Foresight Update 4

page 5

A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Letters to FI

The Foresight Institute receives hundreds of letters requesting information and sending ideas. Herewith some excerpts:

One of the things that would be most helpful to me right now is a micro-hypertext system that could be used for organizing my personal and professional work. If you're going to be developing hypertext, why not plan from the beginning for a PC version to which it could interface but which could be marketed separately.

John Simms
Math Dept.
Marquette University

An interesting question for proponents of nanotechnology: The prototype products could well cost trillions in research and development. Producers are faced with bringing very expensive products to market, while new competitors, privy to many of the same memes, could bring very similar products to market literally dirt cheap. Where is the incentive for pioneering efforts?

Robert J. Hurt
Denver, CO

I am interested in doing molecular graphics on my own computer. However, it's not a Macintosh, but rather an IBM-PC XT clone. Do you know of any (reasonably priced) molecular graphics programs for IBM compatibles? I've been working on writing my own, but I'm a better programmer than chemist.

I believe that the time is ripe for a low end molecular CAD [computer-aided design] program. The hardware is adequate, if you don't require real time animation. The interest is there. It would really aid this field if a standard data format could be established, to avoid the incompatibilities found between rival mechanical CAD programs. The more people we can get hacking away at new molecular devices, and the better they can communicate, the sooner we will get assembler technology. I would just as soon have the breakthrough made by private industry or individuals [rather than governments].

Brett P. Bellmore
Capac, MI

Computer modeling of molecules, and eventually of molecular machines, is a key part of the path to nanotechnology. Jerry Fass has brought to our attention a shareware program called MoleculeM for building and displaying 3D models of molecular structures. It is said to have built-in bonding and ionization rules and full rotation abilities. The companion program Chemview is said to make animated 3D rotation models with each atom a different color. For a free catalog call Public Brand Software at 800-426-3475.

However, much more sophisticated programs will be required to do the modeling we need. There's a commercial opportunity here.--Editor

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Molecular CAD

A computer graphics researcher at the Research Institute of Scripps Clinic (Department of Molecular Biology) would like to collaborate with others sharing his interest in computer-aided design tools leading toward nanotechnology. Interested readers with skills useful to such a project should send a letter to FI for forwarding to Scripps.

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Biostasis Research

Biostasis research at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation has been disrupted by a grandstanding local official who, presumably in an effort to generate media coverage to help his re-election, has been harassing Alcor. This intimidation has ranged from confiscation of equipment and records to threats of criminal charges. To our knowledge Alcor has done nothing to merit this treatment, but this fact doesn't lessen the legal bills they are accumulating as a result of defending against these bogus charges.

Those who are interested in ensuring the continuation of state-of-the-art biostasis research and services should send their contributions to Alcor Life Extension Foundation, 12327 Doherty St., Riverside, CA 92503, phone 714-736-1703.

See their Web page for current contact information for Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

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Many libraries do not have Engines of Creation indexed under the subject "nanotechnology." Readers are asked to check their favorite libraries, especially those at universities, and if necessary ask the librarian to correct this omission.

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Media Coverage

Coverage of nanotechnology in the media continues with articles appearing recently or expected soon in: InfoWorld (in George Morrow's column), the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter, the magazine-style insert USA Weekend carried in various Sunday papers nationwide, and a piece in LA Weekly by M.J. Wilcove. Interest has also been expressed by two British TV networks, the BBC and Channel 4. Readers spotting coverage of nanotechnology in the paper media are asked to forward us a copy; please don't assume we've seen it! We'd appreciate hearing of coverage in other media as well.--Editor

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Precollege Training

Many of today's researchers were first confirmed in their vocation when they participated in an NSF-sponsored summer program for high school students. Now a guide to these programs is available: the 1988 Directory of Student Science Training Programs for High Ability Precollege Students. The Directory lists institutions in the U.S. that will be conducting student science training programs in the academic year 1988-89.

The 507 programs listed are of three general types: courses, research, and combinations of courses and research. Residential and commuter programs are offered; some charge for participaion, some do not. Scholarships are often available. Programs are provided in science, engineering, and mathematics. For each copy send a $1 check made out to "Science Service Directory" to 1988 SSTP Directory, 1719 N St., NW, Washington, DC 20036. Domestic orders only accepted; those outside the US should send $4 to the Foresight Institute and we will order a copy and send it to you by airmail.

Current information about National Science Foundation Student and Education programs.

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As usual there are too many people who deserve thanks for all to be listed here, but the following is a representative group: Michael Whitelock, John Alden, and Ray Alden for budget help; Gayle Pergamit, Brian Quig, and Dennis Gentry for help in our Executive Director search; Jeff Soreff for technical work; Marvin Minsky for encouragement; Gerald Feinberg for talking to the press; Stewart Brand and Nils Nilsson for spreading the word; Blair Newman for making valuable contacts; Ed Niehaus for marketing advice; James Dinkelacker for strategic advice; Steve Hyde for setting up the Colorado Springs talk; Jerry Fass (and many others) for sending information; Pat Wagner and Leif Smith for book recommendations.

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Kantrowitz Joins Board

Arthur Kantrowitz has joined Gerald Feinberg, Stewart Brand, and Marvin Minsky on FI's Board of Advisors. Now a professor of engineering at Dartmouth, Dr. Kantrowitz is the founder and former CEO of the Avco Everett Research Laboratory. His technical interests have ranged from space transportation to power generation to artificial hearts, but FI readers may know him better as the originator of the Science Adversary Procedure, popularly known as the Science Court. Dr. Kantrowitz is also active in the space development movement and served for years as Chairman of the L5 Society.

We plan in future issues to give profiles of all four Advisors.

See Update 5 for "Meet the Advisors: Stewart Brand".
See Update 7 for "
Profile: Marvin Minsky".
See Update 9 for "
Feinberg Anxious for Policy Discussions".
See Update 10 for "
Kantrowitz: Solutions, not Sacrifice".

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Copyright Policy

FI's standard arrangement with our writers is as follows: we copyright the material and may use it in the future, including in other forms such as recordings, videos, and electronic publications. The writer also is welcome to use the material; we ask that the credits indicate where it was first published. Writers desiring different arrangements can be accommodated; please consult the editor. We urge those who write for commercial publications to retain electronic publishing rights for your own use on future hypertext publishing systems.

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Nanotechnology BBS

For those with access to computers on the USENET, there is now a Netnews group, sci.nanotech, for the discussion of nanotechnology. (The USENET newsgroups form a large, distributed, hierarchical electronic bulletin board.) If your site receives some Netnews groups but not sci.nanotech, tell your system administrator that it is a "moderated, technical, low-volume" group. The moderator is J. Storrs Hall (rutgers!!josh or, who can answer specific questions about the group by electronic mail.

[Note: JoSH's current email address is He maintains an archive of nanotechnology papers and related material at ]

There is also a newly formed biostasis mailing list, run by Kevin Q. Brown. Send queries to ho4cad!

[Note: Ralph Merkle maintains a page with links to more current information on biostasis and cryonics.]

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From Foresight Update 4, originally published 15 October 1988.

Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 4 to html for this web page.