Foresight Update 27

Page 5

A publication of the Foresight Institute

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


IBC Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

By Jim Lewis

The International Business Communications conference on "Biological Approaches and Novel Applications for Molecular Nanotechnology" was held December 9-10, 1996, in San Diego, CA. The conference, attended by about 120 researchers and business leaders, focused on the areas of nanosystems technology outlined in welcoming remarks by conference Chairperson Allen J. Bard of the University of Texas at Austin: (1) fabrication, (2) characterization, (3) connections to the outside world, and (4) near-term applications, particularly in the areas of sensors, electronic devices, and photodevices.

Within these clearly defined areas of focus, 20 speakers and 6 poster presenters covered a wide array of technological approaches. This article summarizes briefly a portion of the interesting work presented.

The results presented at this conference were for the most part focused on near term applications of nanometer scale technologies, rather than upon the complex molecular machinery and general molecular manufacturing capabilities that will come later, and which are the focus of Foresight Institute's efforts. Nevertheless, the excellent work presented is well worth our attention. Some of these research efforts offer potential direct paths to the construction of complex molecular machinery; others would appear to contribute to the long term goals only indirectly via the development of infrastructure and the success of industries committed to developing molecular scale technologies. It is also worth considering that the rapid and varied development of these technologies brings the possibility that capabilities useful for the development of molecular manufacturing may come from unexpected directions.

The Monday morning session was largely devoted to scanning probe microscopy. Dr. Bard described his work with scanning probe electrochemical (SECM) methods for fabrication and characterization of nanostructures. Although SECM is not capable of atomic scale resolution, applications to the fabrication of micrometer and sub-micrometer scale structures by electrochemical deposition and etching were presented. John T. Thornton of Digital Instruments presented a wide range of applications of tools made by his company to the study of biological samples. This includes using mechanical force to induce conformational changes in certain proteins such as bacteriorhodopsin. Dr. Kong Gay Loh of TopoMetrix Corporation presented the use of his company's tools for novel applications, including thermal conductivity characterization of polymers and near field optical microscopy of individual fluorescent molecules.

Prof. William A. Goddard III of the California Institute of Technology addressed the use of atomistic molecular dynamic simulations to understand and design nanosystems. He excited the audience by predicting that the protein fold prediction problem for sequences up to 50 amino acid residues (such a polypeptide would have 1023 possible configurations) would be solved within the coming year, either by a hierarchical folding strategy he described or by similar efforts of others.

The topic for the afternoon session was programmable self-assembly systems. Dr. Devens Gust of Arizona State University described his work with complex organic molecules that mimic photosynthetic electron transfer, and how these can be used to design molecular optoelectronic switches. Ned Seeman of New York University (winner of Foresight Institute's 1995 Feynman Prize) presented his recent work on the construction of nanoscale topological structures using designed DNA molecules. He described progress toward making the angles in such constructions less floppy by incorporating double cross-over DNA molecules in triangles constructed of DNA.

Dr. Michael Heller of Nanotronics Inc. and Nanogen Inc. and his collaborator Prof. Sadik Esener of UC San Diego gave two presentations of the very elegant work of their groups in using DNA to make micrometer-scale patterns on silicon surfaces, and their designs to use DNA to control the assembly of molecular electronic and photonic nanostructured materials. Among the most visually impressive demonstrations presented at the conference were videos of their technique of electric field-assisted assembly of DNA structures. Fluorescence-tagged DNA oligonucleotides in solution were made to hybridize to specific regions of a silicon chip containing complementary DNA oligonucleotides orders of magnitude faster than they otherwise would by imposing an electrical bias on that specific region of the chip. By manipulating where the bias was applied, DNA molecules could be made to desert their complementary partners on one section of the chip and to bind to another such section in several seconds.

Professor Donald E. Bergstrom of Purdue University presented a wide range of options to modify the characteristics of DNA by incorporating novel bases synthesized via organic chemistry, and by modifying the nucleic acid backbone. Even more interesting were his methods to attach DNA molecules to rigid small organic molecules so that DNA complementarity can be used to guide the assembly of small molecules into various larger nanoscale structures. Dr. Roger Cubicciotti of Biotechnology Development Associates expanded upon the theme of DNA directing the formation of larger structures by proposing the use of specially evolved DNA sequences to form molecular switches and other molecular devices by binding each of two specifc functional molecules, such as a donor and its associated receptor molecule, and then positioning these two molecules with respect to each other to elicit the desired function.

The second day of the conference was more heavily focused on micromachinery-based approaches and applications of less relevance to Foresight Institute's purposes. Dr. Gregory T. A. Kovacs of Stanford University presented an excellent and entertaining overview of methods in micromachining, and Dr. Thomas G. Thundat of Oak Ridge National Laboratory described a wide range of applications of micromachined sensors. Dr. Thomas Neumann of the University of Washington and Dr. Gil U. Lee of Naval Research Laboratory each discussed different applications of micromachined devices to measuring the forces exerted by specific individual molecules. Dr. Dennis M. Newns of IBM proposed a field effect transistor based upon the Mott transition in a molecular layer. Dr. Harry Stylli of Aurora Biosciences Corporation presented a miniaturized system for high throughput screening for use in drug discovery. Dr. Nir Kossovsky of Heisenberg Principles, Inc. described their "aquasome" technology for preventing biomolecules adsorbed to ceramic particles from denaturing.

The last three talks focused on molecular electronics and photonics. Dr. David Beratan of the University of Pittsburgh described theoretical studies of tunneling of electrons through DNA and proteins. Prof. Robert R. Birge and Jack Tallent, both of Syracuse University, described the rich applications of bacteriorhodopsin, both the natural molecule and several specially designed mutations, to holography and to three-dimensional optical associative memory devices.

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


Senior Associates Program

The Senior Associates Program has been established to provide steady support for the research projects of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and for the education and communication projects of the Foresight Institute, enabling long-term planning and commitments, and providing seed money for new efforts.

The Senior Associates Program supports vital research and education in molecular nanotechnology. It enables individuals to play a key role in advancing this technology and its responsible use through their individual or corporate contributions.

By pledging an annual contribution of $250 to $5,000 a year for five years, Senior Associates join those most committed to making a difference in nanotechnology. Benefits of becoming a Senior Associate include special publications, online interaction, and special meetings. Senior Associates will also beta-test Foresight's Web Enhancement debate software.

Foresight is a nonprofit foundation; donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. to the full extent permitted by law. Donations can be made by check from a U.S. bank, postal money order, VISA, or Mastercard. Credit card donations may be sent by fax.

More about the Senior Associates Program

To contribute, obtain a donation form on the Foresight Institute World Wide Web site, call 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, or email

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


A Baker's Half Dozen
of New Nanotechnology-Related Books

Book publishers have brought a number of nanotechnology-related books into print during 1996 or announced plans to do so in early 1997. New offerings include:

Update readers who possess a copy of any of these books and are interested in writing a review should contact Update Editor Lew Phelps through the Foresight office or via email to

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


Nanotechnology Books Available from Foresight

Foresight Institute stocks for sale most of the significant books discussing nanotechnology and its potential impacts. These include:

Shipping and handling, and California sales tax for CA residents, need to be added. For more information, or to order, contact Foresight Institute at 650-917-1122, email inform@foresight. org, or download the order form.

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents



Special thanks this issue go to Gayle Pergamit for serving along with me as co-host for the Senior Associates Gathering; Russell Whitaker for ongoing Hyper-G assistance; all the speakers at the Senior Associates Gathering (including those who weren't warned in advance, e.g. Russell Whitaker, Jim Von Ehr, and Mark Miller); Patrick Salsbury for demoing software at the Gathering; Tanya Sienko for news on nanotechnology in Japan; Philippe Van Nedervelde for sending a European report on nanotechnology; Dave Kilbridge for doing lots of html for our web site; and many others--this column can no longer fit in all who should be thanked, so many are helping now.

For sending information, we thank Frank Bourgeois, M. Colpitts, Dave Forrest, John Gilmore, Al Globus, Frank Glover, Roy Gordet, Marie-Louise Kagan, Alan Lovejoy, Scott MacLaren, Tom McKendree, Stuart McHugh, Ralph Merkle, Mark Miller, Anthony Napier, John Papiewski, Mike Pique, Gary Pullar, Gregory Sullivan, Eric Tilenius, and Will Ware.

-Chris Peterson, Director

Foresight Update 27 - Table of Contents


Upcoming Events

Biomolecular Design, Form and Function

Feb. 1-5, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Nature Biotechnology. Self-assembly, protein design. Tel 305-243-3597, fax 305-324-5665, email

Chemistry and Physics of Small-Scale Structures

Optical Society of America, Feb. 9-11, Santa Fe. Includes some self-assembly; STM nanofabrication. Tel 202-416-1980, fax 202-416-6100, email,

Science Forum on Nanoscale Science and Technology

NATO Advanced Research Workshop, March, Spain, invitational. Dr. M. Nieto-Vesperinas, Inst. Cienca de Materiales, C-III, Universidad Autonoma, Cantoblanco, E-28049, Madrid, Spain. Web

European Workshop on Microtechnology and Scanning Probe Microscopy

April 7-9, Mainz, Germany. Goal: to discuss needs of next generation SPMs, "an important prerequisite for advances in nanotechnology." Dr. Abraham, tel +49-6131-990-130, fax +49-6131-990-305, email, Web

Second European Symposium of the Protein Society

April 12-16, Cambridge, England. Includes protein design. Tel 301-530-7010, fax 301-530-7014, email, Web


Belarausian State Univ, May 19-23, Minsk, Belarus. Includes nanotechnology, atomic engineering instruments, software for nanotechnological instrumentation, "chemical synthesis of nanostructures on the basis of scanning probe fabrication." Prof. Borisenko, tel +375-172-398-869, fax +375-172-310-914, email

Ninth International Precision Engineering Seminar & Fourth International Conference on Ultraprecision in Manufacturing Engineering

May 26-30, Braunschweig, Germany. Includes SPM; "Trends and Priorities in Precision Engineering and Nanotechnology." Tel +49-531-592-5300, fax +49-531-592-5305, email

On the Edge: Exploring Tomorrow's High-Risk, High-Payoff Technologies

Index Vanguard, July 15-16, Philadelphia. Includes nanotechnology and ultrascale computing. Index Vanguard, Cambridge, MA; Tel 617-492-1500, Web

American Vacuum Society Annual Meeting

Oct 20-24, San Jose, CA. Includes nanoscale science & technology. Tel 212-248-0200, fax 212-248-0245, email, Web

Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

Nov. 5-9, Palo Alto, CA. Enabling science and technology, computational models. A list of distinguished speakers have already been confirmed for the conference: Richard Smalley (keynote), Phaedon Avouris, Eric Drexler, James Gimzewski, Al Globus, William A. Goddard III, Ralph C. Merkle, and Nadrian C. Seeman. For more information browse the Web. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email

7th International Symposium on Molecular Electronics and Biocomputing

Nov. 10-12, Nanjing, PR China. Tel +86-25-361-9983, fax +86-25-771-2719, email, Web

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From Foresight Update 27, originally published 30 December 96.