Foresight Update 19

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Media Watch

The April 25 issue of Chemical & Engineering News reported on Prof. T. Ross Kelly's work at Boston College, in which he and his colleagues have made a reversible molecular "brake": a molecule with a spinning, propeller-shaped "wheel" that slows down or stops moving when a metal ion is added to solution. "Eric Drexler, research fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Los Altos, Calif., and an authority on molecular-scale engineering, tells C&EN: `This is a fascinating piece of work and one of the most impressive examples of molecular machinery produced by organic synthesis. It demonstrates a mechanism that should be directly applicable to controlling the motions of larger and more complex molecular machine systems in the solution phase'."

In the July 1994 Aerospace America's interview of Anita Jones (Director, Defense Research and Engineering for DoD), she comments on nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems: "They are in their infancy, and we are invested in both of them because they have great promise. In fact defense represents a substantial portion, if not the majority, of the government investment in both those areas." Note that the DoD spending is thought to be almost all in "top-down" miniaturization, rather than molecular ("bottom-up," i.e. molecularly-precise) nanotechnology.

Armed Forces Journal, in its June 1994 issue, presented the views of former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff David Jeremiah: "For some time, scientists in the Silicon Valley have been working on nanotechnology. That's the manipulation of molecules in an organized, engineering way in order to create new and different structures. They're beginning to describe the effort's [objectives] in terms of molecular manufacturing, because what they're trying to do is reassemble chemical and biological structures to create different things."

An article on knowledge-based systems co-authored by IMM chairman Neil Jacobstein in Communications of the ACM mentions "molecular- and atomic-scale manipulation" as methods of manufacture in the twenty-first century.

Ted Kaehler's plenary lecture on nanotechnology at the 26th annual Oak Ridge Conference of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry was written up in both American Clinical Laboratory and Clinical Chemistry News (see "Recent Events" in this issue). According the the latter article, the session's chairman stated that "Nanotechnology is now being seriously considered as a vehicle for building very, very small clinical analyzers."

The June 1994 JOM (formerly Journal of Metals) discussed nanotechnology. An excerpt: "In 1986, Drexler's Engines of Creation was published, followed in 1992 by Nanosystems. These provocative treatises have served to create significant interest in nanotechnology in both the scientific community and the general public."

Other coverage of nanotechnology is showing up in more unusual locations such as Industrial Heating, Midnight Engineering, Mondo, Appliance Manufacturer, and (we are not making this up) Heavy Duty Trucking. Some of these appear to have resulted from the nanotechnology session at the ASME conference last December. Also as a result of that meeting, the April 1994 Advanced Materials & Processes covered nanotechology under the heading "Japanese forming a `critical mass' of researchers in the new science of nanotechnology." The March 1994 JOM also covered the same story (see Update 18 on Burgess Laird's work).

The March OEM Magazine discussed nanotechology work at IMM and Xerox PARC, focusing on the construction of nanocomputers. The March 24 Financial Times covered Xerox as a whole and included nanotechology. "Like other computer companies, Xerox Parc is also interested in ever smaller computers. But its focus extends beyond palm-top computers to the molecular level, a science known as nanotechnology."

The April 1994 Popular Science described Illinois Institute of Technology designer Charles Owen's proposals for nanotechnologically-built household objects that could change shape.

Confusion showed up in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, which defined "nanofabrication" as atomic-scale manufacturing. Given the lack of control of the placement of atoms, the process described (the growth of quantum dots) would be better thought of as a type of materials processing rather than atomic-scale manufacturing.

More confusion showed up from Georgia Tech, which should know better. A July 12 press release from their Economic Development Institute indiscriminately used colorful (external) discussion of nanomachines and molecular manufacturing as an attention-getting device for their less-interesting (internal) work on nanolithography and microgears. It included a report of a "molecularly manufactured" steam engine built by Sandia. While desirable, this is unlikely to be correct. We are still tracking this down (thanks to help from Michael Korns), but our guess is that the device cited is a micromachine made by lithography, rather than a product of molecular manufacturing.

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Recent Events

Dr. Eric Drexler and Dr. Ralph Merkle spoke on molecular nanotechnology topics at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop on "Ultimate Limits of Fabrication and Measurement" held in Cambridge, England, in early April. Dr. Drexler gave the opening talk and served on the closing panel. The papers from the meeting will be published as part of a special issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society and will also appear in the NATO ASI Series by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Dr. Merkle has joined the Executive Editorial Board of the Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology; see article in this issue. Dr. Merkle also spoke on molecular manufacturing in August at Georgia Tech.

Dr. Drexler spoke on molecular manufacturing for space development and settlement at the International Space Development Conference held this May in Toronto (videotape available, see elsewhere in this issue). He and Foresight director James Bennett led a workshop on that topic later in the meeting. On August 23, Dr. Drexler spoke on molecular manufacturing as a clean manufacturing technology in the Design for Environment session of the American Chemical Society's annual conference.

Ted Kaehler of Apple Computer gave a plenary lecture on nanotechnology, "The Impending Revolution," at the 26th annual Oak Ridge Conference held April 14-15 in Tampa, FL. The talk was favorably reviewed in American Clinical Laboratory, which said that it "helped to enlarge the stream of consciousness to the proportions of a large river." The presentation was so popular that he was asked to write it up for publication. The resulting paper, "Nanotechnology: Basoc Concepts and Definitions," will appear in the September 1994 issue of the Journal of Clinical Chemistry (Vol. 40, No. 9, pp.1-3). Copies are available on request from the Foresight office. Ted Kaehler also spoke on molecular nanotechnology at SRI International (Menlo Park, CA) on June 20, hosted by Brock Hinsman.

Dr. David Forrest, former president of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group, gave a tutorial seminar in molecular manufacturing at the ASM International meeting in Pittsburgh this May. Dr. Forrest will be visiting Foresight and IMM on Sept. 19-20.

Prof. T. Ross Kelly of Boston College's Department of Chemistry visited the IMM office on Aug. 21 to collaborate on molecular component design and synthesis strategies. Prof. Kelly's recent work includes a reversible molecular "brake"; see Media Watch in this issue for details.

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Write to Foresight

One of Foresight's main goals is to communicate the concepts of nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing to members of various groups, from scientists to students. You can help us refine these explanations: How do the people you know generally react to these ideas? Please write us and describe your experiences explaining nanotechnology to others. Which ideas are easy to get across and which are difficult? Which examples and explanations are most effective? How do these depend on the listener's background? Please describe any problems you've encountered. And, last, please tell us a bit about yourself. Send to Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, or email to

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 19, originally published 15 September 1994.