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Foresight Update 53

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 53 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

Foresight Institute Awards Feynman Prizes

Nanotechnology Researchers, Journalists and Student Honored at Molecular Nanotechnology Conference

Feynman Prize winners Drs. Steven Louie, Marvin Cohen, and Carlo Montemagno
Winners off the 2003 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes: Drs. Steven G. Louie (left) and Marvin L. Cohen received the prize for theory and Dr. Carlo Montemagno (right) received the prize for experiment.

Foresight Institute awarded four prestigious prizes to leaders in research, communication and study in the field of nanotechnology at the 11th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.

The 2003 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes, named in honor of pioneer physicist Richard Feynman, were presented to Drs. Marvin Cohen, Steven Louie and Carlo Montemagno. The Foresight Institute Prize in Communication was presented to nanotechnology commentators Tim Harper and Paul Holister. Physics graduate student Ahmet Yildiz received the Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award.

"The Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology are given to researchers whose work has most advanced the development of molecular nanotechnology," said Christine Peterson, President of Foresight Institute. "Molecular nanotechnology will be the ultimate manufacturing technology. It will be able to inexpensively arrange the fundamental building blocks of matter. It will allow us to make molecular computers, remarkably light and strong materials, molecular medical devices and a host of other manufactured products that will revolutionize our world."

Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes—Experimental and Theory

The Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes are given in two categories, one for experimental and the other for theoretical advances in nanotechnology. Drs. Marvin L. Cohen and Steven G. Louie of the University of California at Berkeley, Department of Physics, received the theoretical prize for their contributions to the understanding of the behavior of materials. Their models of the molecular and electronic structures of new materials predict and understand properties like structure, surface conditions, and interactions with other materials. Many of these predictions have later been confirmed experimentally.

The Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for experimental work was awarded to Dr. Carlo Montemagno of the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, for his pioneering research into methods of integrating single molecule biological motors with nano-scale silicon devices, which opens up new possibilities for nanomachines. The controlled movement of nano-scale and molecular parts are fundamental to the development of molecular machines.

Foresight Institute Prize in Communication

The Foresight Institute Prize in Communication was awarded to Tim Harper, President, and Paul Holister, Chief Information Architect, of Cientifica for educating the nanotechnology community about the long-term potential of molecular nanotechnology. The recipients communicate via their electronic newsletter, TNT Weekly, and publish an industry survey, The Nanotechnology Opportunity Report. These two communicators are in constant contact with thousands of scientists, businesses and investors active in the nanotechnology world.

Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award

Physics graduate student, Ahmet Yildiz, of the University of Illinois of Urbana, Champaign, received the 2003 Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award for his work in unraveling the motion of the molecular motor myosin V, which will be useful in the design of artificial molecular motors. The Distinguished Student Award recognizes the college graduate or undergraduate student whose work is deemed most notable in advancing the development and understanding of molecular nanotechnology.

Special thanks go to those who provided the funding for the prizes this year: for the Feynman Prizes—Marc Arnold and Jim Von Ehr; for the Communication Prize—Senior Associate Larry Millstein, founder and President of Millstein & Taylor, PC; for the Student Award—James Ellenbogen, Ravi Pandya, Jim Von Ehr.

Foresight Update 53 - Table of Contents

Students Network at Foresight Conference

For the first time Conference includes special event for graduate and undergraduate students

paticipants in the student roundtable
Students spend an evening at the 11th Foresight Conference with Ralph Merkle and Eric Drexler (2nd row, 4th and 3rd from right).

The first ever Foresight Student Roundtable, held at the 11th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, proved to be an enormous success. Dr. Ralph Merkle led an interactive discussion with undergraduate and graduate students about studying nanotechnology and embarking on a career in the field. At the same time, the groundbreaking event served as an excellent networking opportunity for young people interested in nanotechnology and its implications. The roundtable was the pilot effort of a new Foresight initiative to reach out to young scientists and nanotechnology enthusiasts. In order to foster understanding and communication among students of nanotechnology—be they in the realm of science, engineering, business, law, or ethics—the Foresight Institute will promote the overall engagement of young nanotechnologists, including the examination of societal effects and public literacy in the field. For more information about this ongoing project, or to learn how to get involved, please contact Foresight Student Liaison Jordan Amadio at

Foresight Update 53 - Table of Contents

Nanofactory Proposal Published

A flood of products by rapid assembly of a few classes of "nanoblocks"

Chris Phoenix, Director of Research for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, has published a paper arguing that widely useful molecular manufacturing may be developed only a short time after the first basic fabricator is developed, leading rapidly to a flood of molecular manufacturing (MNT) products, and lending urgency to recommendations for public policy to deal with risks and opportunities that will emerge with MNT. "Design of a Primitive Nanofactory" was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Evolution and Technology. (See for a description of the paper and links to purchase or freely download the complete paper as a PDF.)

Phoenix considers how long it might take to go from a working nanofabricator, a nanoscale device to combine individual molecules into useful shapes, to a tabletop nanofactory, a self-contained, automated, programmable appliance that manufactures a wide range of useful human-scale products. He concludes that once you have the nanofabricator, "the rest is pretty straightforward" because current engineering knowledge is already sufficient to enable many people to design and build products, including more nanofactories.

This paper does not specify how the first nanofabricator will be built, but cites Ralph Merkle's design for an encased double-tripod as one possible approach ( The nanofactory design would work with any "reliable self-contained diamondoid fabricator capable of self-replication from simple feedstock under digital control." Phoenix does not consider mechanical features smaller than 1 nm so that design generally simplifies to filling a given volume with bulk diamond lattice.

Phoenix's nanofabricator would build a nanoblock, approximately the same size as the fabricator. His design uses a nanoblock that is a 200-nm cube of almost solid diamond. Eight nanoblocks would be joined together to make one block roughly twice as big, a process that is easily scalable to tabletop size.

There would be a small number of different types of nanoblocks. Some would be nanofabricators; others nanocomputers; still others would form manipulators for assembling nanoblocks into larger structures. The next step up in the hierarchy of the nanofactory is a production module, which consists of one nanocomputer and a few thousand nanofabricators, and which produces a few blocks, a few microns in size, by combining a few thousand nanoblocks. These larger blocks would be combined to form still larger blocks. Two mechanical innovations to make block manipulation and assembly feasible are described in detail: (1) a thermodynamically efficient stepping drive to drive mechanical devices by a series of digital commands; (2) an expanding ridge joint for mechanical, non-covalent joining of blocks.

The architecture of the factory is also specified:

"A production module fabricates two 3.2 micron product blocks out of up to 8,192 nanoblocks, using a fabricator to produce each nanoblock. The module is extremely reliable in the face of radiation damage, and is controlled by an integrated nanocomputer. The overall shape of the module is a rectangular solid ~16x16x12 microns. The fabricators are placed on two opposite sides, delivering their product nanoblocks to the interior. The nanocomputer occupies a third side, surrounding the product exit port. The remaining three sides may be closed by thin walls, but need not be closed at all where two production modules are placed side by side in the nanofactory. The interior is sparsely filled with gantry crane manipulators to assemble the nanoblocks into larger blocks."

"... a tabletop nanofactory (1x1x1/2 meters) might weigh 10 kg or less, produce 4 kg of diamondoid (~10.5 cm cube) in 3 hours, and require as little as fifteen hours to produce a duplicate nanofactory."

Considerable attention is paid to the need for redundancy at various points in the nanofactory design to prevent radiation damage from rendering the factory useless. "The maximum workable size of this design is limited by radiation damage. A factory of 16,000 fabricators (a suitable size for one nanocomputer to control, with the program downloaded in stages to save memory) may have a 1% chance of suffering a disabling hit to a single fabricator in a single day." Thus redundancy at many levels of the hierarchy is essential.

To avoid the need to design human-scale products to atomic precision, the design re-uses a few components that can be combined in many ways to make many larger-scale systems.

"The nanofactory can be designed using six levels. First, mechanochemistry creates nanoparts. The parts are combined into nanomachines, which are fitted into nanoblocks. Combinations of nanoblocks specify patterns which are used to fill regions. Finally, folds are built into the product to allow it to unfold and rearrange into more complex shapes and larger volumes. Each of these levels can be designed almost independently of the others, and each can be efficiently encoded into a product specification file and decoded to control the nanofactory."

Thus extensive quantum mechanical calculations will be required to simulate nanoparts and nanomachines, but a wide variety of different nanoblocks could be built from only a few nanomachines, and "a relatively small palette of nanoblock classes, implementing a few basic functions" will be assembled to build a large range of products. "With a working set of predesigned nanoblocks (including standard inter-block connection arrangements), product designers will not need to design new nanoblocks for most new products."

Even within the limitations that Phoenix proposes, the tabletop nanofactory should be able to build products of great complexity and value. He proposes that a massively parallel nanocomputer with a 16-bit architecture would have the same computing power as today's fastest computer (the NEC Earth Simulator, which fills a large building and draws 13 MW), but would require only 2 watts and fit into a cubic mm.

As is often the case with molecular manufacturing, one of the most significant limitations is heat dissipation. "A factory producing 4 kg in 3 hours might need to dissipate approximately 200 kW," requiring about 2 liters/sec of coolant.

The time consuming step in building a human scale product using a nanofactory will be the several hours that it will take for a single nanoblock-sized fabricator to fabricate a single nanoblock. The nineteen convergent assembly stages to assemble the product from quadrillions of nanoblocks will take only a few seconds. Bootstrapping a nanofactory from a single nanofabricator, if every design worked correctly the first time, would require 250-300 3-hour product cycles, about 40 days.

Phoenix has nothing to say here about how long it will take to produce the first nanofabricator, but he argues strongly that inexpensive nanofactories able to make a wide range of useful products will quickly follow that breakthrough. If the nanofabricators use a simple, inexpensive chemical feedstock, and if the speed of the nanofactory is stepped down a bit to lessen the cooling requirements, and if technology licensing and product design fees are not too heavy, then home nanofactories seem a likely outcome.

Foresight Update 53 - Table of Contents

Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 53 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

"Self-replicating systems" by J. Storrs Hall, PhD.

"Nanomedicine: Will Intracellular Medical Nanorobots Disrupt the Cytoskeleton (Part II)?" by Robert A. Freitas Jr.


Senior Associates Program

The Senior Associates Program has been established to provide steady support for the research projects of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and for the education and communication projects of the Foresight Institute, enabling long-term planning and commitments, and providing seed money for new efforts.

The Senior Associates Program supports vital research and education in molecular nanotechnology. It enables individuals to play a key role in advancing this technology and its responsible use through their individual or corporate contributions.

By pledging an annual contribution of $250 to $5,000 a year for five years, Senior Associates join those most committed to making a difference in nanotechnology. Benefits of becoming a Senior Associate include special publications, online interaction, and special meetings.

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From Foresight Update 53, originally published 15 January 2004.

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