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Self-Replicating Systems in Nanotechnology

Ralph C. Merkle*, 1 and Robert A. Freitas2

1Foresight Institute
2Zyvex Corp.

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
11th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology


A principal objective of nanotechnology is to inexpensively arrange atoms in most of the ways permitted by physical law. An obvious and very effective route towards reducing manufacturing costs is to use self-replicating manufacturing systems. While not often generally appreciated, there are several self-replicating manufacturing architectures that could be implemented in the relatively near future and a large range of possibilities within a vast multidimensional design space that could be employed for molecular manufacturing in the longer term. Further research in this underfunded area is critical to progress and will likely lead to revolutionary changes in the economics of manufacturing.

We review key concepts and discuss recent research in this area—both theoretical and experimental—based on an extensive and comprehensive review of the existing literature drawn from an upcoming book by the authors.1 We present for the first time a new systematic overview of the vast design space for kinematic replicators, which includes >100 distinct design properties that identify >1050 theoretical unique replicator subclasses. We review several new classes of kinematic replicators that have recently been built and operated in laboratory settings, and discuss their relevance to manufacturing in molecular nanotechnology.


1. Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2003;

Abstract in Microsoft Word® format 29,510 bytes

*Corresponding Address:
Ralph C. Merkle
Vice President, Technology Assessment, Foresight Institute
1134 Pimento Ave
Sunnyvale, CA 94087-2231 USA
Phone: 408-730-5224 Fax: 408-730-5219


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