Foresight Update 27

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Media Watch


Byte Magazine

Byte Magazine, in its December 1996 special issue on The Future of Computing, asked eight computer industry leaders to respond to a set of questions. Several answers invoked nanotechnology. Asked "How long will Moore's Law continue to be relevant?" Marc Andreessen, Netscape Communications Corp.'s Senior Vice President, Technology, said, "Through 2020, when we will see a discontinuous improvement in performance rejoining a new Moore's Law curve based on transition toward molecular nanotechnology." David Chaum, of DigiCash, when asked "When will quantum effects and other problems require radically new technologies?" responded, "I'm not sure we will be forced to develop nanotechnology, but I sure hope we do." Asked about chip manufacturing in zero-gravity environment, Andreessen responded, "Only as an unlikely and distant possibility. Nanotechnology will have begun to bear fruit before zero-gravity chip manufacturing makes sense."

Fortune Magazine

Fortune Magazine also profiled Andreessen in its December 9 issue, where he spoke broadly about nanotechnology: Says Fortune: "One of his favorite novels is The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. Its plot is built around nanotechnology, the science of manipulating individual atoms to build devices and circuits. Although nanotechnology is being taken more and more seriously, its possibilities seem positively chimerical. At its extreme, nanotechnology would allow us to create stuff--anything from a chair to a blimp--out of practically nothing. 'So many of the things people do are going to be unnecessary when matter can be rearranged arbitrarily,' says Andreessen. 'I mean, this gets into all kinds of bizarre stuff. Immortality. There's no fundamental reason why the breakdown of cell structures is inevitable.' He pauses to sip some iced tea, waiting to see if I've heard correctly. 'There's no reason...' I begin.'There's no reason death should happen,' he rushes on. 'There's no reason decay shouldn't be totally repairable. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to design exactly the body you want.'

The Fortune profile ends with Andreessen looking into the future. "'You know,' he says, 'within 30 years someone's going to make a shitload of money in nanotech.'"

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun carried a major story headlined "Working atom by atom" in its July 13, 1996 issue. The story focuses on the work of two University of Southern California professors, chemist and Nobel Laureate Dr. George A. Olah and professor of chemical and electrical engineering Larry R. Dalton. They are working under a $6.7 million Defense Department grant to develop functioning nanoscale electronic memory devices, which Dalton estimates are five to ten years away. "Twenty years ago any reasonable scientist would have said we were crazy. It would have been impossible," Dalton is quoted in the article as saying.

At USC, Cornell, Caltech, and the University of North Carolina, "Dalton and his colleagues are using an STM probe to ...[switch] their chemical state, changing them to represent ones or zeros-- the fundamental alphabet of digital memory. The molecules then become 'information bearing units,' or IBUs. The IBUs are placed at key points on branching molecules called dendritic polymers, all precisely constructed at the consortium's laboratories. The IBUs are like knots on a vast and intricate net that is just one molecule thick. In a computer memory, the polymer lattice might be mounted on a spinning disc, and its IBUs could be read, written upon and erased by the tip of an STM," the article says.

The story also reports on techniques being explored at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by Dr. Troy W. Barbee Jr., using "sputtering" technology to deposit alternating layers of elements a dozen or fewer atoms thick. One sample of copper-nickel microlayer material has a tensile strength of 270,000 pounds per square inch--65 percent of its theoretical limit compared with 3 to 5 percent for normal metals, the story says. Other microlayer alloys created have hardness approaching diamond, and very high heat tolerance, with near-term applications in jet turbine blades, the story says. Although the technique might be considered "top down," it suggests the magnitude of improvement in material science that can be achieved with molecularly precise manufacturing techniques.

The Times of London

The Times of London carried a long column by Anjana Ahuja describing Foresight Institute's announcement of the Feynman Grand Prize (see Update 24). "Science prizes have a great tradition. The fields of aviation, space travel and marine navigation have all inspired benefactors to offer substantial sums to those making great strides forward. Now the Foresight Institute, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, California, will ensure that nanotechnology, which is based on the manipulation of individual molecules and atoms, joins this prestigious league. The institute is offering $250,000 (160,000) to the first individual or group to design and build a robotic arm to certain specifications."

"There are several ways of fiddling about with individual atoms, the most well-known of which is the scanning tunnelling microscope," Ahuja writes. "Although it is a highly visionary view of the future, nanotechnology aficionadoes...insist that this fledgling science is about to break into the mainstream. Among those pursuing the field in Britain are the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Birmingham."


Nature also prominently covered the Feynman Grand Prize announcement in its August 22, 1996 issue. "To win the newly announced prize, entrants must design and construct a functional nanometer-scale robotic arm with specific performance characteristics, as well as design and construct a functional nanometer-scale computing device capable of adding two 8-bit binary numbers.

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology based on the ability to assemble individual molecules and atoms into precise structures," the Nature story said in part.

The same publication's Nov. 7 issue reported from London that British researchers into nanotechnology are concerned because the field was not identified as a priority in Britain's recent Technology Foresight exercise. The concern is that the omission will result in a lack of funding for needed research. "New funding has dried up from both the National Initiative on Nanotechnology and a Nanotechnology Programme backed jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Department of Trade and Industry," Nature reported.


Chemtech, published by the American Chemical Society, offers a monthly "Touring the Internet" guide, which in September featured seven nanotechnology-related sites, including Ralph Merkle's at Xerox and Al Globus's at NASA. The reviewer also discusses the sci.nanotech Usenet discussion group.

The Futurist

The Futurist, a bi-monthly publication of Coates & Jarratt Inc., a Washington D.C.-based futurist organization, favorably reviews Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance, edited by B.C. Crandall, (MIT Press, 1996) in its November-December 1996 issue. "While some of nanotech's more mainstream applications (e.g. intelligent construction materials and medical tools) are familiar to many readers, this anthology describes other, more imaginative and novel uses," the review says. The book comprises a series of essays, of which the reviewer cites those by Richard Crawford on cosmetic surgery and other cosmetic alterations, Edward M. Reifman on dental applications such as diamondoid teeth, and H. Keith Henson's suggestion that people could experience otherwise lethal wounds in role-playing sword fights so that "fantasy games would thus become more real than ever thought possible."

Internet Underground

Internet Underground, in its November 1996 issue, carried a three-page question-and-answer format interview with Foresight Institute Chairman Eric Drexler, ("FAQ: Rappin' with Molecular Mix-Master Dr. Dre'") focusing mostly on the increasing use of the World Wide Web for scientific discourse and Foresight Institute's support for the Web Enhancement Project. Although the publication's style might be described as "post-Wired," author Lauren Gonzalez's questions to Drexler were knowledgeable and focused. For example in discussion of "filtering" (using reader-selected criteria to display only specific authors or documents) Gonzalez asks : "In Hypertext Publishing, you wrote of television being the major medium, yet it seems poorly suited for critical discussion. If we start filtering, allowing people to define exactly what they need, in a sense choosing 'channels' of information, aren't we taking away what makes the Web so different from television to begin with?" Drexler responds, "Filtering would certainly let people disappear off into a sub-world of their own. But unlike television, it wouldn't tend to merge everybody in a particular sub-world--maximizing the number of is crucial that some part of this world make it possible for the really big life-and-death issues of policy, technology and the future [to be discussed]."

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


Web Watch

By Jim Lewis

Prof. Richard E. Smalley, Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with his collaborators Robert F. Curl and Harold W. Kroto for their 1985 discovery of fullerenes (see this issue's lead story), maintains an excellent nanotechnology-oriented web site. The material posted there ranges from general introductions to his latest technical papers.

Included on his site is the complete text plus illustrations of a general introductory talk, "Nanotechnology and the next 50 years," that he gave in December 1995. A somewhat more technical talk, also presented complete with illustrations, is "From Balls to Tubes to Ropes: New Materials from Carbon," which he presented in January 1996. This second talk provides a very informative introduction to his work, and to the unique properties of fullerenes, providing points for considering the potential of fullerene research in the development of molecular nanotechnology.

Prof. Smalley's list of publications is available on his site. Of the 211 publications listed, 10 of the most recent ones are available for downloading, with full text and figures. Perhaps of particular interest is his recent publication in Nature of the use of nanotubes as tips for scanning probe microscopy. One of the most impressive micrographs published of a scanning force microscope tip is from this paper.

Making Smalley's Web site even more valuable are his reports to the sponsors of his research ( and These provide both capsule summaries of his major achievements and indications of his thinking about future projects.

This Web site recently posted by Daniel Mumzhiu, Michael Montemerlo, and James Ellenbogen of the MITRE Corporation Nanosystems Group announces itself as "THE Nanoelectronics Home Page provides the Internet Gateway to nanoelectronics research and development information and resources from around the world." The site is off to a very good start at living up to this claim. Most of the material at this site is at an intermediate level of technical difficulty, accessible to the scientifically literate generalist, although some material is of more interest to specialists. Excellent illustrations of various devices are provided.

The site includes brief but informative overviews, with links to additional material, of quantum computers, nanomechanical computers, and computers using DNA and other biomolecules. However, the site concentrates on electronic nanocomputers. Their treatment of electronic nanocomputers includes both solid state and molecular electronic devices, and the content of their treatment is both wide and deep. Topics include wireless cellular automata, resonant tunnelling and single electron devices, quantum dots, and molecular switches.

Other very useful areas include a "Who's Who in Nanoelectronics". Several dozen experts and researchers in various areas are grouped according to sub-field of interest and listed, with a short paragraph on each. There is likewise a very thorough list of organizations and institutions where work on the field is done.

The description of nanosystems and nanoelectronics research underway at Mitre reveals a major effort in computational modeling, focusing on improved electron-density-based quantum modeling. Their hope is that certain simplifications of the equations of quantum mechanics will lead to faster and more realistic computer simulation of the manipulation of nanosystems.

Recent additions to

Thanks to major help from Dave Kilbridge, three more back issues of the Update (#12, #14 and #15) are now available, with graphics, and six additional issues should be posted within the next few weeks.

A page has been added for the 1997 Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, announcing the conference and a call for papers, and providing preliminary information on speakers. As registration and other information becomes available, it will be first made available here, and after the conference is completed, this site will serve as an archive for the material presented.

A "What's New?" page has been added, directly accessible from the home page, so that visitors to the site can quickly determine what has been added since their last visit.

WebWatch reviews interesting and recently posted nanotechnology-related materials on the World Wide Web. Jim Lewis, of James B. Lewis Enterprises in Seattle, is Foresight's Webmaster. He can be reached by email at:

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


Recent Events

Science Funding Study Heralds Nanotechnology's Promise

A major federal government report "Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology," issued by the National Academy of Sciences, calls for funding of nanotechnology research. It says, in part:
"In many cases no one firm can capture the full benefits of its investment. This is generally the case for investment in basic research and can also apply in development related to emerging technologies. One approach to addressing this problem is represented by Sematech, an industry consortium created to improve semiconductor manufacturing, and for which the federal government provided some initial funding. Federal funding may help to establish such consortia in limited and highly specific areas and can be appropriate to support research in consortia formed by industry. In addition, the government may still have a role in fostering new enabling technologies. Many people believe that nanotechnology (i.e., at scales of one-billionth of a meter) and micromanufacturing, for example, offer exciting commercial opportunities." The entire report is available online.

Vacuum Society Symposium

The American Vacuum Society, a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics, is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the science and technology of vacuum, materials, surfaces, interfaces, thin films, and plasmas. At its 43rd National Symposium in Philadelphia, October 14-18, AVS offered a number of technical sessions on subjects bearing directly on nanotechnology. These included:

AVS maintains an extensive Web site. Detailed conference information including descriptions of each of these and the hundreds of other presentations, and information on how to contact presenters, can also be found online.

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From Foresight Update 27, originally published 30 December 96.