Foresight Update 15

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Atom-Manipulating Initiative

Japan's MITI forms consortium

In January the first major project to manipulate matter at the molecular level was launched by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan. The "Atom Technology" project is explicitly chartered not only to observe individual atoms and molecules but to control their movement and to add or remove them from substances. Statements from MITI make clear that these new abilities are expected to have broad application, from computation to medicine and environmental cleanup.

Planned as a ten-year program, the effort will receive a government grant of 25 billion (about $200 million). It is structured as a research consortium currently including 46 companies, with 39 Japanese firms including Hitachi, Toshiba, NEC, Fujitsu, Nippon Steel, and Sumitomo Electric. Foreign companies and organizations include Texas Instruments, Motorola, Dupont Japan, and Information Processing Technological Institute (Germany). Australian and Canadian companies may also participate.

While Japan has had much smaller efforts underway for some time, especially through their ERATO research projects and (according to MITI) at Hitachi, an official of the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology explained that MITI has now decided to provide leadership via financial assistance.

The application most prominently mentioned has been higher-density computer memory, but more imaginative uses in new materials, gene manipulation, and new catalysts for environmental cleanup are also expected.

With this project, MITI has moved into the forefront of international R&D leadership in molecular nanotechnology development. While participation from other governments has not yet occurred, perhaps this can be encouraged as well.

Foresight Update 15 - Table of Contents


First General Nanotechnology Conference
Held in Palo Alto

Over 200 participants gathered from three continents at the First General Conference on Nanotechnology, held by the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto on November 11-14. Only a brief overview can be given here of this event; work is now underway to produce a conference proceedings volume and possibly a set of conference videotapes. (Foresight members will be informed when these are available.)

This was the first international conference designed to educate a broader community about the development status and potential of molecular nanotechnology. Entrepreneurs, policymakers, students, and investors heard lectures ranging from the scientific substructure of the emerging technology, to thoughts on problems it might cause, to the nuts-and-bolts of getting a new venture funded. Demonstrations were given by molecular modeling software vendors, and evenings were devoted to group discussion and action plans.

Presentations on the first day focused on getting everyone up to speed technically. Friday saw a transition to coverage of applications and funding, while Saturday's programming stimulated the imagination: what will the transition to nanotechnology mean, and when?

During one of the brainstorming sessions, a prize in molecular nanotechnology was proposed and initial funds were pledged by Foresight members Marc Arnold and Ted Kaehler. Work on establishing the prize is in progress by members Vic Kley and Ted Kaehler and will be reported in a later issue.

Foresight was joined by a number of corporate sponsors whose financial support made the meeting possible: Apple Computer provided support at the primary level, while Global Business Network, Beckman Instruments, BIOSYM Technologies, nanothinc, and Niehaus Ryan Haller Public Relations joined as supporting sponsors. (Apple, GBN, Beckman, BIOSYM, and Niehaus Ryan Haller have sponsored or assisted at earlier meetings as well; special thanks for their ongoing support.)

We thank the speakers, in order of their presentations:

Foresight's current plan is to alternate this meeting series with our research conference series--the former in even-numbered years, the latter in odd-numbered years--until annual meetings of both types can be supported.

Thanks are also extended to conference volunteers; see the Thanks column in this issue.

[Editor's note: The proceedings of this conference have been published in book form.]

Foresight Update 15 - Table of Contents


Conference Photos

Would-be nanotechnology entrepreneurs got the hard facts from venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caulield & Byers.

Environmental uses of nanotechnology were outlined by Duncan Forbes of the Ray Rowe Trusts for Animals.

Ted Kaehler of Apple, who recently joined the IMM Board of Advisors, spoke on molecular building blocks at the First General Conference.

First General Conference Speaker Neil Jacobstein discussed current and prospective nanotechnology project sponsors.

New Advisors Ed Niehaus and Jamie Dinkelacker participated in the final panel of the First General Conference. From left: Niehaus, Jim Bennett, Chris Peterson, Dinkelacker and Eric Drexler.

Dr. Ralph Merkle, computational nanotechnologist at Xerox PARC, spent much of the First General Conference being interviewed.

Foresight Update 15 - Table of Contents


Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group Workshop

The First General Conference on Nanotechnology included a workshop organized by the Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group (MMSG), an interest-based chapter of the National Space Society. MMSG supports the development of molecular manufacturing because it provides a technological pathway to space that could be faster than traditional approaches. The workshop aimed to bring closer, even if only slightly, the eventual development of nanotechnology and its application to space. Led by MMSG president Tom McKendree, the workshop generated considerable interest and enthusiasm, drawing in over a hundred participants as it progressed.

After reviewing options, the participants decided to brainstorm technical ideas that could further molecular nanotechnology. As is the rule in brainstorming, critiquing of the ideas presented was postponed. Soon, many nontechnical suggestions were also proposed.

Forty-nine ideas were documented. One was to use buckytubes as STM tips, or as channels for delivering small molecules to scanning probe sites. Another was to create a "parts catalog" of well-characterized molecules, and put it online in the public domain. A third was to form local nanotechnology study groups.

As the brainstorming began to slow, Mr. McKendree collected the major themes. Repeated suggestions included ideas for improving scanning probe tips, for the creation and distribution of some multimedia software that would educate users about molecular nanotechnology, and for the development of applicable technical databases.

A final flurry of ideas centered around creating a prize to encourage the development of nanotechnology. Marc Arnold generously pledged $5,000 per year for the next five years for the prize, with Ted Kaehler making an additional large pledge.

Working groups were formed from the workshop to start addressing each of these major themes. Roughly half the participants joined one of these working groups. The next day, representatives of each of the groups presented summaries of their efforts to the conference.

One idea from the tip group was to use a static electric field to sharpen a scanning probe tip. Those interested in pursuing this concept should contact Keith Henson (408-978-7616, email: Those interested in working on a HyperCard shareware stack to educate people about nanotechnology, a video of the conference, or other ways to educate the public about nanotechnology, should contact Jim Lewis (home: 206-524-1213, work: 206-727-3650 [No longer current], email: nano@carson.u. [Current email:], address: 7527 40th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98115). To reach those who decided to work on a nanotechnology-related technical database, contact Bruce Smith (415-499-0292, email: To donate money or provide other assistance for the nanotechnology prize, contact the Foresight Institute directly.

Those interested in finding out more about MMSG, which facilitated this workshop, should write to MMSG, c/o Tom McKendree, 12171 Amethyst Circle, Garden Grove, CA 92645. To obtain a list of the brainstormed ideas, write to MMSG Secretary, 1101 Robin Road, Blacksburg, VA 24060.

Foresight Update 15 - Table of Contents


Offprints Available

Four new articles are available from Foresight in the form of offprints:

"Molecular Directions in Nanotechnology," K.E. Drexler, Nanotechnology 2 (1991) 113-118.

"Molecular Manufacturing for Space Systems: an Overview," K.E. Drexler, JBIS 45 (1992) 401-405.

"Self Replicating Systems and Molecular Manufacturing," R. Merkle, JBIS 45 (1992) 407-413.

"Nanotechnology: Evolution of the Concept," C.L. Peterson, JBIS 45 (1992) 395-400.

To obtain these, send $3 each to Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA. (To conserve our supply, please request only one copy of each paper.)

Foresight Update 15 - Table of Contents



AAAS Conference, session on Nanoengineering, Feb. 14-16, Boston, MA. Includes talks on STM, molecular self-assembly, some top-down miniaturization. Contact AAAS, Washington, DC.

Bell Labs Physics Colloquium, Feb 23, New Jersey. Eric Drexler on molecular manufacturing. For Bell Labs only.

IRIS Conference, March 8-12, Agency for Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), MITI, Tsukuba, Japan. Workshops on atom factory, cluster sciences, bionic design; includes keynote by Eric Drexler on nanosystems. Contact MITI/AIST.

Oak Ridge Conference, April 21-24, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee. Sponsored by American Assoc. for Clinical Chemistry. Includes Dr. Gregory Fahy of American Red Cross on molecular nanotechnology. Proceedings to be published in journal Clinical Chemistry. Contact AACC, 800-892-1400; fax 202-887-5093.

NANO II, August 2-6, Moscow. Second International Conference on Nanometer Scale Science and Technology. Write Dr. Vinogravoda E.M., Academy of Technological Sciences of the Russian Federation, 9 Leninsky Prospect, 117049, Moscow, Russia.

STM '93, August 9-13, Beijing, China. Fax to Prof. Chunli Bai, 86-1-2569564.

Third Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology: Computational Approaches, October or November 1993, Palo Alto, CA. The third in a series of technical conferences will have an emphasis on computational modeling and applications. Details to be announced.

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From Foresight Update 15, originally published 15 February 1993.

Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 15 to html for this web page.