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Foresight Update 26

Page 4

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 26 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4

Media Watch

Financial Times of London

Financial Times of London carried a major article on June 4 discussing the growing mainstream scientific recognition of nanotechnology. It leads with the description Eric Drexler has drawn of a future with fully realized molecular nanotechnology: "factories far smaller than the head of a pin will manufacture everything."

Despite some differences of opinion among scientists about the degree to which Drexler's vision can be realized, all those involved in nanotechnology research "do agree on one thing: some day it will be possible to create miniature factories at the molecular level," wrote columnist Victoria Griffith. She quotes Rice University's Richard Smalley that, "nanotechnology as a science is gaining respect." As evidence, she points to Drexler's talks at companies like 3M, Foresight funding from major companies like Apple Computer, and Rice's new nanotechnology center.

The story quotes skeptics who surfaced earlier in Scientific American, such as MIT chemistry professor Julius Rebek, but concludes positively with a quote from David Braunstein, a bioapplications scientist with Park Scientific Instruments: "What nanotechnologists are after is nothing more and nothing less than to understand and extend what nature already does."

On the side of confusion, the article was illustrated by a photo of a 24-step micromechanical stepping motor made by depositing successive layers of silicon on the base--a manufacturing technique wholly unrelated to molecular nanotechnology.

Chicago Tribune, Detroit News

The Chicago Tribune and Detroit News both carried a story in June on the future of the automobile industry. It extensively quotes Foresight Institute Director Chris Peterson, who says that "We're learning how to manipulate atoms to make cars with a process called molecular manufacturing. It doesn't exist yet, but it will." She is quoted describing the potential for underground vacuum tunnels that could propel cars "halfway around the world in two hours, based on the laws of simple physics."

Investment newsletter Taipan

The investment newsletter Taipan in its August 1996 issue reports that it has found "real, emerging (investment) potential for nanotech." Noting that computer chip manufacturers are running up against the limits of physics, the newsletter says that chipmakers will sooner or later have to abandon "the microscopic equivalent of ditch digging and...start crafting chips like fine masonry: from the bottom up." The newsletter advises its readers to avoid the "torrent of nanohype" and instead go to "the scientists who are actually involved" in implementing technology. They offer three sources--the Web pages of Foresight Institute and the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and Ralph Merkle's web page at http://nano.xerox.com/nano/.
[A longer report on this article]

American Production and Inventory Control Society

The July 1996 issue of APICS (American Production and Inventory Control Society) carries an article by past APICS President Keith Launchbury on future trends. He devotes a very positive paragraph to nanotechnology and mentions that "the potential of this new technology is awesome, and I predict that we will see its first commercial applications within the next five years."

Radio and Television

Several radio news programs have covered nanotechnology recently, with variable quality. CBS Radio carried an item in June on a program called "The Way We Will," discussing recent work with STMs at IBM Geneva, manipulating molecules at room temperature, and IBM Almaden, plucking an atom off a metal substrate using an STM hooked into a Virtual Reality Dataglove apparatus. Foresight member John Papiewski, who heard the broadcast on CBS Radio Station WBBM in Chicago, described the broadcast as "exciting, factual and straightforward reporting."

National Public Radio did less well on July 17. In the space of an eight-minute segment, part of a four-part series on "miniaturization," NPR's Morning Edition muddied the waters with confused definitions of nanotechnology, discussed some of the potential outcomes of molecular nanotechnology, and then quoted "experts" to the effect that this is all unrealizable science fiction.
[A longer report on this program]

The Dutch public television network NEDERLAND 2 carried a program called Nanotopia, based on Drexler's Engines of Creation from 10 to 11 p.m. on June 29.

NanoTechnology Magazine: Research Survey

NanoTechnology Magazine, (Three Degrees Kelvin Publishing, Inc., Honolulu), carries an interesting survey of nanotechnology-related research in its June 1996 issue by Richard H. Smith II, a research administrator at Georgetown University and graduate student in the Virginia Tech Science and Technology Studies Ph.D. program. The entire paper is available on the Web version of the magazine at http://planet-hawaii.com/nanozine/nanofund.htm. Smith describes his Internet-based search for funding sources for molecular nanotechnology research. Referring extensively to a bibliometric study by Alan L. Porter and Scott Cunningham (published in Update 21), Smith found that considerable nanotechnology-related research is underway in the U.S., but that it is disjointed and often difficult to find. "As sophisticated as the search engines in libraries and on the Web are becoming, one needs familiarity with specific terminology in order to find anything," he writes.

Referring to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1986), Smith notes that many involved in relevant research would be considered "practitioners of 'normal science' who help to lay the groundwork for a scientific revolution but don't necessarily buy into it at the time."

Using varied search terms, he identified considerable government research funding for nanotechnology, mostly grants in the range of $50,000 to $100,000. The grants are provided by the National Science Foundation and (harder to locate in computer searches because of terms used) the National Institutes of Health, he writes.

Smith laments the fragmented nature of relevant research, and proposes a clearinghouse of nanotechnology research and funding sources. He suggests Foresight Institute as a provider of the service.

The issue also provides an interesting description of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University (featuring a nanoscale ribbon cutting of one nanotube by another), projected on a video screen for observers by Dr. Richard Smalley. The $32 million facility is expected to be open in the fall of 1997.

New Technology Week

New Technology Week carried a substantial story on Foresight Institute's Feynman Grand Prize, quoting computational nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle of Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center that nanotechnology breakthroughs are needed to develop "post-lithographic manufacturing technologies" to make smaller and faster computer components.

Science fiction and fact magazine Analog

Science fiction and fact magazine Analog Editor Stanley Schmidt, who deals both in fiction and science, had no trouble telling one from the other in an extended editorial responding to Scientific American's April 1996 attack on nanotechnology. "It pains me to have to say so, because I have long thought of Scientific American as a good layman's source of fairly in-depth information about what's going on in many fields of research, but this article seems to me to contain far too much opinions presented as factual reporting - and ultimately to give an impression that may be dangerously wrong." SciAm staff writer Gary Stix's "bias is quite clear in both his selection of quotes and his personal comments," Schmidt wrote.

Schmidt offers comparisons between the existing state of nanotechnology and the emergence of earlier technologies: "The people who made the first vacuum tubes, early in this century, had plenty of trouble just getting them to work in quite simple circuits, and felt justifiable pride whenever they found a way to make them work a little better. At each stage, an experimenter with an idea might see one improvement he could reasonably aspire to making with the time and resources he had available. If you had described to him the tiny, powerful, ubiquitous computers of the late twentieth century, or the huge, sophisticated communications network of the same period, he probably would have found it hard to believe you were serious. If you were his boss and told him he had to build one of those computers, he would have had little choice but to give up in despair."

He concludes, "let's hope that the Foresight Institute keeps trying to look ahead at what this stuff can do for and to us--and what we can do about it. We may need that knowledge a lot sooner than some of us think."

New Sci-Fi Documentary Film Discusses Nanotechnology,
Draws Viewers into Mind-Bending Time Warp

Synthetic Pleasures, written by Iara Lee and produced by George Gund, is a feature-length sci-fi documentary that, in a mixture of interviews, previously-produced footage and original computer graphics, delves into genetic engineering, smart drugs, cryonics, robotics, artificial life, life extension and, of course, nanotechnology. The film emphasizes nanotechnology's capability to offset human disease. It features Ed Regis, author of Nano, a non-technical discussion of nanotechnology.

"Technology becomes a life-style," says Lee. "Synthetic Pleasures tries to get beyond high-tech theory and engage technology where it is lived. Computers facilitate tasks, but somehow make us work even harder. Technology frees and enslaves at the same time. It is a wonderful contradiction."

Lee's extensive use of mind-bending footage, good pacing, and lively editing succeeds in drawing the viewer deeper in this futurist time warp and in bringing home the point that most of the elements the film discusses are happening to some extent today. The film offers broader perspectives on our relationship with technology, where this relationship is taking us and what its implications will be for the future. It was scheduled for release in public theaters August 30.

Reviewed by George Kassel

Foresight Update 26 - Table of Contents

Upcoming Events

4th International Conference on Nanometer-Scale Science and Technology,

Sept. 8-12, Beijing. Includes supramolecules, molecular recognition, SPM fabrication of devices, self-assembly, self-assembled molecular nanostructures. Contact Prof. Shijin Pang, fax 86-10-255-6598, email Pang@image.blem.ac.cn.

Micro- and Nano- Engineering 96,

Sept. 23-25, Glasgow, Scotland. Contact Dr. Carol Clugston, fax 0141-330-4907, email c.clugston@elec.gla.ac.uk, http://www.elec.gla.ac.uk/~spb/mne96/mne96.html

German Conference on Bioinformatics,

Sept. 30-Oct. 2, University of Leipzig. Includes molecular modeling, molecular recognition, self-organization, DNA computing. Contact GCB '96, tel 49-341-9716100, fax 49-341-9716109, email GCB96@imise.unileipzig.de.

First Electronic Molecular Graphics and Modelling Society Conference,

Oct. 7-18. Includes computational nanotechnology and self-assembly topics. See http://bellatrix.pcl.ox.ac.uk/mgms/

Nanometer-Scale Science and Technology

Division meeting, American Vacuum Society, Oct. 14-18, Philadelphia. Includes self-assembly, molecular nanostructures, protein-based computers, AFM-based assembly. Tel 212-248-0200, fax 212-248-0245, email avsnyc@vacuum.org, http://www.vacuum.org.

Senior Associate Gathering,

Oct. 18-20, 1996, Palo Alto. Foresight and IMM Senior Associates meeting includes hands-on molecular modeling. Tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email foresight@foresight.org.
More Information on the 1996 Gathering

Foresight 10th Anniversary Celebration,

evening of Oct. 19, 1996, Palo Alto. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email foresight@foresight.org. See Update 25.

Biological Approaches and Novel Applications for Molecular Nanotechnology,

Dec. 9-11, 1996, San Diego, International Business Communications. Topics similar to Foresight conferences: scanning probes, self-assembly, modeling, DNA structures, protein structures. Tel 508-481-6400, fax 508-481-7911, email inq@ibcusa.com, http://www.io.org/~ibc/nano

Biomolecular Design, Form and Function,

Feb. 1-5, 1997, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Nature Biotechnology. Self-assembly, protein design. Tel 305-243-3597, fax 305-324-5665, email mbws@mednet.med.miami.edu.

Chemistry and Physics of Small-Scale Structures,

Optical Society of America, Feb. 9-11, 1997, Santa Fe. Includes some self-assembly; STM nanofabrication. Tel 202-416-1980, fax 202-416-6100, confserv@osa.org; Web ftp://ftp.osa.org/confer/chem.txt

Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology,

Nov. 5-9, 1997, Palo Alto, CA. Enabling science and technology, computational models. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email foresight@foresight.org, Web http://nano.xerox.com/nanotech/nano5.html. The conference web page has just been moved to:

Foresight Update 26 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4

From Foresight Update 26, originally published 15 September 1996.