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Unbounding the Future:

the Nanotechnology Revolution


Some terms used in discussing nanotechnology and other anticipated technologies:

Assembler: A general-purpose device for molecular manufacturing capable of guiding chemical reactions by positioning molecules.

Atom: The smallest unit of a chemical element, about a third of a nanometer in diameter. Atoms make up molecules and solid objects.

Atomic force microscope (AFM): An instrument able to image surfaces to molecular accuracy by mechanically probing their surface contours. A kind of proximal probe.

Automated engineering: Engineering design done by a computer system, generating detailed designs from broad specifications with little or no human help.

Automated manufacturing: As used here, nanotechnology-based manufacturing requiring little human labor.

Bacteria: Single-celled microorganisms, about one micrometer (one thousand nanometers) across.

Bulk technology: Technology in which atoms and molecular are manipulated in bulk, rather than individually.

Cell pharmacology: Delivery of drugs by medical nanomachines to exact locations in the body.

Cell surgery: Modifying cellular structures using medical nanomachines.

Cell: A small structural unit, surrounded by a membrane, making up living things.

Disassembler: An instrument able to take apart structures a few atoms at a time, recording structural information at each step.

DNA: A molecule encoding genetic information, found in the cell's nucleus.

Ecosystem protector: A nanomachine for mechanically removing selected imported species from an ecosystem to protect native species.

Enabling science and technologies: Areas of research relevant to a particular goal, such as nanotechnology.

Enzymes: Molecular machines found in nature, made of protein, which can catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions.

Exploratory engineering: Design and analysis of systems that are theoretically possible but cannot be built yet, owing to limitations in available tools.

Gray goo: See Star Trek scenario.

Immune machines: Medical nanomachines designed for internal use, especially in the bloodstream and digestive tract, able to identify and disable intruders such as bacteria and viruses.

Limited assembler: Assembler capable of making only certain products; faster, more efficient, and less liable to abuse than a general-purpose assembler.

Molecular electronics: Any system with atomically precise electronic devices of nanometer dimensions, especially if made of discrete molecular parts rather than the continuous materials found in today's semiconductor devices.

Molecular machine: Any machine with atomically precise parts of nanometer dimensions; can be used to describe molecular devices found in nature.

Molecular manipulator: A device combining a proximal probe mechanism for atomically precise positioning with a molecule binding site on the tip; can serve as the basis for building complex structures by positional synthesis.

Molecular manufacturing: Manufacturing using molecular machinery, giving molecule-by-molecule control of products and by-products via positional chemical synthesis.

Molecular medicine: A variety of pharmaceutical techniques and therapies in use today.

Molecular nanotechnology: Thorough, inexpensive control of the structure of matter based on molecule-by-molecule control of products and byproducts; the products and processes of molecular manufacturing, including molecular machinery.

Molecular recognition: A chemical term referring to processes in which molecules adhere in a highly specific way, forming a larger structure; an enabling technology for nanotechnology.

Molecular surgery or molecular repair: Analysis and physical correction of molecular structures in the body using medical nanomachines.

Molecular systems engineering: Design, analysis, and construction of systems of molecular parts working together to carry out a useful purpose.

Molecule: Group of atoms held together by chemical bonds; the typical unit manipulated by nanotechnology.

Nano-: A prefix meaning one billionth (1/1,000,000,000).

Nanocomputer: A computer with parts built on a molecular scale.

Nanoelectronics: Electronics on a nanometer scale, whether made by current techniques or nanotechnology; includes both molecular electronics and nanoscale devices resembling today's semiconductor devices.

Nanomachine: An artificial molecular machine of the sort made by molecular manufacturing.

Nanomanufacturing: Same as molecular manufacturing.

Nanosurgery: A generic term including molecular repair and cell surgery.

Nanotechnology: see Molecular nanotechnology.

Positional synthesis: Control of chemical reactions by precisely positioning the reactive molecules; the basic principle of assemblers.

Protein design, protein engineering: The design and construction of new proteins; an enabling technology for nanotechnology.

Proximal probes: A family of devices capable of fine positional control and sensing, including scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopes; an enabling technology for nanotechnology.

Replicator: A system able to build copies of itself when provided with raw materials and energy.

Ribosome: A naturally occurring molecular machine that manufactures proteins according to instructions derived from the cell's genes.

Scanning tunneling microscope (STM): An instrument able to image conducting surfaces to atomic accuracy; has been used to pin molecules to a surface.

Sealed assembler lab: A general-purpose assembler system in a container permitting only energy and information to be exchanged with the environment.

Smart materials and products: Here, materials and products capable of relatively complex behavior due to the incorporation of nanocomputers and nanomachines. Also used for products having some ability to respond to the environment.

Star Trek scenario: Someone builds potentially dangerous self-replicating devices that spread disastrously.

Virtual reality system: A combination of computer and interface devices (goggles, gloves, etc.) that presents a user with the illusion of being in a three dimensional world of computer-generated objects.

Virus: A parasite (consisting primarily of genetic material) that invades cells and takes over their molecular machinery in order to copy itself.

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