Foresight Update 20

page 5

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


European Nanoengineering Meeting

Elizabeth Gardner reports on "Micro- and Nano-Engineering '94":

The blending of microtechnology with nanotechnology took another leap forward in Davos, Switzerland, in late September, at "Micro- and Nano-Engineering '94." If this meeting doesn't ring a bell, it's because for the first nineteen years of its existence, it was known as "Microcircuit Engineering," and it convened annually in various parts of Europe so that people involved with microchips and other micro-things could get together and discuss lithography: optical, x-ray, electron beam, and ion beam.

This, though, was nano-year. The meeting planners decided to take official notice of probe technologies like the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microscope. It's no accident: not only has there been a lot more probe work around lately, but conference chairman Peter Vettiger is a researcher at IBM's Zurich laboratory, under the same roof as Heinrich Rohrer, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1986 for inventing the STM. He enlisted Rohrer (a newcomer to this meeting) to give the keynote speech, and the planning committee added tracks on "Atomic and Nanoscale Engineering" and "Nanoscale Fabrication and Devices." As a result, Vettiger says, the number of meeting attendees jumped from 200 last year to 340 this year, and the number of submitted papers zoomed from 100 to 172. Participants included not only Europeans but large contingents from the U.S. and Japan.

Rohrer's keynote touched on topics familiar to nanotechnology, though new to some attendees. He predicted that "miniaturization," as such, will reach its limits by 2010, and even now is converging with the idea of building molecular machines. The trick will be to make industry understand that there's a new standard. "A farmer 150 years ago would have said that the micrometer had no consequence for him," Rohrer said. "The nanometer has no consequence for many things today, but it will become the new standard." And it's no good asking industry what it wants, he added. "The customer can only want what he thinks is possible. The far outreaching changes must be made by scientists."

The big news of the conference came right out of one of its usual interests: the creation of ever smaller circuits. Stanford University applied physics professor Calvin Quate, a last-minute addition to the plenary session speakers' roster, described making a working transistor with an electrode 0.2 micron wide, using an AFM as an etching tool on a surface of amorphous silicon. Conference attendees agreed that this was the first time they had heard of anyone using an AFM to make a working device. Even though other researchers have achieved the same dimensions with standard lithographies, those techniques are bumping up against their limits, while the AFM can potentially make transistors a tenth, or even a hundredth, the size of the ones produced by Quate's team. And since drawing them one at a time is hardly a manufacturer's dream, Quate is experimenting with parallel arrays of five AFM tips working simultaneously. If he's successful with five, he says, why not 10,000?

IBM's Watson Research Center presented its new electron beam microcolumn, just a few centimeters long and a few millimeters wide, which could be incorporated into a tiny scanning electron microscope. The columns could also be used for e-beam lithography in the types of manufacturing arrays envisioned by Quate. Batch manufacture makes them cheap, "almost a throw-away part of the equipment," said IBM researcher T.H.P. Chang, though they have the same current and resolution as a full-size e-beam column.

Several groups presented work from Japan. A team from Mitsubishi used an STM to manipulate individual C60 molecules into a row. A team from Hitachi used an AFM to record patterns of gold dots ranging from 10 to 100 nanometers in diameter on a silicon dioxide surface, and then used the same cantilevered tip to read back the pattern. The technique could potentially be used for high-density data recording. Perhaps most significant, the process is carried out in air rather than under vacuum, making it easier to use for practical applications.

And a sign of things to come: Henry Smith, who holds a chair in electrical engineering at MIT and is not only a pioneer in x-ray lithography but also a noted gadfly in the microengineering field, was spotted during one session absorbed in a textbook on molecular biology. Quizzed about this later, he said he was taking a course and had to study for the exam. His eventual goal? To form a research group to create and study self-organizing systems. He's recently relocated his e-mail address to
a fileserver named "nano."

Elizabeth Gardner is a science journalist currently based in Sweden. She can be reached at

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents


Book Review

Integrated Chemical Systems: a Chemical Approach to Nanotechnology
by Allen J. Bard

(Wiley Interscience, 1994, hardcover, 324 pp, $49.95)

To chemists, this book's greatest value will be as an introduction to thinking about using chemistry to build devices. To non-chemists, it has additional value as a signal: it was written by the Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, one of the most (perhaps the most) prestigious chemistry journals. Combine this with the quotation from Nobel Laureate chemist Roald Hoffman elsewhere in this issue, and the conclusion is clear: Key chemists have adopted molecular nanotechnology as a research objective.

Prof. Bard, an electrochemist at University of Texas at Austin, based the book on a set of lectures given at Cornell in 1987, then updated the material through late 1992, just before Nanosystems was published. Chapters 4-6 discuss electrochemistry, while chapters 1, 2, and 7 are more general, with chapter 2 leading off with a quotation from Engines of Creation.

In the concluding chapter, the author looks toward possible future applications of integrated chemical systems: sensors, electronic devices, and advanced or "intelligent" materials. "Homes might be constructed of plastic lumber with ceramic roofs and electrochromic windows. Cars can be assembled of composites stronger than steel but 10 times lighter, with ceramic engines operating at high temperatures without a radiator. Artificial muscles will be made of polymers whose dimensions can be varied electrically."

The author concludes, "The tools for the construction and characterization of integrated chemical systems are now available." For the non-chemists among us, this book can be used as a gift for any skeptical chemist friends who are still having difficulty with the concept of constructing materials and devices with molecular precision. Molecular precision is what chemistry is all about, and leading chemists are sending a clear message to their colleagues: Let's get moving.

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents


Space Development Advocates Support Nanotechnology

The National Space Society recently announced its advocacy position for nanotechnology. The Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group within NSS has studied and advocated the development and use of nanotechnology under the leadership of MMSG president Tom McKendree and board members Margaret Jordan, Duncan Forbes, and Steve Williams. Long-time space activist Tihamer Toth-Fejel played a key role in making the NSS nanotechnology position paper happen, along with many online participants. Our thanks to them and to NSS Executive Chairman Glenn Reynolds for bringing NSS on board as a strong advocate for nanotechnology. The NSS press release and excerpts from the position paper follow:

WASHINGTON, November 14 - The National Space Society (NSS), the world's premier space development advocacy organization, and the Foresight Institute, the world's premier organization dealing with information on nanotechnology and advocacy of nanotechnology research, are pleased to announce the release of the NSS position paper on space and molecular nanotechnology.

This is the first public position paper looking at the implications of nanotechnology for a specific field of activity-the development and settlement of space. It is also the first applications paper published by an organization other than those directly involved in nanotechnology. This publication marks the advent of public interest groups looking at the implications of nanotechnology for short-term, medium-term, and long-term planning.

The report includes a set of recommendations for action regarding what to do about nanotechnology. NSS is pleased to note this because it demonstrates that NSS, of all the space development organizations, has the most comprehensive and forward-looking understanding of the impact of space on the future, and of future technologies on space. Foresight Institute welcomes this because in its opinion all organizations looking at long-term implications and long-term planning will soon need to take nanotechnology into account, even in short-term recommendations. NSS is leading the way in this endeavor.

Excerpts: Executive Summary
by Tihamer Toth-Fejel and Tom McKendree

The National Space Society believes that developing molecular nanotechnology will advance the exploration and settlement of space. Present manufacturing capability limits the performance, reliability, and affordability of space systems, but the bottom-up approach of molecular nanotechnology has the potential to produce space hardware with tremendous improvement in performance and reliability at substantially lower cost.

Since the settlement of space is not a near-term endeavour, it would be a grave mistake to consider only the short term applications of molecular nanotechnology to space, though there may be a few...For example, improved scanning probes similar to Scanning Tunneling Microscopes (STM) could give researchers a powerful, general technique for characterizing the atomic structure of molecular objects. Applied to engineered materials, improved probe microscopy could be valuable in discovering and designing stronger materials, faster and smaller electronics, and exotic chemicals with unique properties. These incremental improvements would offer the possibility of small improvements in capability across the broad spectrum of space activities, ensuring mission completion, prolonging spacecraft life, and fostering the safety of human crews.

As nanosystems used in research are constructed and commercialized, they will move from gathering basic science knowledge in laboratories to collecting data in engineering applications. The first applications would be those in which the relatively high cost and limited capabilities of these first generation devices will still provide significant improvements in overall system capability to justify the costs. Since sensors and actuators could be significantly reduced in size and mass, planetary probes and other space-based applications would probably one of the first beneficiaries of these nanosystems.

In the medium term, the nanosystem devices would be involved in the manufacturing process. Products might include bulk structures such as spacecraft components made of a diamond-titanium composite. The theoretical strength-to-density ratio of matter is about 75 times that currently achieved by aerospace aluminum alloys...The bottom-up approach promises to virtually eliminate...defects, enabling the fabrication of stronger materials that could improve reliability and increase payload capacity...The overall effect would be that success rates for a wide variety of space missions would increase at lowered cost.

Since the settlement of space is a long-term enterprise, the long-term benefits of molecular nanotechnology are the most relevant, as they are considerable...especially the ability to bootstrap production via self-replicating universal assemblers. This capability would probably lower manufacturing costs by many magnitudes, down to the order of $1 per kilogram. It would become possible to build tapered tethers from geosynchronous orbit to the ground, and to build human-rated SSTO vehicles with a dry mass around sixty kilograms. Such capabilities should make possible inexpensive access to space. Mature nanosystems might make possible affordable and robust closed environment life-support systems that could take advantage of in-situ resources, such as asteroidal metals and cometary organics. Such a capability would potentially enable many people to affordably live in space. Tiny computers, sensors and actuators, trivially cheap on a per-unit basis, may allow things like smart walls to automatically repair micrometeorite damage, unobtrusive space suits, and terraforming tools. By providing instrumentation that allows the development of medical knowledge at the molecular level, advanced nanosystems might enable in vivo repair of cellular damage, mitigating the dangers of ionizing cosmic radiation.

There is a fear that spending money on molecular nanotechnology will reduce the amount of money spent on space development, since research funding is sometimes perceived as a zero sum game.

First, decision theory and experience show that achieving large projects of significant technological complexity (e.g., the settlement of space) require a diversification of effort. It is especially important to have a diversified portfolio of approaches so that unforeseen dead ends can be circumvented without delay. In this case, space development can benefit significantly by investing a limited amount of effort in low cost, high payoff avenues such as molecular nanotechnology.

Second, the amount of money needed at this stage of molecular nanotechnology development is very small compared to the average NASA space project...

In conclusion, the National Space Society believes that since the settlement of space is a long-range project that will benefit the entire human race, the serious development of long-range technologies such as molecular nanotechnology must be supported.

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents



Extra-special long-term thanks go to Dr. Russ Mills, long-time technical columnist for Foresight, who is taking a sabbatical from his writing duties. Russ's column has been a favorite of Foresight members since Update 3 in 1988, and his ability to take diverse technical articles and turn them into a coherent overview of progress toward nanotechnology is extraordinary. In Foresight's early years, Russ Mills and Dave Kilbridge did the layout of the Update as well. We wish them the best of luck in their business venture.

Special thanks go to Gayle Pergamit, co-author of Unbounding the Future, who served as Guest Editor for this issue. Another recipient of special thanks is Dr. Arlen Andrews of Sandia National Laboratory, a Foresight Senior Associate, who lent us the videotape from which this issue's excerpt was taken. Thanks to dual Senior Associate Steve Vetter for obtaining the Roald Hoffman quotation.

Thanks to the speakers and participants at the Senior Associate Gathering (see article in this issue), and to Marcia Seidler and Judy Hill for organizational help.

Thanks to the following participants for sending information sources, everything from journal articles to the first newspaper want ad (that we've seen) listing nanotechnology in a job description: Jon Alexandr, Dale Amon, Richard Cathcart, Jeff Cavener, William Cooper, Doug Denholm, Wesley Du Charme, Chuck Estes, Donald Fears, Dave Forrest, Barbara Graham, Jones Hamilton, Norm Hardy, Graham Houston, Stan Hutchings, Merrill Jennings, Anthony Johnson, Marie-Louise Kagan, Thomas Mazanec, Tom McKendree, Anthony Napier, Doug Nommisto, James Rice, Ed Regis, Mark Reiff, Mark Reiners, Roy Russell, Bryan Shelby, Tanya Sienko, Jeff Soreff, Alvin Steinberg, T. Toth-Fejel, Jack Veach, John Walker.

--Chris Peterson

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents


Upcoming Events

Science Innovation Exposition, Feb. 16-21, 1995, Atlanta. Sponsored by AAAS. Includes sessions on "Nanotechnology and Biomolecular Electronics," biological machines, protein folding. Tel 202-326-6450, fax 202-289-4021, email
Complex Molecular Systems, April 27-28, 1995, Paris. Sponsored by Nature. Includes molecular recognition, self-assembly; applications in pharmacology, device engineering. Tel +44 (0)71 836 6633 x2593, fax +44 (0)71 379 5417.
Protein Folding: Goals for the Millennium, May 20-21, 1995, San Francisco. Followed by larger meeting also covering AFM, protein design, molecular recognition, molecular motors; sponsored by ASBMB and ACS. Tel 301-530-7010, fax 301-530-7014.
STM '95, July 23-28, 1995, Snowmass Village, Colorado. Sponsored by American Vacuum Society. Includes atomic and molecular manipulation. Tel 212-248-0327; fax 212-248-0245; email
3rd Int'l Symposium on Atomically Controlled Surfaces and Interfaces, Oct. 12-14, 1995, North Carolina State Univ. Includes atomically controlled formation of nanostructures, manipulation of atoms, self-assembling structures. Previously held in Japan. ACSI-3, Box 8201, Raleigh, NC, 27695; email
42nd National Symposium of American Vacuum Society, Oct. 16-20, 1995, Minneapolis. Includes nanometer-scale science and technology. Tel 212-248-0327; fax 212-248-0245; email
4th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology & Molecular Manufacturing, Nov. 8-11, 1995, Palo Alto. Enabling science and technologies, molecular components, systems design, R&D strategies. Foresight Institute, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email, Web page

Foresight Update 20 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 20, originally published 1 February 1995.