Feynman Grand Prize


Foresight Institute offers a $250,000 prize for the first persons to design and build two nanotechnology devices - a nano-scale robotic arm and a computing device that demonstrates the feasibility of building a nanotechnology computer.

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology based upon the ability to assemble individual molecules and atoms into precise structures. Its realization will pave the way for building such devices as supercomputers the size of a sugar cube, and nanorobots that could repair damage inside human cells. The large cash prize is expected to focus the efforts of many researchers working in nanotechnology-related fields.


$250,000 Feynman Grand Prize

Foresight Institute Offers $250,000 Feynman Grand Prize
For Major Advances In Molecular Nanotechnology

Palo Alto, CA - Foresight Institute, a not-for-profit organization dealing with nanotechnology-related issues, is offering a $250,000 cash prize to the first individual or group to achieve specific major advances in molecular nanotechnology.

To win the Feynman Grand Prize, entrants must design and construct a functional nanometer-scale robotic arm with specified performance characteristics, and also must design and construct a functional nanometer-scale computing device capable of adding two 8-bit binary numbers.

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology based on the ability to assemble individual molecules and atoms into precise structures. Its realization will allow the construction of supercomputers the size of a sugar cube, pollution-free manufacturing, and molecular-scale robots that could repair damage in individual human cells. More than one billion such nanorobots would fit inside a single drop of blood.

"Foresight Institute expects this large prize to attract the interest of talented people working in the many sciences and technologies bearing upon molecular nanotechnology," said K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D., Founder of Foresight Institute and author of several books defining the technology.

Prizes have long played a key role in technological advancement. For example, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic Ocean to claim a $25,000 cash prize. More recently, the £50,000 ($95,000) Kremer prize led to the realization of man's age-old dream of man-powered flight. "The Feynman Prize will recognize one of the most significant technological breakthroughs in human history," Drexler said."However, the rewards awaiting those who achieve significant nanotechnology breakthroughs will be far greater than the prize itself."

Funds for the $250,000 Feynman Grand Prize have been donated to Foresight Institute by individuals interested in advancing the progress of nanotechnology, and are being conservatively invested. Fund raising is continuing in an effort to increase the prize to $1 million, Drexler said.

Foresight Institute will continue to offer its annual Feynman Prize for the most significant recent advance in nanotechnology.

Specifications for the Feynman Grand Prize require the winning entrant to:

The Feynman Grand Prize is named in honor of Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman, who in 1959 pointed in the direction of molecular nanotechnology in a talk at California Institute of Technology, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Carl Feynman, son of the late Nobel laureate, has participated in the definition of requirements for the Feynman Grand Prize and comments, "I'm delighted that Foresight Institute chose to name this prize after my father. It will be an important prize for an important accomplishment."

Foresight Institute is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Its mission and fundamental goal is betterment of the human condition, especially as it is related to molecular nanotechnology. It seeks to pursue its mission by:

Funds for the Feynman Grand Prize have been donated by two entrepreneurs associated with Foresight Institute who support its goals. They are James R. Von Ehr II, formerly founder of Altsys Corporation, and currently vice president at Macromedia, a leading computer software company; and Marc Arnold, chief executive officer of Angel Technologies, a St. Louis-based wireless telecommunication company.

Foresight Institute is open to membership by any interested individual or organization. It sponsors major conferences on molecular nanotechnology and provides technical and policy development information through its World Wide Web site located at http://www.foresight.org. Official detailed specifications of the Feynman Grand Prize requirements will be posted there. The site also provides links to many other nanotechnology-related sites on the Internet. Foresight Institute also publishes a quarterly Foresight Update newsletter for members. For more information about membership and its benefits, interested persons may contact Foresight Institute at (650) 917-1122 or e-mail foresight@foresight.org.



Requirements for Winning the Feynman Grand Prize

1) Design and Construct a Functional Nano-scale Robotic Arm

The prize winner must design, construct and demonstrate the performance of a robotic arm or other positional device that initially fits into a cube no larger than 100 nanometers in any dimension. The device must:

  • carry out actions directed by input signals of specified types (see below).
  • be able to move to a directed sequence of positions anywhere within a cube 50 nanometers in each dimension.
  • perform all directed actions with a positioning accuracy of 0.1 nanometer or better.
  • perform at least 1,000 accurate, nanometer-scale positioning motions per second for at least 60 consecutive seconds.

The intent of this robotic arm specification is a device demonstrating the controlled motions needed to manipulate and assemble individual atoms or molecules into larger structures, with atomic precision.

2) Design and Construct a Functional Nano-scale Computing Device

The prize winner must also design, construct and demonstrate the performance of a digital computing device that fits into a cube no larger than 50 nanometers in any dimension. The computing device must be capable of:

  • adding accurately any pair of 8-bit binary numbers, discarding overflow.
  • accepting input signals of specified types (see below).
  • producing its output as a pattern of raised nanometer-scale bumps on an atomically precise and level surface.

The intent of this computing device specification is a nanometer-scale device that is capable of performing the functions of a conventional 8-bit adder.

General Requirements

Input signals:

Devices may accept inputs from acoustic, electrical, optical, diffusive chemical, or mechanical means. However, any mechanical driving mechanism used for input shall be limited to a single linkage that either slides or rotates on a single axis. The Panel of Judges may specify additional acceptable input methods. It will not remove any methods previously designated as acceptable.

Multiple copies:

To demonstrate that the device can be mass produced, contestants must provide at least 32 copies of each item for analysis and destructive testing by judges. Entrants must provide design specifications and theory of operation to allow judges to evaluate the submitted devices.

Testing Procedures:

The proposed devices will be tested for performance using Scanning Probe Microscopes (available now) and other appropriate devices available at the time the entrant's work is being evaluated.

Judging Procedure:

Decisions whether entrants have met the Prize specifications will be made solely according to the judgement of a Panel of Judges appointed by Foresight Institute; their decision is final. Both specifications (robot arm and 8-bit adder) must be met by the entrant before the Prize is awarded.

Application for Prize:

Parties interested in applying for the Feynman Grand Prize should contact Foresight Institute to announce their intentions and to obtain specific procedures for application.

Intellectual Property Rights:

All entrants will retain all intellectual property rights to their work.


Prizes in Science and Technology

An Important Stimulus for Breakthrough Thinking

Although scientific grants today are the most common source of funding for scientific and technological research, prizes awarded for specific accomplishments have played an important role in the advancement of science and technology. In the 18th and 19th centuries, prizes were the most common form of funding for scientific advancement. That was particularly true in France, the leading scientific nation of that era. Goal-specific prizes remain important today as a means to stimulate breakthrough thinking. The Feynman Grand Prize offered by Foresight Institute thus continues an important tradition in the funding of scientific and technological advance.

The Longitude Prize

One of the most famous prizes in science history led to the development of accurate nautical navigation. Skilled mariners have known for more than two millennia how to establish their latitude. However, accurate positioning at sea also requires knowing the ship's longitude. The means to do so had eluded the world's best thinkers for centuries. As the leading maritime power in the 18th Century, England had a vast strategic interest in finding a useful means for its ships to establish their precise location at sea. Thus, the English Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714. It specified a prize of £20,000 (equivalent to about $2.5 million in today's funds) for the person who devised a reliable means for a ship captain to establish his longitude within half a degree of great circle (30 nautical miles at the equator). Two smaller prizes were also designated for lesser accuracy.

Although scientists of the era sought celestial solutions to the problem, the question ultimately was answered not by an astronomer but rather by a clock maker, John Harrison. He designed and built the world's first chronometer - a special clock capable of keeping accurate time under the adverse circumstances of life at sea. By comparing the difference between the time of a known location and the ship's local time (established by the sun's position), navigators could tell longitude accurately. An early test voyage proved Harrison's chronometer's ability to establish longitude within a few miles through the duration of a trans-Atlantic voyage.

The Orteig Prize

In 1919 Raymond Orteig, a wealthy French hotel owner, offered $25,000 for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh won the prize in a modified single-engine Ryan aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. Others had been pursuing the prize diligently, using different approaches. Two weeks after Lindbergh's feat, Clarence Chamberlain and Charles Levine flew nonstop from New York to Germany in a Bellanca monoplane. A month later U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd and a crew of three also crossed the Atlantic, in a Fokker trimotor. Their efforts changed the way people thought about flight, and about the world itself.

The Orteig Prize was one of many offered to stimulate the development of the fledgling aeronautical industry. Between the first flight by the Wright Brothers and 1929, over 50 major aeronautical prizes were offered by governments, individuals, newspapers and corporations. In 1926 and 1927, Daniel Guggenheim offered more than $2.5 million in prizes and trophies.

The Kremer Prizes

The Kremer Prize for Human Powered Flight was offered in 1959 at £5,000 by British industrialist Henry Kremer. It grew to £50,000 (worth $95,000 at that time) before it was claimed by Dr. Paul MacCready and his team in 1977 for flying a figure eight along a half-mile course with his Mylar-skinned Gossamer Condor. Kremer immediately offered a second prize of £100,000 for the first human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel. Only two years later, MacCready's Gossamer Albatross won that prize as well. The lightweight construction techniques MacCready developed for these human-powered aircraft contributed to MacCready's more recent design for the General Motors Impact, the first modern car designed "from the wheels up" as an electric vehicle.

Prizes Offered by Richard Feynman

A defining moment in the history of molecular-scale technology was a 1959 speech at the California Institute of Technology by Nobel Laureate physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman. "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," he declared in his discussion of the possibilities of molecular-scale engineering. To spur work in that direction, he offered $1,000 prizes from his personal funds to the first person to construct a working electric motor 1/64 inch or less on a side, and to the first person to produce written text at 1/25,000 scale (the size required to print the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin).

The motor prize was claimed in 1960 by an engineer who found a way to construct a very small motor using conventional mechanical techniques. Dr. Feynman had unfortunately set the size limits slightly too large to require breakthrough technology. He paid anyway. The printing challenge took longer; but in 1985 a Stanford University graduate student named Thomas Newman reproduced the first page of Charles Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities, on a page measuring only 1/160 millimeter on a side (20 times smaller than the human eye can see), using electron beam lithography. Dr. Feynman paid that prize enthusiastically, since it had produced technological advance.

Super Efficient Refrigerator Prize

In 1992, a consortium of U.S. electric utilities, seeking to enhance environmental quality and energy efficiency, announced a prize of $30 million to be awarded to the most energy-efficient refrigerator design that did not using environmentally harmful CFC refrigerant. Fourteen manufacturers submitted entries. The winning company, Whirlpool Corp., devised a refrigerator that used 25% less energy than the most energy-efficient available model before the contest, and 40% less than the Federal energy efficiency standard for new refrigerators.


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