic
Interface Mechanism) sold by SensAble Devices
of Cambridge, MA.
When a haptic interface is connected to a proximal probe (STM,
AFM, etc.) it can simulate the experience of the direct
manipulation of very small amounts of matter.
One of Massie's customers is the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, a leader in virtual reality for proximal probes.
They report in "Haptic Display Systems Research;
Force-Feedback for Scientific Visualizations and Virtual
Environments", a summary of projects underway at that
More recently UNC has undertaken work to provide a rich user
interface to a scanning probe microscope. Known as the Nanomanipulator,
this application uses a haptic display in conjunction with stereo
graphics to allow human interaction with objects on the nanometer
scale...Development work is ongoing, but physicists report
already having obtained significant new insights as a result of
using the system.
Early Nanomanipulator work was presented at the 1993 Foresight
conference by UNC researcher Russell Taylor.
[Editor's note: For more on the
Nanomanipulator, see Update 25.]
Several computer-viewable (MPEG) videos
showing the haptic interface in action can be downloaded from UNC
on the World Wide Web at:
Tom Massie hopes to have a $2000 interface rolling by the middle
of 1996, according to Fred
Hapgood of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group. Hapgood
comments, "Perhaps we can look forward to the day when
hands-on molecular tinkering will be accessible to all"
Looks to Molecular Manufacturing
From Science, March 17, an item about comments from AT&T's
Penzias, whose support of "top down" fabrication is
"AT&T Bell Labs
researcher Arno Penzias observes that much of today's economic
progress hinges upon the continued increase in cost and
performance of silicon integrated circuits. 'While we still have
some way to go, the end seems in sight. As line widths shrink
toward 0.1 micrometers and factory costs zoom past 1 billion
dollars apiece, little more improvement in conventional
lithography technology seems likely. Hopefully, an entirely new
way of fabricating multibillion transistor circuits will be
devised. One atom at a time seems a bit tedious, but who knows
how fast microfabrication techniques might work?' "
Of course, "one atom at a time"-one molecule at a time
is usually more accurate-is not microfabrication, but rather molecular manufacturing.
Nanotechnology Work: A First Report
China's government news organ, Xinhau
News Agency, carried on May 20 the first report we have seen
on nanotechnology developments in China. "After five years
of research a laboratory at Tianjin University has made
breakthroughs in nanotechnology research, according to Chinese
scientists concerned." The work involves the fields of
microtip processing, 3D super-precision positioning and micro tip
imaging, Xinhau said. Hu Xiaotang, who studied in the U.S., has
been studying microtip processing technology since his return to
China in 1990. The smallest microtip in the world is 36 nanos
[nanometers, presumably] in size, while Hu worked out a microtip
as small as 12 nanos in size, whose buckling and radius are
subject to control, the news agency reported.
"Traditional international theory holds that the shorter the
distance, the more sensitive the test of the thermal imagery of
atoms. But Hu holds that the distance should be kept at about 50
nanos instead of the shorter, the better. His theory is
considered to have important significance for the application of
nanotechnology in bioengineering," Xinhau reported.
Hu's team has also achieved the highest degree of precision in
studies of the 3D super-precision positioning system. China's
first magazine about nanotechnology will also be edited by his
laboratory, it was reported.
Stanford's Prof. Calvin
Quate, co-inventor of the atomic force microscope now used in
developing molecular nanotechology, was named R&D Magazine's
Scientist of the Year. Previous awards include the National Medal
of Science, membership in the Royal Society of London, and both
Guggenheim and Fulbright honors.
R&D reports that when Quate first submitted the AFM work to
Physical Review Letters it was rejected and called farfetched.
One factor that "raised the ire of peer reviewers was Quate
prediction that the AFM could be used to 'measure forces on
particles as small as single atoms'. But eventually it was
accepted: "The paper's publication in the winter of 1986
turned out to be a seminal event in modern science." And, we
would add, in molecular nanotechnology.
Foresight legal columnist Elizabeth Enayati's page on
intellectual property issues in nanotechnology will return in the
next issue. Meanwhile, she will be appearing at the Fourth Foresight
Conference on Molecular Nanotech-nology as our luncheon
speaker on Friday, November 10. She welcomes your intellectual
property questions as topics for future columns; send questions
and comments to Elizabeth Enayati; Weil, Gotshal & Manges,
tel (415) 926-6248; fax (415) 854-3713; email
email@example.com; or send
mail c/o Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
Scientists in the United Kingdom are being admonished by their
paymasters to pursue research in line with national goals, work
more with industry, and contribute more directly to the wealth of
the nation. Since March, Britain's Office of Science and
Technology (OST) has issued 15 reports, each covering a major
industrial sector, which together form the first part of a
national attempt to set science and technology priorities for the
next 10 to 15 years. The reports distill the opinions of 10,000
experts from public and private research, business and finance.
The panels' visions of the future resulted in 15 lists of
recommendations and priority actions, although without specifying
funding levels. Among the suggested new initiatives are included
"virtual" research centers in which distant researchers
would collaborate through the Internet, and programs in
integrated biology and integrated ecosystem management. Education
and training were also highlighted and the need to strengthen
multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research was a common
theme. Life science emerged as a strong area for UK science. A
high degree of consensus was found between members of industry
The acknowledged master of the art is Japan. Every 5 years since
the 1970s, the Science
and Technology Agency in Japan has carried out a large-scale
survey to assess technological developments over a 30-year time
scale. The results are widely publicized and are used in planning
research programs at the national and company level. Germany and
France have both carried out surveys based on the Japanese model,
and the European Union is now considering one as well.
Using a technique known as a Delphi survey, a group of experts is
given a set of questions to elicit their views on the likelihood
that particular technological advances will occur, the relative
importance of factors that might determine whether those advances
will be achieved, and the importance of those advances
themselves. The results are collated and often then fed back to
the group so that it can formulate a collective opinion. [Science,
Vol. 268, pp. 795-6]
Although the United States remains on a par with or ahead of
Europe and Japan in all strategically 'critical' technologies,
its overall dominance is slipping, according to a report prepared
by the Office of
Science and Technology and submitted to President Bill
Clinton last March.
The report was prepared in response to legislation passed by
Congress in 1990 which calls for a report every two years until
2000, identifying critical technologies. Areas where the US has
enjoyed a substantial lead but are now seen to be slipping
include communications and computing systems, structures,
avionics, and propulsion. However, the trends are seen to have
improved in areas of software and toolkits, human systems,
intelligent complex adaptive systems, and human interface
factors. [Nature, Vol. 374, pp. 397]
Japan's generously funded Protein
Engineering Research Institute (PERI) in Osaka is to get a
second lease on life, under the new name - and expanded
scientific goals - of the Biomolecular
Engineering Research Institute (BERI). PERI was due to be
closed down next March - ten years after it was founded. PERI is
one of a new breed of semi-private institutes jointly funded by
private industry and the Japan Key Technology Center - known as
Japan Key-TEC - a semi-governmental organization supported by
dividends of government-held shares in the telecommunications
company Nippon Telegraph and
Telephone Corporation which was privatized in 1985.
These institutes provide an unusual research environment for
Japan. Scientists are given freedom to carry out basic research -
much as they would in a university - but are also provided with
exceptionally good facilities that are comparable, if not better
than, those in private industry.
PERI has concentrated its research efforts on determining the
structure of proteins. BERI will expand this goal to look in
addition at lipids, sugars, and nucleic acids; it will also
attempt to establish their biological function as well as their
structure. [Nature, Vol. 374, pp. 754]
A new study from Schonfeld & Associates, an Illinois
economics consulting firm, predicts that a strong economy will
yield an increase in US spending in 1996.
The telecommunications industry will be the biggest R&D
spender next year. Telephone companies plan to spend $30 billion,
and hardware suppliers will add another $4.1 billion in R&D.
Computers will receive $20.1 billion, chemicals $8 billion and
biotechnology is expected to top $1.1 billion in next year's
R&D spending. [R&D Magazine, July 1995, pp.
The controversial co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, Robert Gallo,
is establishing a research center in Baltimore, Maryland, in the
US. Gallo, who performed his work on AIDS at the National Cancer Institute,
will join two other former government scientists, William
Blattner and Robert Redfield, in what Maryland Governor Parris
Glendening called the "dream team of AIDS research."
The institute will open in the fall and plans to employ 300
scientists and research staffers. [R&D Magazine,
July 1995, pp. 9]
Quate of Stanford University's Ginzton Laboratory has been
named 1995 Scientist Of The Year by R&D Magazine. Quate
developed the scanning acoustic and atomic force microscopes,
providing essential enabling instrumentation for nanotechnology.
(See above in this
Update.) These microscopes now register a $100 million a year
industry. [R&D Magazine, July 1995, pps. 22-5]
Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker leads Apple Computer's development of
multimedia authoring tools for science, math, and medical
education as Senior Engineer Scientist, Technical Manager of the
East/West Authoring Tools Group within Apple's Advanced
by Scott MacLaren
Several nanotechnology talks were presented at this year's
American Association for the Advancement of Science annual
meeting in Atlanta. This is one of the first times that
nanotechnology has been directly presented at such a large
mainstream scientific research society meeting.
Birge introduced the Nanotechnology and Biomolecular
Electronics track with a discussion of the importance of the
emerging field of nanotechnology. Elias Greenbaum, Biotechnology
Research Group Leader at Oak Ridge,
made the first presentation, entitled 'Photosynthesis,
Biomolecular Electronics, and Renewable Fuels Production'. In his
research, optoelectronic devices have been constructed by making
direct electrical contact with the electron transport chain in
Next, Robert Birge presented 'Protein-based Optical Computing,
Memories, and Artificial Retinas.' Birge is the director of the Keck Center for
Molecular Electronics at Syracuse University. His work uses
another light-sensitive molecule, bacteriorhodopsin. For more
information on this research, see Birge's excellent article in
the March 1995 issue of Scientific American,
'Protein-Based Computers.' Birge reported that several startup
companies are already working on commercializing this technology.
The third talk was 'Highly Oriented Protein Films for Molecular
Electronic Devices' by Koichi Koyama of Fuji Photo Film Company.
This work also uses the molecule bacteriorhodopsin. Here, an
extremely clever method of making electrical contact with each
molecule in a monolayer film has been developed using bispecific
antibodies. For further information on this work, I recommend his
article 'Antibody-Mediated Bacteriorhodopsin Orientation for
Molecular Device Architectures' in the 5 August 1994 issue of Science.
One surprise at the conference came during a plenary talk by NASA
Administrator Dan Goldin. In talking about the need to develop
advanced technology for future spaceflight, Goldin referred to
the future development of microminiature medical devices injected
into the bloodstream and chemical surgery techniques that could
heal sick or injured astronauts without scalpels and incisions.
He also referred to nanoelectronics and nano- and micro-device
technology. While such ideas are not new to Foresight members,
they probably were to many of the thousands in attendance.
IMM Fellow Scott MacLaren is CEO of Molecular Manufacturing
Focuses on Nanotechnology
In its first annual report, issued earlier this year, Japan's National
Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (NAIR)
outlined the extensive efforts underway in Japan to develop
molecular-level technology. Takanori Okoshi, NAIR's
Director-General, reports that the Joint Research Center for Atom
Technology (JRCAT) "was founded as a tripartite
(industrial-academic-governmental) organization for intensive
joint research in the field of atom technology, and one hundred
or so researchers have started vigorous research works."
JRCAT is a research body managed under the equal partnership of
NAIR's Atom Technology Group and the Atom Research Center of the Angstrom
Technology Partnership, a consortium of 30 private sector
firms. In describing the project, NAIR writes "To handle
individual atoms and molecules or to control them collectively in
a self-organizing manner-that will be an ultimate technology
dream for mankind who has long been developing and making use of
materials. It obviously contributes to every industry of the 21st
century, if atoms and molecules are manipulated freely and new
materials with new properties are fabricated. The research is to
be carried out under a strong collaboration between experimental
and theoretical groups, participating from industries, academia
and national laboratories, in a planned period of 10 years from
NAIR's project includes eight groups:
- Tokumoto Group, working on mechanical probe
techniques including AFM and STM technology.
- Ichikawa Group, working on observation and
formation technology of atomic-scale structures using
- Ozeki Group, aiming to establish a technological
base of nano-structure fabrication on a solid surface
using chemical reactions without mechanical probes. They
are working with state-of-the-art molecular beam
- Kanayama Group, seeking to construct
self-assembling nanometric building blocks. They are
working to form composite atomic assemblies in a charged
particle trap of their own design.
- Okada Group, using scanning mechanical apparatus
for observation and manipulation of organic molecules.
- Tokura Group, working on 3-dimension transition
metal oxides and specialized organic molecular systems.
- Terakura, Uda and Hamada Group, using a
vector-parallel computer (VPP500) and a
massively-parallel computer (CM5E) for molecular-level
design, analysis, and simulations.
- Tanaka Group, exploring emerging fields such as
the dynamic process of structure formation with an aim of
creating semiconductor nano-scale structures, magnetic
thin film, and electrical double layers at solid-liquid
From Foresight Update 22, originally
published 15 October 1995.