Foresight Update 21

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4


Nobel Physicist on the Nanometer Age

Need to Prepare for 'Tremendous Changes'

Physicist Heinrich Rohrer, who will serve on the Selection Committee for Foresight's Feynman Prize this year, shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope, capable of imaging and moving individual atoms. His paper at a physics conference in Italy on "The Nanometer Age: Challenge and Chance" presents his view of a future with nanomachines, and the need to prepare society for the coming changes:

"The new players in the emerging nano-world are individual, selected objects of the size of some 50 nm down to molecules and atoms. The new aspect of science and technology on the nanometer scale is that these objects are treated as individuals, not as ensemble members. To a great extent, this requires real-space methods. Local probe methods, such as scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and its derivatives, are therefore a key to the nano-world. Major challenges of the new nanometer world are to interface the macroscopic world to the nano-individuals, to exploit the new possibilities which arise from nanometer dimensions, to establish new concepts for working with very large numbers of nano-individuals and large sets of controls parameters, to create the basis for broad interdisciplinarity, and to prepare society for the tremendous changes anticipated in a nanometer world."

Dr. Rohrer then looks at the next 20 years of miniaturization: "the challenge will be to develop new types of elements...the investment into new technologies versus anticipated possible return will be a central problem." After 20 years, "miniaturization, the division into ever smaller blocks, will come to an end...Supra-molecular chemistry might eventually provide the functional elements for the assembly scenario in the post-miniaturization period."

Computational methods will be important: "Numerical approaches have taken a similar development like that of chemistry, from atoms and small molecules to ever larger nano-objects. They will be of great importance in understanding properties, functions, and processes on the nanometer scale..."

In the nanometer age, "parallel operation will become the norm, and assembly and self-organization will replace miniaturization procedures. Progress after miniaturization will be based on increased complexity. A promising route could be the assembly of molecular-sized functional elements into complex functional units."

Dr. Rohrer discusses advanced uses of proximal probes for information storage, then comments, "However, even more exciting might be the prospects of creating sophisticated and complex nano-structures and nano-machines by manipulation and modification. Such nano-machines would be used for specific experiments or could perform specific tasks that cannot be reasonably executed or are even impossible by other means."

As to how these would be constructed, "Local probe methods appear indispensable in the exploratory stage of the nano-world. Once standard, however, fabrication of nano-machines and their control might be achieved by other means."

In his conclusion, Dr. Rohrer points out the prospect of great change and the need for care in handling it: "Being able to handle condensed matter on an atom-by-atom basis opens tremendous perspectives, but also fears. Both engender the wish for controlling science. The destiny of society, however, lies in the proper use of science, not in its control."

For the complete text of Dr. Rohrer's paper, in English, see Il Nuovo Cimento, Vol. 107A, No. 7, pp 989-1000.

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents


Call for Papers

Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

[Editor's note: For additional information about the conference, see the conference archive web site and Update #23.]

November 9-11, 1995
Palo Alto, California

Assembling the 21st Century today

Sponsor: Foresight Institute
Caltech Materials and Process Simulation Center
USC Molecular Robotics Lab
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing
Corporate Sponsors:
Apple Computer, Inc.
Molecular manufacturing Enterprises, Inc.

This conference is a meeting of scientists and technologists working in fields leading toward molecular nanotechnology: thorough three-dimensional structural control of materials and devices at the molecular level. The conference will cover topics relevant to the pursuit of molecular control, drawing from fields such as:

Developments in these fields are converging, opening opportunities for fruitful collaboration in developing new instruments, devices, and capabilities.

Topics and invited speakers include:

Donald Brenner, N. Carolina State Univ.
Simulated Engineering of Nanostructures
Richard Colton, NRL
Tip Surface Interactions
Eric Drexler, Institute for Molecular Manufacturing
Directions in Nanotechnology
William A. Goddard III, Caltech
Computational Chemistry and Nanotechnology
Tracy Handel, UC Berkeley
Protein Design
Adm. David Jeremiah, USN (Ret.), Tech. Strategies and Alliances
Nanotechnology and Global Security
Ralph Merkle, Xerox PARC
Design Considerations for an Assembler
Charles Musgrave, MIT
Chemical Synthesis of Nanomachinery
Aristides Requicha, USC
Molecular Robotics
Richard Smalley, Rice University
Nanotechnology at Rice Fraser
J. Fraser Stoddart, University of Birmingham
The Art and Science of Self-assembling Molecular Machines

Feynman Prize

The 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology (and accompanying $10,000 award) will be presented at the meeting to the researcher whose recent work has most advanced the development of molecular nanotechnology. Nomination information is available from the Foresight Institute, or here on the Web. (


Leading vendors will demonstrate products useful in the pursuit of molecular control, including molecular modeling software and hardware, and proximal probe systems (e.g. STM).

Call for Papers

Contributions on relevant topics are solicited for presentation in lecture or poster format. Potential contributors are asked to submit an abstract (200-400 words), including names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers of the author(s), email address, and an indication of whether oral or poster presentation is preferred. Papers of both kinds will be reviewed for publication. Authors will be encouraged to make their papers available electronically, and accepted preprints will be published on the Web. In choosing papers, priority will be given to (1) cogent descriptions of the state of the art in techniques relevant to the construction of complex molecular systems, (2) well-grounded proposals for multidisciplinary efforts which, if funded and pursued, could substantially advance the state of the art, and (3) reports of recent relevant research.

Publication of Proceedings

Proceedings of the conference will be refereed and published in a special issue of the international journal Nanotechnology and later in book form.

Abstracts due               	June 30, 1995      
Notification of acceptance  	August 1, 1995      
Manuscripts due             	October 15, 1995

Abstracts should be directed to the Foresight Institute at the address below.


The registration fee includes the scientific program, Wednesday evening reception, Thursday and Friday luncheons, and a copy of the proceedings journal issue. (Student and one-day rates do not include proceedings.) Amounts over $100 are tax-deductible as a charitable contribution.

postmarked:                 by Sept. 1         after Sept. 1 
Regular                   	$350            	$400 
Academic, nonprofit,  
    governmental            	$275            	$325 
Student                   	$100            	$125 
One day (specify day)     	$135            	$160

For registration forms or further information, contact Foresight Institute, Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA; tel. 415-324-2490; fax 415-324-2497; email .

Corporate Sponsors: Apple, MMEI

Two major sponsors have already signed on to participate in the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology:

Apple Computer, Inc., which has sponsored this series frequently in the past, will again take a prominent role at the meeting. From the company's early days, its products have supported the nanotechnology effort in all roles: technical research, communications, database, and graphics. Much of the molecular modeling work is performed on Apple computers, and will be demoed at the meeting.

Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc, has joined as a first-time sponsor. MMEI is a seed capital firm specializing in ventures leading to the development of molecular nanotechnology. Advisors include Roald Hoffman (1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) and Ralph Merkle (computational nanotechnologist at Xerox PARC). Principals will be at the meeting to discuss possible new ventures.

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents


Call for Submissions: 1995 Feynman Prize
in Nanotechnology

sponsored by the Foresight Institute

A prize in the amount of $10,000 will be awarded to the researcher whose recent work has most advanced the development of molecular nanotechnology. The prize will be given at the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology (see article this issue). Young researchers are particularly encouraged to apply.

Submissions consist of one or more of the following, in English:

In addition, each submission must include a one-page summary of the work and its relevance to the goal of molecular nanotechnology and/or molecular manufacturing. (If the journal article submitted has multiple authors, the applicant's role in the research must be stated.) Summaries may be up to 400 words in length.

Research areas considered relevant to molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing include but are not limited to: supramolecular chemistry and self assembly, proximal probes (e.g. STM, AFM), biochemistry and protein engineering, computational chemistry and molecular modeling, natural molecular machines (e.g. flagellar motor, ribosome), materials science.

Both experimental and theoretical work are eligible. Special consideration will be given to submissions clearly leading toward the construction of a general-purpose molecular assembler. Applicants wishing further information on the field of the prize are referred to the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation (Wiley Interscience, 1992), or see our book order form.

The previous Selection Committee, for the 1993 Prize, included:

Submissions should be mailed to the Foresight Institute at the postal address below, to arrive by September 1, 1995. One copy of the paper or thesis and five copies of the one-page summary are required. The summary must include the applicant's address, telephone, and (if possible) fax number and email address. Finalists may be contacted for additional information. The prizewinner must be present at the conference to accept the prize.

For further information, contact the Foresight Institute at PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA. Tel 415-324-2490, Fax 415-324-2497, Email, Web page about the Feynman Biennial Prize.

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents


Recent Events

Eric Drexler spoke on nanotechnology at the MIT Media Lab and at Polaroid on March 15; the next day he, Foresight Advisor Marvin Minsky, and Feynman Prize winner Charles Musgrave met with Boston-area Senior Associates.

The Miles Lectures at Cornell University were delivered on April 10-12 by J. Fraser Stoddart, professor of organic chemistry at the University of Birmingham, UK. Titles were "Self-Assembly in Chemical Systems," "Nanochemistry: Whither and Thither Molecular Machines," and "Towards Supramolecular Polymers."

Leonard Adleman of USC spoke at MIT on his DNA computing technique on April 10. (Note: this technique is sometimes referred to as "molecular computing." Foresight members knowledgeable in computer science may want to investigate this technique enough to understand why it is not a general-purpose computation technique, such as is usually meant by the word "computer.") Further information is available via ftp at or via ftp at To join The Molecular Computation mailing list, write

The Advanced Technologies session at the Space Studies Institute's International Conference on Space Manufacturing (May 4-7) was chaired by dual Senior Associate Steven C. Vetter of Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc. Three of the four papers in this session dealt with applying molecular nanotechnology to developing space. The audience included top people from several aerospace companies and space programs, many of whom had not had much previous exposure to nanotechnology concepts.

A computer search using on the word nanotechnology shows an increasing number of mentions in US Congressional testimony. Those mentioning nanotechnology have included Siegfried Hecker, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory; Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce; Scott Pace of RAND Corporation; John Petersen of Arlington Institute; and (covered in previous Updates) Eric Drexler of Foresight and IMM.

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents


Call to Action: Foresight Web Enhancement Project

Chairman's Report

by K. Eric Drexler

Those of you who've read Engines of Creation will remember the goal of hypertext publishing [1] and its importance to our chances of a successful transition to nanotechnology. There's now a way for Foresight members to make a difference in constructing this vital tool.

The Internet's World Wide Web is a partial hypertext system, letting readers follow an author's pointers to past documents. To give effective support to critical discussion [2] on topics of public interest such as nanotechnology, however, it must show links into a document made by readers and later authors: it needs backlinks. Authors cannot be expected to insert links that display criticisms or refutations of their Web documents. With backlinks, hypertext can become a dialog - more enduring than speech, more interactive than print, and better connected than anything we've had before. It can help us deal with world-wide issues.

Foresight's goal is to get the required features incorporated into Web standards. To accomplish this, we will write public domain code which implements them, run this code on our server and as many others as will participate, and use the resulting system for critical discussion of an issue important to the safe and widespread deployment of nanotechnology: computer security.

In parallel with the technical work, Web documents will be uploaded onto our server with some links already in place, so that when the software is ready it will have a body of documents to operate on. Critical discussion on computer security issues will begin, with backlinks and filtering done by hand, prior to completion of our software.

We are now looking for funders for the Web Enhancement Project. We are also interested in talking with those having influence on Web standards, both the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and commercial server software providers.

Budget for initial stage

We anticipate (at this point, guess) that a first useful version can be produced in nine months on a budget of $100,000. Individual and corporate donations of funds are solicited. Foresight Institute is a nonprofit public foundation; donations are tax-deductible in the U.S.

Call to Action

In the last issue, I wrote that my estimate of when nanotechnology will arrive has moved up. Time is passing quickly; we need to begin high-quality critical discussion of nanotechnology policy issues today, if not sooner. Based on my experience to date, I find it hard to imagine succeeding in this task without an adequate hypertext publishing system. Now, with the rise of the Web, we can build an adequate system by making a modest addition to an existing standard. To maximize our chances of a successful transition to nanotechnology, we need this tool, and we need it now. I ask those of you who can to step forward now and help us make this happen.

To contribute, send donations to Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306. For donations of $500 or more, contact Chris Peterson, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email


1. "The Network of Knowledge," chapter 14 of Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986). The Notes give earlier references.

2."Hypertext Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge" by K. Eric Drexler, Social Intelligence Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 87-120. Reprints available from Foresight.

Technical description

In technical terms, our goal is to implement extrinsic, bidirectional, sub-document-level links among Web documents on our server and (later) cooperating servers (see Definitions below). One constraint on the project is that it produce server software compatible with common Web browsers.

Software will be written in C++ to work in conjunction with an existing http daemon (i.e. Web server software running on a UNIX computer) to enable the following of backlinks. The software will initially run on a single server and operate only on documents stored on that server; later it will function with any cooperating server.

Original documents, in standard HTML, will be stored unchanged on the server. Our software will store backlink information for these documents in a database. When a user invokes a document's URL, our software will integrate the original HTML and the backlink information, so that the user sees the backlinks in place.

The first version will make links only to anchors that have already been placed by the original author of the document. Separately from the Web enhancement software, Foresight may add additional anchors to all documents on the server, to enable fine-grained linking even at the initial stage.

Technical goals for later stages:

  1. Support of documents on non-cooperating servers (with warning of edits, but without sophisticated connectivity through edits).
  2. Support of filtering (using Web forms to gather information on links from the link author).
  3. Fine-grained linking to the phrase or word level, if not done previously.
  4. Readers' evaluation data (gathered by Web forms from readers) to use in filtering.
  5. Better connectivity through edits (e.g. links to obsolete wording can be appended to the end of the current document).


Forward links:
Links from a document pointing onward to another document. For example, if document A comments on document B, a forward link in A points to B. Forward links are already standard on the Web.
Backward links:
Links appearing in a document that have been inserted, usually by someone other than the author, pointing from that document to another. For example, if document A comments on document B, a backward link visible in B points to document A. Today, only forward links can be made on the Web; no corresponding backward link appears. Readers can see only links made by the original author.
Bi-directional links:
Links that work both forward and backward.
Extrinsic links:
Links that can be made visible from a document without the document-author's cooperation. These are needed for critical discussion, since we cannot expect all authors to go out of their way to attach critical comments to their own documents.
Cooperating servers:
Web servers running our (or compatible) software.
Selective display of links based on reader-selected criteria (e.g. links to criticisms only).
Hypertext markup language used to format information for the Web.
Address of a document on the Web, enabling a reader to retrieve that document.
Embedded marker enabling authors to link to a specific part of a Web document.

Foresight Update 21 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4

From Foresight Update 21, originally published 1 June 1995.