Feynman Grand Prize

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Richard P. Feynman




New York, New York, May 11, 1918


to Gweneth Howarth, Ripponden, Halifax, England


Carl Richard (April 22, 1962)
Michelle Catherine (August 13, 1968)


February 15, 1988


B.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1939
Ph.D. Princeton University, 1942


Research Assistant, Princeton University, 1940-41
United States Government (Manhattan Project) 1941-45
Professor of Theoretical Physics, Cornell University, 1945-50
Visiting Professor, California Institute of Technology, 1950
Professor of Theoretical Physics, Caltech, 1950-59
Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Caltech, 1959-88


Albert Einstein Award (Princeton), 1954
Atomic Energy Commission E.O. Lawrence Award, 1962
Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Society, 1965
Nobel Prize for Physics (for work in quantum electrodynamics), 1965
Oersted Medal for Teaching, Caltech, 1972
Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, 1973

Dr. Feynman also served as a leading member of the Rogers Commission, which investigated the cause of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident.

Those who knew Dr. Feynman remember him as an extraordinarily brilliant theoretical physicist, a passionate and inspiring teacher, a witty and lucid public speaker, a lover of practical jokes, a devoted family man, and a strong advocate for honesty in science and public policy. In his personal appendix to the Rogers Commission report, he concluded, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." He published numerous scientific papers, and several popular books for lay readers.

Dr. Feynman spoke at Caltech in 1959 on the topic, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." In that talk, he pointed toward the feasibility of molecular nanotechnology. It is because of that speech that the Feynman Prize is named in his honor.

"A magician does things that nobody else can do and that seem completely unexpected, and that is Feynman" -- Hans Bethe

Books by and about Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman -- by R. Feynman
What Do You Care What Other People Think, Mr. Feynman? -- by R. Feynman
Six Easy Pieces -- Some easy physics lectures
The Feynman Lectures on Physics -- Texts of lectures at CalTech
QED - by R. Feynman
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation -- by R. Feynman
Genius: The Life and Times of Richard Feynman -- by James Gleick
Most of the Good Stuff: Memories of Richard Feynman -- edited by Laurie Brown and John Ridgen
No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman -- by Christopher Sykes
The Beat of a Different Drum -- by Jagdish Mehra
Tuva or Bust! -- by Ralph Leighton

Information on ordering these publications online from the California Institute of Technology bookstore can be obtained on the World Wide Web at http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~citbook/.

[More information about Dr. Richard P. Feynman is available on the Web.]

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Foresight Institute Purpose and Policy


Foresight Institute's goal is to guide emerging technologies to improve the human condition. Foresight focuses its efforts upon nanotechnology and upon systems that will enhance knowledge exchange and critical discussion, thus improving public and private policy decisions.


Foresight Institute recognizes that nanotechnology - like all pivotal technologies - brings both potential perils and benefits. To help achieve the advantages and avoid the dangers, Foresight's policy is to prepare for nanotechnology by:


Foresight Institute recognizes that sound public and private policy can be built only upon a solid foundation of knowledge and tested ideas. Humanity needs better methods to exchange knowledge, and to subject new ideas to effective intellectual scrutiny. Foresight thus supports the development of new systems and technologies that will lead to better dissemination of information and analysis of proposed policies. This is crucial in addressing emerging technologies. When nanotechnology is realized, it will trigger widespread social and economic change, for which public and private policy must now prepare.

Nanotechnology will allow control of the structure of matter within the broad limits set by physical laws. Other limits will be necessary to prevent abuses by individuals, groups and nations bent upon undesirable ends. Global competitive forces and continuing progress in molecular sciences will lead ultimately to the realization of nanotechnology. Foresight seeks to ensure that nanotechnology, when developed, will be used to improve conditions in the broadest sense, rather than for destructive or narrow purposes. Nanotechnology must be developed openly to serve the general welfare and the continued realization of the human potential.

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Sources of Information

Technical Book:

Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation by K. Eric Drexler, (John Wiley & Sons, 1992) provides the definitive technical dissertation on molecular manufacturing.

Books accessible to non-specialists:

Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler (Doubleday, 1986) discusses both the technology and its possible applications and consequences.
Prospects in Nanotechnology: Toward Molecular Manufacturing, edited by Markus Krummenacker and James Lewis (John Wiley & Sons, 1995) has chapters by 15 authors providing multiple perspectives on the field.

Books accessible to a broader audience:

Unbounding the Future, by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson and Gayle Pergamit (Quill 1991) provides a non-technical discussion of what nanotechnology should let us do, using technically feasible scenarios to clearly illustrate the possibilities.
Nano! by Ed Regis (Little, Brown 1995) is an engaging and entertaining book that describes the researchers involved in this area, particularly Drexler, and the reactions of different members of the scientific community to the concept.

Journal, publication and Internet newsgroup

Foresight Update is a newsletter published by the Foresight Institute and is an excellent way to keep abreast of developments and events in this rapidly moving area. Many older copies are available from Josh Hall's nanotechnology site on the Internet. The current issue is available from Foresight.
Sci.nanotech is an Internet news discussion group that covers nanotechnology and related areas.
The journal Nanotechnology covers nanotechnology both in the specific sense of molecular nanotechnology and in the broader sense. Nanotechnology is published by the Institute of Physics.

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Key Nanotechnology Internet Sites

Foresight Institute http://www.foresight.org
Includes past issues of Foresight newsletters, Feynman Prize information.

Nanotechnology (Ralph Merkle's nanotechnology page at Xerox)
A comprehensive nanotechnology site with excellent basic information and many links to other sites; maintained by one of the leading researchers in the field.

Nanolink: Key Technology Sites on the Web (in Singapore)
A comprehensive (over 50) set of links to other nanotechnology sites.

Laboratory for Molecular Robotics (at the University of Southern California)
Describes relevant research at USC.

Nanomanipulator Project (at University of North Carolina)
Describes multi-university project to develop virtual reality simulator of Scanning Tunnel Microscope operations.

Nanotechnology Archives (at Rutgers)
The most comprehensive reference source for nanotechnology related research reports and related information.

Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group
A discussion of the positive implications of nanotechnology for space exploration and settlement.

Nanotools: The STM Home Brew Page
Instructions to home-build at low cost a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, one of the key tools in nanotechnology research.

Initiatives in Nanotechnology (at Rice University)
Describes work at one of the leading academic centers of nanotechnology research.

Brad Hein's Nanotechnology Page
Another useful set of links to other nanotechnology sites.

Scanned Probe
The definitive Web reference for scanning probes and related research tools.

Small is Beautiful
An extensive set of links to other nanotechnology sites maintained by NASA.

All of these sites offer cross-links to many other nanotechnology-related sites on the Internet; over 100 content-based sites are dedicated to the topic.

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The Biennial Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology

Winners of Previous Biennial Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology

1995: Dr. Nadrian C. Seeman, professor of chemistry, New York University, for his pioneering work in synthesizing complex three-dimensional structures from DNA molecules.

1993: Dr. Charles Musgrave, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for his work on modeling a hydrogen abstraction tool useful in nanotechnology.

Judges for the 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology

Announcement of 1997 Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology

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Background on Nanotechnology

By Ralph C. Merkle

Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in graphite (as in a pencil lead) we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes.

Todays manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. It's like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can't really snap them together the way you'd like.

In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We'll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in almost any arrangement that we desire. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond about the next decade, and will also let us build a broad range of manufactured products more cleanly, more precisely, more flexibly, and at lower cost.

It's worth pointing out that the word "nanotechnology" has become very popular and is used to describe a broad range of research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers. For example, continued improvements in lithography have resulted in line widths that are less than one micron: this work is often called "nanotechnology." Sub-micron lithography is clearly very valuable (ask anyone who uses a computer!) but it is equally clear that lithography will not let us build semiconductor devices in which individual dopant atoms are located at specific lattice sites. Many of the exponentially improving trends in computer hardware capability have remained steady for the last 50 years. There is fairly widespread confidence that these trends are likely to continue for at least another ten years, but then lithography starts to reach its fundamental limits.

If we are to continue these trends we will have to develop a new "post-lithographic" manufacturing technology which will let us inexpensively build computer systems with mole quantities of logic elements that are molecular in both size and precision and are interconnected in complex and highly idiosyncratic patterns. Nanotechnology will let us do this.

When it's unclear from the context whether we're using the specific definition of "nanotechnology" (given here) or the broader and more inclusive definition (often used in the literature), we'll use the term "molecular manufacturing."

Whatever we call it, it should let us:

There are two more concepts commonly associated with nanotechnology:

Clearly, we would be happy with any method that achieved the first three objectives. However, it seems difficult to accomplish all three objectives without using some form of positional control (to get the right molecular parts in the right places) and some form of self replication (to keep the costs down).

The need for positional control implies an interest in molecular robotics, e.g., robotic devices that are molecular both in their size and precision. These molecular scale positional devices are likely to resemble very small versions of their everyday macroscopic counterparts. Positional control is frequently used in normal macroscopic manufacturing today, and provides tremendous advantages. Imagine trying to build a bicycle with both hands tied behind your back! The concept of manipulating individual atoms and molecules is quite new and still takes some getting used to. However, as Feynman said in a classic talk in 1959: "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom." We need to apply at the molecular scale the concept that has demonstrated its effectiveness at the macroscopic scale: making parts go where we want by putting them where we want!

The requirement for low cost creates our interest in self replicating systems, studied by von Neumann in the 1940's. These systems are able to make copies of themselves, and so if we can design and build one such system the manufacturing costs for more such systems (assuming they can make copies of themselves in some reasonably inexpensive environment) will be very low. (The reader might note that I do work at Xerox. Hence, an interest in systems that can make copies of themselves is perhaps appropriate).


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Feynman Grand Prize - Table of Contents