Foresight Update 19

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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University President Sets Nanotechnology Goal

In his first annual report, the new president of Rice University, Malcolm Gillis, gives his thoughts on nanotechnology. It's clear that Rice has recruited a visionary president who will guide this Houston-based university to nanotechnology leadership in the coming decades. Expect to see Rice equal or excel Harvard, MIT, U. Tokyo, and Stanford in the race to nanotechnology. Foresight salutes this first U.S. university to actively pursue nanotechnology development as a primary mission.

"Within the past few years, an entirely new field has emerged, focused upon matter at the molecular and atomic scale. This emerging field is called nanoscience: the study of structures of a size between one and one thousand nanometers, where a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. From nanoscience will come nanotechnology, the ability to engineer matter on a nanometer scale for useful purposes. Nanotechnology is truly interdisciplinary in approach. It is the outgrowth of a synthesis of physics, chemistry, microelectronics, materials science, and biology. Potential applications of successful nanotechnology are staggering, not only in supercomputing but in medicine, optics, and molecular biology...

"Rice intends to be equally innovative and opportunistic in all the molecular sciences involved in nanotechnology. Already, one-fourth of Rice's faculty in science and engineering is involved to some degree in research related to nanotechnology. Here again Rice will build upon one of its strengths: interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. Indeed, it was in one of Rice's very successful interdisciplinary programs, the Rice Quantum Institute, that buckminsterfullerene, one of the marvels of nanoscience, was first identified.

"Rice's efforts in nanotechnology are responsive not only to the revolution in electronic and information technology but to the ongoing biomedical revolution as well. Successful nanotechnology will enable computers to keep shrinking in size and cost. It can make solar cells immensely more efficient and solar power extremely cheap. With nanotechnology, it may also be possible to build nanometer-sized mechanisms to destroy cancers and viruses that our immune systems miss.

"Finally, mastery of nanotechnology holds out the promise of truly momentous economic implications. This is clearly the view of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan, which has already identified nanotechnology as a basic industrial technology for the 21st century."

Thanks to Rice alumnus Michael Forbes for bringing Dr. Gillis's report to our attention.

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Nanotechnology Fall Meeting for Senior Associates

Foresight chairman and IMM Research Fellow Dr. Eric Drexler sketches recent progress toward nanotechnology at Foresight Gathering.

This fall's Senior Associate Gathering, "Working Toward Nanotechnology," will be held October 21-23 at the Foresight Center in Los Altos (just south of Palo Alto). The main events are on October 22. All those who become Senior Associates by the date of the meeting are welcome.

This annual event is a small, intense meeting designed to give Senior Associates the information and contacts they need to further their goals involving nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing: technical, academic, personal, and business goals.

Key Foresight and IMM participants will include Dr. Eric Drexler, Dr. Ralph Merkle, Jim Bennett, Ted Kaehler, Gayle Pergamit, and Chris Peterson. In addition to the formal events described below, individual interviews can be arranged during the main event day, October 22.

We plan to keep the discussions at a size of 30 or fewer participants; if attendance is too large, the group will be split into parallel tracks.

Those who are not yet Senior Associates, but who would like to attend, can join before the meeting. Senior Associates make a five-year donation commitment of $250, $500, or $1000 annually to Foresight, IMM, or CCIT. Contact the Foresight office for further information.

Preliminary schedule of events:

Friday, Oct. 21 evening

Welcoming Reception, 8-10 PM, Foresight Center

Saturday, Oct. 22

9:30 AM Dr. Eric Drexler on timetables for nanotechnology, why we want it developed sooner rather than later, prospects for early development, government vs commercial vs academic development, comparison of US and Japan, goals for Foresight, IMM, and CCIT in making nanotechnology happen both quickly and safely.
10:15 AM Group discussion
10:30 AM Break

10:45 AM Dr. Ralph Merkle on the changing attitudes of the scientific and technical community to molecular manufacturing, what types of work are necessary to develop molecular manufacturing, and examples of the work being done at NRL, Caltech, and elsewhere; the need for journals focused on articles relevant to molecular manufacturing, the possibility of online coverage of the area, and current research at Xerox PARC.
11:30 AM Group discussion
11:45 AM Break for lunch: Box lunches provided. (Please let us know of unusual dietary requirements well in advance.)

12:30 PM Ted Kaehler reports on new work by Dr. Ken Dill at UCSF on how proteins fold up. Human designed proteins are one of the most promising paths to a working nanotechnology. The protein work will be used to illustrate the varieties of personal action available to further nanotechnology: moving your career toward nanotechnology, short-term spinoff possibilities, setting up discussion groups, recruiting key friends into the effort, and the need for non-technical talent as well as researchers.
1:00 PM Group discussion
1:15 PM Break

1:30 PM Jim Bennett on a framework for thinking about the onset of nanotechnology and its political and security implications. Should nanotechnology be controlled? Can nanotechnology be controlled? What was tried in the past — and why that won't work now (IAEA, CoCom, ITAR, MTCR, etc.) Outlines for a world nanotechnology security regime.
2:00 PM Group discussion
2:15 PM Break

2:30 PM Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson on personal action and preparation for living in a world with nanotechnology: what kinds of education are most likely to pay off, which careers will still exist, investments likely not to survive the expected changes, and using scenarios to "think in the long-term, act now" (including the Trusty Computing Initiative as an example).
3:00 PM Group discussion
3:15 PM Break

3:45 PM Free-form discussion and brainstorming: Technical paths of interest, business opportunities, long-term scenarios. Topics determined by participant interest.
4:30 PM Break

4:45 PM Free-form discussion and brainstorming: Goals and strategies for Foresight, IMM, CCIT, and new Foresight family organizations. Where do we need to be as nanotechnology approaches? What is the ideal scenario, the worst one, the most likely one; how can we change the odds? Who do we need to educate now, to maximize support later?
5:30 PM Break for no-host group dinner, location to be announced.

Sunday, Oct. 23

This day is devoted to informal social expeditions to encourage Senior Associates to strengthen their networks and form new friendships with those who share their views on nanotechnology. No formal events at the office. Groups will self-assemble to take advantage of Bay Area attractions. Suggestions and directions will be provided.

Registration: RSVP as soon as possible

Senior Associates (and those who would like to join the group) who plan to attend should notify the Foresight Institute, which is coordinating this event for all participating organizations. RSVP (if you plan to attend). A small fee, expected to be about $30, will be charged to cover the cost of refreshments at the breaks, Saturday lunch, and handouts. Information on lodging and transportation will be sent to registrants.

Contact Foresight for information or Senior Associate sign-up forms.

  At the Senior Associate meeting, members can match faces to the Foresight voices known by phone, including Office Manager Judy Hill.

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Nanotechnology: the Journal

IMM Advisor and Senior Associate Dr. Ralph Merkle explains computational nanotechnology at the last Senior Associates Gathering.

Foresight Update recently interviewed Dr. Ralph Merkle, a computational nanotechnologist at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, on progress in establishing a journal covering molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing:

Update: What's the closest we have today to a journal on molecular manufacturing?

Merkle: I'd say the closest is the journal Nanotechnology. I was recently invited to join their Executive Editorial Board. Nanotechnology, published by the Institute of Physics, a British-based organization, is published quarterly. It was started around 1990 and has been growing steadily ever since.

The chief editor of Nanotechnology, Clayton Teague of NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has been actively promoting this journal for years. We've been watching the journal grow steadily and have been very pleased with the results. They publish a broad range of material on molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing, and also a fair amount of work in the micromachine area as well.

They have, for example, published the biennial Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology as special issues. They have also published articles on lithography, micromachines, and other areas that aren't really nanotechnology as we understand it. More interestingly, they also have articles on reversible logic and scanning tunneling microscopy.

An example of the kind of article that's been carried in Nanotechnology was the work by Charles Musgrave at Caltech on a hydrogen abstraction tool. This ab initio quantum chemistry work established the feasibility of using a propynyl radical as a tool for abstracting individual hydrogen atoms from a growing diamondoid structure in order to activate specific chemical sites. He won the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology for this work, and has recently accepted a faculty position at Stanford University.

Another article published in Nanotechnology was the work of Geoffrey Leach on Crystal Clear, a molecular CAD tool for nanotechnology (see Foresight Update 16). The article is actually in press at this point. Crystal Clear lets you edit the specification of a crystal structure much as a text editor would let you edit text. We've used it to design a diamondoid universal joint, which we wouldn't have done without it.

Update: So the journal is publishing on

  1. long-term nanocomputer designs, such as your work on reversible logic [Editor's note: see Helical Logic, Reversible Electronic Logic Using Switches, and Two Types of Mechanical Reversible Logic],
  2. needed design tools, such as Crystal Clear, and
  3. the proximal probe path to nanotechnology, including Dr. Musgrave's work. What about the other path, self-assembly?

Merkle: They have just adopted a new charter to publish in the area of supramolecular chemistry, including self assembly and related areas that will likely be enabling technologies for molecular manufacturing. The recently established sub-board for this area includes a number of internationally recognized research scientists, and is expected to become active soon in soliciting and publishing articles on, for example, self-assembly, which is of course of direct relevance to research in the development of molecular manufacturing.

Update: Will there be electronic access to the journal?

Merkle: IOP has begun recently to experiment with Internet access to their journals in general and they now have a staff of three people working on establishing a server which will provide both anonymous FTP and Mosaic access. This is still experimental so there will not be any general availability of this service for some time, but we are looking forward to developments in this area with interest. Also, back issues of Nanotechnology exist on CD-ROM. These will likely be made available to existing institutional subscribers in 1995. And, of course, having Nanotechnology available in a digital format will make it easier to provide net access to it.

Update: How does the journal further development of molecular manufacturing?

Merkle: It serves as a place where articles devoted specifically to the development of molecular manufacturing can be published. If we're to develop molecular manufacturing, we must first create a literature devoted to the design and development of such things. There's a lot of research that's very good and very innovative, but whose relevance to molecular manufacturing is either unclear or quite marginal. A number of articles and special issues have already been devoted specifically to areas of relevance to molecular manufacturing, and we are rapidly developing a critical mass of publications in the journal devoted specifically to this area.

We aren't going to accidentally discover molecular manufacturing systems in the lab as the result of some serendipitous experiment, just as we didn't develop the Apollo moon rocket by unguided puttering. We need to clearly articulate what a molecular manufacturing system is, what alternative designs are feasible, and the development pathways we might choose to follow. Then we have to pursue a program of directed experimentation and development to implement the theoretical proposals that appear to be the easiest to build and which simultaneously give us the broadest range of capabilities.

This idea of picking a long-term technological goal and then working towards it is familiar in the aerospace industry, but is foreign to many research scientists. We need a journal where these long term proposals can be advanced and critiqued, often in considerable technical detail, and Nanotechnology looks like the logical choice.

Readers interested in subscribing to Nanotechnology should contact IOP Publishing, Techno House, Redcliffe Way, Bristol BS1 6NX, UK. In North America, contact the American Institute of Physics, Subscriber Services, 500 Sunnyside Blvd., Woodbury, NY 11797. Individual subscriptions (sent to ahome address, paid by personal check) are $111 per year.

Another approach is to recommend that your company or university library obtain a subscription at the institutional subscription rate of $358 per year. Single issue pricing, e.g. for conference proceedings, is available on request.

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From Foresight Update 19, originally published 15 September 1994.