Foresight Update 15
A publication of the Foresight Institute
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
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.
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
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
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,
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:
- Dr. Eric Drexler giving an overview of the subject;
- Dr. Ralph Merkle on computational approaches;
- Dr. Bruce Schardt on proximal probes (STM, AFM);
- Prof. Marvin Minsky on computation;
- Ted Kaehler on designing molecular components;
- Dr. Martin Edelstein on biotechnology;
- Howard Landman on the different fields that can
- Neil Jacobstein on R&D programs;
- Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker on the transition;
- Michael Pique on molecular modeling;
- Dr. Michael Pinneo on diamond synthesis;
- Dr. Michael Kelly on new materials;
- Duncan Forbes on environmental applications;
- Stewart Brand on the slow scenario;
- Dr. Eric Drexler on space applications;
- Dr. Charles Sweet on work in Japan;
- Dr. Gregory Fahy on medical applications;
- John Doerr on venture capital;
- Chris Peterson on history of the field;
- Mark Miller on hypertext;
- Marc Stiegler on decision duels;
- Jim Bennett on the politics of technology;
- Gayle Pergamit on envisioning the future;
- Dave Lindbergh on starting study groups;
- Kathleen Shatter on IMM;
- Paul Saffo on culture and technology;
- Ed Niehaus and panel on the next decade.
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.]
Would-be nanotechnology entrepreneurs got the hard facts from
venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caulield &
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
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
Dr. Ralph Merkle, computational nanotechnologist at Xerox
PARC, spent much of the First General Conference being
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
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
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
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
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: email@example.com).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
washington.edu [Current email: email@example.com],
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: firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
Four new articles are available from Foresight in the form of
"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)
"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.)
AAAS Conference, session on Nanoengineering,
Feb. 14-16, Boston, MA. Includes talks on STM, molecular
self-assembly, some top-down miniaturization. Contact AAAS,
Bell Labs Physics Colloquium, Feb 23, New
Jersey. Eric Drexler on molecular manufacturing. For Bell Labs
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
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,
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.
From Foresight Update 15, originally
published 15 February 1993.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 15 to
html for this web page.