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A publication of the Foresight Institute
A little-noted but significant advance made last year was a
sharp drop in the price of haptic (also known as touch-feedback
or force-reflecting) interfaces; they went down tenfold from
about $200,000 to $20,000. Credit for this advance goes to Thomas
Massie (email@example.com). The
name of his device is the "Phantom" (Personal Haptic
Interface Mechanism) sold by SensAble Devices
of Cambridge, MA.
When a haptic interface is connected to a proximal probe (STM, AFM, etc.) it can simulate the experience of the direct manipulation of very small amounts of matter.
One of Massie's customers is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a leader in virtual reality for proximal probes. They report in "Haptic Display Systems Research; Force-Feedback for Scientific Visualizations and Virtual Environments", a summary of projects underway at that institution:
More recently UNC has undertaken work to provide a rich user interface to a scanning probe microscope. Known as the Nanomanipulator, this application uses a haptic display in conjunction with stereo graphics to allow human interaction with objects on the nanometer scale...Development work is ongoing, but physicists report already having obtained significant new insights as a result of using the system.
Early Nanomanipulator work was presented at the 1993 Foresight conference by UNC researcher Russell Taylor.
[Editor's note: For more on the Nanomanipulator, see Update 25.]
Several computer-viewable (MPEG) videos showing the haptic interface in action can be downloaded from UNC on the World Wide Web at: http://www.cs.unc.edu/nano/etc/www/nanopage.html
Tom Massie hopes to have a $2000 interface rolling by the middle of 1996, according to Fred Hapgood of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group. Hapgood comments, "Perhaps we can look forward to the day when hands-on molecular tinkering will be accessible to all"
From Science, March 17, an item about comments from AT&T's
Penzias, whose support of "top down" fabrication is
"AT&T Bell Labs researcher Arno Penzias observes that much of today's economic progress hinges upon the continued increase in cost and performance of silicon integrated circuits. 'While we still have some way to go, the end seems in sight. As line widths shrink toward 0.1 micrometers and factory costs zoom past 1 billion dollars apiece, little more improvement in conventional lithography technology seems likely. Hopefully, an entirely new way of fabricating multibillion transistor circuits will be devised. One atom at a time seems a bit tedious, but who knows how fast microfabrication techniques might work?' "
Of course, "one atom at a time"-one molecule at a time is usually more accurate-is not microfabrication, but rather molecular manufacturing.
China's government news organ, Xinhau
News Agency, carried on May 20 the first report we have seen
on nanotechnology developments in China. "After five years
of research a laboratory at Tianjin University has made
breakthroughs in nanotechnology research, according to Chinese
scientists concerned." The work involves the fields of
microtip processing, 3D super-precision positioning and micro tip
imaging, Xinhau said. Hu Xiaotang, who studied in the U.S., has
been studying microtip processing technology since his return to
China in 1990. The smallest microtip in the world is 36 nanos
[nanometers, presumably] in size, while Hu worked out a microtip
as small as 12 nanos in size, whose buckling and radius are
subject to control, the news agency reported.
"Traditional international theory holds that the shorter the distance, the more sensitive the test of the thermal imagery of atoms. But Hu holds that the distance should be kept at about 50 nanos instead of the shorter, the better. His theory is considered to have important significance for the application of nanotechnology in bioengineering," Xinhau reported.
Hu's team has also achieved the highest degree of precision in studies of the 3D super-precision positioning system. China's first magazine about nanotechnology will also be edited by his laboratory, it was reported.
Stanford's Prof. Calvin
Quate, co-inventor of the atomic force microscope now used in
developing molecular nanotechology, was named R&D Magazine's
Scientist of the Year. Previous awards include the National Medal
of Science, membership in the Royal Society of London, and both
Guggenheim and Fulbright honors.
R&D reports that when Quate first submitted the AFM work to Physical Review Letters it was rejected and called farfetched. One factor that "raised the ire of peer reviewers was Quate and Binnig's prediction that the AFM could be used to 'measure forces on particles as small as single atoms'. But eventually it was accepted: "The paper's publication in the winter of 1986 turned out to be a seminal event in modern science." And, we would add, in molecular nanotechnology.
Foresight legal columnist Elizabeth Enayati's page on
intellectual property issues in nanotechnology will return in the
next issue. Meanwhile, she will be appearing at the Fourth Foresight
Conference on Molecular Nanotech-nology as our luncheon
speaker on Friday, November 10. She welcomes your intellectual
property questions as topics for future columns; send questions
and comments to Elizabeth Enayati; Weil, Gotshal & Manges,
tel (415) 926-6248; fax (415) 854-3713; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or send
mail c/o Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
Scientists in the United Kingdom are being admonished by their
paymasters to pursue research in line with national goals, work
more with industry, and contribute more directly to the wealth of
the nation. Since March, Britain's Office of Science and
Technology (OST) has issued 15 reports, each covering a major
industrial sector, which together form the first part of a
national attempt to set science and technology priorities for the
next 10 to 15 years. The reports distill the opinions of 10,000
experts from public and private research, business and finance.
The panels' visions of the future resulted in 15 lists of recommendations and priority actions, although without specifying funding levels. Among the suggested new initiatives are included "virtual" research centers in which distant researchers would collaborate through the Internet, and programs in integrated biology and integrated ecosystem management. Education and training were also highlighted and the need to strengthen multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research was a common theme. Life science emerged as a strong area for UK science. A high degree of consensus was found between members of industry and academia.
The acknowledged master of the art is Japan. Every 5 years since the 1970s, the Science and Technology Agency in Japan has carried out a large-scale survey to assess technological developments over a 30-year time scale. The results are widely publicized and are used in planning research programs at the national and company level. Germany and France have both carried out surveys based on the Japanese model, and the European Union is now considering one as well.
Using a technique known as a Delphi survey, a group of experts is given a set of questions to elicit their views on the likelihood that particular technological advances will occur, the relative importance of factors that might determine whether those advances will be achieved, and the importance of those advances themselves. The results are collated and often then fed back to the group so that it can formulate a collective opinion. [Science, Vol. 268, pp. 795-6]
Although the United States remains on a par with or ahead of Europe and Japan in all strategically 'critical' technologies, its overall dominance is slipping, according to a report prepared by the Office of Science and Technology and submitted to President Bill Clinton last March.
The report was prepared in response to legislation passed by Congress in 1990 which calls for a report every two years until 2000, identifying critical technologies. Areas where the US has enjoyed a substantial lead but are now seen to be slipping include communications and computing systems, structures, avionics, and propulsion. However, the trends are seen to have improved in areas of software and toolkits, human systems, intelligent complex adaptive systems, and human interface factors. [Nature, Vol. 374, pp. 397]
Japan's generously funded Protein Engineering Research Institute (PERI) in Osaka is to get a second lease on life, under the new name - and expanded scientific goals - of the Biomolecular Engineering Research Institute (BERI). PERI was due to be closed down next March - ten years after it was founded. PERI is one of a new breed of semi-private institutes jointly funded by private industry and the Japan Key Technology Center - known as Japan Key-TEC - a semi-governmental organization supported by dividends of government-held shares in the telecommunications company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation which was privatized in 1985.
These institutes provide an unusual research environment for Japan. Scientists are given freedom to carry out basic research - much as they would in a university - but are also provided with exceptionally good facilities that are comparable, if not better than, those in private industry.
PERI has concentrated its research efforts on determining the structure of proteins. BERI will expand this goal to look in addition at lipids, sugars, and nucleic acids; it will also attempt to establish their biological function as well as their structure. [Nature, Vol. 374, pp. 754]
A new study from Schonfeld & Associates, an Illinois economics consulting firm, predicts that a strong economy will yield an increase in US spending in 1996.
The telecommunications industry will be the biggest R&D spender next year. Telephone companies plan to spend $30 billion, and hardware suppliers will add another $4.1 billion in R&D. Computers will receive $20.1 billion, chemicals $8 billion and biotechnology is expected to top $1.1 billion in next year's R&D spending. [R&D Magazine, July 1995, pp. 9]
The controversial co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, Robert Gallo, is establishing a research center in Baltimore, Maryland, in the US. Gallo, who performed his work on AIDS at the National Cancer Institute, will join two other former government scientists, William Blattner and Robert Redfield, in what Maryland Governor Parris Glendening called the "dream team of AIDS research." The institute will open in the fall and plans to employ 300 scientists and research staffers. [R&D Magazine, July 1995, pp. 9]
Professor Calvin Quate of Stanford University's Ginzton Laboratory has been named 1995 Scientist Of The Year by R&D Magazine. Quate developed the scanning acoustic and atomic force microscopes, providing essential enabling instrumentation for nanotechnology. (See above in this Update.) These microscopes now register a $100 million a year industry. [R&D Magazine, July 1995, pps. 22-5]
Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker leads Apple Computer's development of multimedia authoring tools for science, math, and medical education as Senior Engineer Scientist, Technical Manager of the
East/West Authoring Tools Group within Apple's Advanced Technology Group.
Several nanotechnology talks were presented at this year's
American Association for the Advancement of Science annual
meeting in Atlanta. This is one of the first times that
nanotechnology has been directly presented at such a large
mainstream scientific research society meeting.
Robert Birge introduced the Nanotechnology and Biomolecular Electronics track with a discussion of the importance of the emerging field of nanotechnology. Elias Greenbaum, Biotechnology Research Group Leader at Oak Ridge, made the first presentation, entitled 'Photosynthesis, Biomolecular Electronics, and Renewable Fuels Production'. In his research, optoelectronic devices have been constructed by making direct electrical contact with the electron transport chain in photosynthesis.
Next, Robert Birge presented 'Protein-based Optical Computing, Memories, and Artificial Retinas.' Birge is the director of the Keck Center for Molecular Electronics at Syracuse University. His work uses another light-sensitive molecule, bacteriorhodopsin. For more information on this research, see Birge's excellent article in the March 1995 issue of Scientific American, 'Protein-Based Computers.' Birge reported that several startup companies are already working on commercializing this technology.
The third talk was 'Highly Oriented Protein Films for Molecular Electronic Devices' by Koichi Koyama of Fuji Photo Film Company. This work also uses the molecule bacteriorhodopsin. Here, an extremely clever method of making electrical contact with each molecule in a monolayer film has been developed using bispecific antibodies. For further information on this work, I recommend his article 'Antibody-Mediated Bacteriorhodopsin Orientation for Molecular Device Architectures' in the 5 August 1994 issue of Science.
One surprise at the conference came during a plenary talk by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. In talking about the need to develop advanced technology for future spaceflight, Goldin referred to the future development of microminiature medical devices injected into the bloodstream and chemical surgery techniques that could heal sick or injured astronauts without scalpels and incisions. He also referred to nanoelectronics and nano- and micro-device technology. While such ideas are not new to Foresight members, they probably were to many of the thousands in attendance.
IMM Fellow Scott MacLaren is CEO of Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc.
In its first annual report, issued earlier this year, Japan's National Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (NAIR) outlined the extensive efforts underway in Japan to develop molecular-level technology. Takanori Okoshi, NAIR's Director-General, reports that the Joint Research Center for Atom Technology (JRCAT) "was founded as a tripartite (industrial-academic-governmental) organization for intensive joint research in the field of atom technology, and one hundred or so researchers have started vigorous research works."
JRCAT is a research body managed under the equal partnership of NAIR's Atom Technology Group and the Atom Research Center of the Angstrom Technology Partnership, a consortium of 30 private sector firms. In describing the project, NAIR writes "To handle individual atoms and molecules or to control them collectively in a self-organizing manner-that will be an ultimate technology dream for mankind who has long been developing and making use of materials. It obviously contributes to every industry of the 21st century, if atoms and molecules are manipulated freely and new materials with new properties are fabricated. The research is to be carried out under a strong collaboration between experimental and theoretical groups, participating from industries, academia and national laboratories, in a planned period of 10 years from fiscal 1992."
From Foresight Update 22, originally published 15 October 1995.