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Foresight Update 39

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 39 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


IMM Researcher, Foresight Award Recipients Nominated for World Technology Awards

by Richard Terra

Robert A. Freitas Jr., a Research Fellow with the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, was selected as one of only five Finalists for the World Technology Award for Materials. It is one of a collection of awards in technology and innovation presented annually by the World Technology Network (WTN). The Materials Award winner was Dr. Frederick Seitz, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, a noted researcher in nuclear and solid state physics and semiconductor materials.

Also nominated as finalists for the WTN Materials award were Dr. Phaedon Avouris, Scientist, T.J. Watson Research Center, IBM Research Division and winner of one of the 1999 Feynman Prizes, and Anita Goel, Graduate Student, Rowland Institute for Science, Harvard University and winner of the 1999 Foresight Distinguished Student Award. The fifth finalist was John Cahn, Materials Scientist and Fellow; National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The World Technology Awards, held in association with The Economist magazine, were created "to honor those individual leaders from across the globe who most contribute to the advance of emerging technologies of all sorts for the benefit of business and society. They especially seek to honor those innovators who are taking the actions and making the decisions with the greatest likely future significance and impact over the long-term... and who will likely become or remain 'key players' in the technological drama unfolding in coming years. These Awards are about those individuals whose work today will create the greatest 'ripple effects' in the future... in both expected and unexpected ways."

The Judges for the 1999 World Technology Award for Materials were:

  • Otto CC Lin, VP R&D, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Paul Hogg, Editor in Chief, "Materials Technology" magazine
  • Ronald Gibala, President, Materials Research Society
  • Philippe Van Nedervelde, European Executive Director, Foresight Institute

About the World Technology Network (WTN)

WTN is a relatively new organization focused on "making a wide range of emerging technologies happen sooner and better than they might have otherwise." The WTN is also building a network "of the most important people in the world of emerging technologies. Not just the technologists, but also the financiers, futurists, marketers, journalists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, etc." — the people "who will likely play a role in the technology drama over the next years and decades to be identified now and brought together to create relationships that will accelerate the application of these technologies."

Foresight Update 39 - Table of Contents


Book Review: Two Studies in Nanoscale Science & Technology

by Richard P. Terra

Most current research and development work in fields increasingly included under the rubric of "nanoscale science & technology" is not explicitly aimed at enabling molecular nanotechnology. However, as has been amply demonstrated again and again over the past decade or so, myriad advances along a broad front of basic and applied sciences provide a multiplicity of pathways toward many varieties of molecular nanotechnologies. The two publications reviewed here, while focused on near-term nanoscale studies, provide interesting overviews of the accumulating knowledgebase that underpins the accelerating development of true molecular nanotechnology.

Nanostructure Science and Technology: R&D Status and Trends in Nanoparticles, Nanostructured Materials, and Nanodevices: A Worldwide Study. (September 1999). 335 pp; Free!

This report was prepared by an interagency panel of authors working through the International Technology Research Institute, World Technology (WTEC) Division, at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland under the guidance of the Committee on Technology of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Interagency Working Group on NanoScience, Engineering, and Technology (IWGN), with contributions from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Transportation; and the National Institutes of Health, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. The report reviews the status of research and development in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nanodevices (or more concisely, nanostructure science and technology) worldwide, with particular focus on comparisons between the United States and other leading industrialized countries.

The purpose of the study, conducted between 1996 and 1998, was to assess the current status and future trends internationally in research and development in the broad and rapidly growing area of nanostructure science and technology. Topics covered include particle synthesis and assembly, dispersions and coatings of nanoparticles, high surface area materials, functional nanoscale devices, bulk behavior of nanostructured materials, and biological methods and applications. The final chapter and an extensive set of appendices review of related government funding programs around the world, with site reports for visits conducted at leading research laboratories in Europe, Japan and Taiwan. These latter sections are some of the most interesting material in the report.

However, as the report's authors point out, the field of nanostructure science and technology is simply too large, too geographically dispersed, and changing too rapidly to cover exhaustively. What this volume presents are only examples, "the best examples the panel could find, to describe what the field encompasses, its current breath and depth, and where it appears to be heading."

The authors state there are two overarching findings from their study:

"First, it is abundantly clear that we are now able to nanostructure materials for novel performance. That is the essential theme of this field: novel performance through nanostructuring. It represents the beginning of a revolutionary new age in our ability to manipulate materials for the good of humanity. The synthesis and control of materials in nanometer dimensions can access new material properties and device characteristics in unprecedented ways, and work is rapidly expanding worldwide in exploiting the opportunities offered through nanostructuring ..."

"Second, there is a very wide range of disciplines contributing to the developments in nanostructure science and technology worldwide. The rapidly increasing level of interdisciplinary activity in nanostructuring is exciting and growing in importance, and the intersections between the various disciplines are where much of the novel activity resides. The field of nanostructure science and technology has been growing very rapidly in the past few years. ..."

"We are now at the threshold of a revolution in the ways in which materials and products are created. How this revolution will develop, how great will be the opportunities that nanostructuring can yield, and how rapidly we progress, will depend upon the ways in which a number of challenges are met ...

  • "[I]ncrease characterization capabilities in visualization and chemical analysis at ever finer size scales ... to manipulate matter at ever finer size scales, and ... use computational approaches in directing this ... Experiment simply cannot do it alone. Theory and modeling are essential ...
  • "[U]nderstand the critical roles that surfaces and interfaces play in nanostructured materials ... and interaction between the nanoscale building blocks and their surroundings.
  • "[L]earn more about the control of nanostructure size and size distribution, composition, and assembly.
  • "[T]he thermal, chemical, and structural stability of nanostructured materials and the devices made ... [in] the environments in which these nanostructures are asked to function ...
  • "Achieving reproducibility and scalability of nanoparticle synthesis and consolidation processes in nanostructuring for successful scale-up to commercial viability
  • "Finally, ... it is an absolute necessity to create a new breed of researchers who can work across traditional disciplines and think 'outside the box.' Educating this new breed of researchers, who will either work across disciplines or know how to work with others in the interfaces between disciplines, is vital to the future of nanostructure science and technology. People must start thinking in unconventional ways if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities in this new and revolutionary field."

The report is available in HTML form on the ITRI web site. It can also be downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file (about 5 Mb).

A related report, covering research and development work within the United States, was issued last year. R&D status and trends in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nanodevices in the United States. Baltimore: ITRI, 1998. The HTML version of the report is available on the web. An Adobe Acrobat PDF version of the report (about 9 Mb!) is also available.

Nanotechnology: Think Samll, Win Big with These Cutting-Edge Techniques
A report from Technical Insights. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1999). ISBN 0 471-34891-0; 230 pp, $US 1400.

Based on information drawn from the Technical Insights Nanotech Alert intelligence service, a venture capital/investor-oriented subscription service offered by Wiley, this compendium is less an integrated report than an organized collection of the service's capsule summaries of nanoscale science and technology developments that might provide some guidance to those seeking to get in on the ground floor of future technological booms.

As such, it's a diverse grab-bag of material, and there are some few interesting nuggets amid much chaff, at least from the point of view of those anticipating the development of full-blown molecular nanotechnology. Much of the relevant material, of course, can be found elsewhere. Wiley's service is targeted primarily at those who don't have the time, patience or technical knowledge to seek out and winnow the primary sources themselves.

An irritating aspect of this orientation in the reporting is that each capsule summary is tagged with a headline that trumpets some amazing, winning or at least lucrative immediate application to some startling research finding — but when read, it turns out that the bannered application is either a fairly trivial extension of current capabilities or is speculative, lies on the other side of a long development path, or is only loosely related to the actual science reported. While most of the content is accurate, it's also presented in a breathless, mildly sensationalistic tone aimed at those hoping to get ahead of the curve and make a killing in high-tech investment.

Probably the most interesting and useful sections of the book are the Introduction, which makes extensive explicit mention of Foresight, IMM and MMEI; and the listing of contacts and information sources in the appendices. However, none of this material is particularly new, unique or insightful.

Both the Nanotech Alert service and this compendium are quite expensive. Unless you've got money to burn and no time to do your own research, or you work for some organziation that doesn't mind dropping $1400 to put this volume into its library, this shockingly expensive volume doesn't justify itself. This is especially true when one can find a huge amount of the same information in other sources, such as the NCST/WTEC report above, that also provide what's often much more cogent and more broadly-based analysis of developments occurring in the fields of nanoscale science and technology.

For a listing of the contents in this volume, visit:

Foresight Update 39 - Table of Contents


Nanotechnology: Internet Mailing Lists

A number of people have contacted Foresight seeking information on nanotechnology-related eMail lists or listservers. Currently, there are very few such lists devoted to the field, and most of those that do exist are quite specialized.

Probably the best general list-type resource is the USENET newsgroup, sci.nanotech. While not a true mail list, sci.nanotech is an open (though moderated) forum for posting messages on a broad range of MNT-related topics; the postings are accessible to any USENET-compliant reader. However, because the discussions can range from techincal issues to highly speculative exchanges on the potential impacts of nanotechnology, the "signal-to-noise" ratio can at times be quite high.

sci.nanotech is moderated by J. Storrs Hall, a Reasearch Fellow with IMM. The sci.nanotech discussions have been taking place for several years; archives for the newsgroup are available on the web.

An older home page for the sci.nanotech newsgroup, provides some useful background information and the group's FAQ document.

Recently, a true nanotech-oriented mail list has been started by Gina "Nanogirl" Miller at Nanotechnology Industries, via Onelist. Discussions include nanotechnology applications, general futurism, idea exchange, design, social implications, economic issues, policy and legislation and other relevent group sub-topics. Questions of relevant impact and strategic implications are encouraged as well as exchanges of information. For more information, visit: Archives of the daily digests for the list are also available.

Last November, Frank Bonnet at Groupe ESIEE Paris sent a notice to sci.nanotech that he has set up an unmoderated NANOTECH mailing-list for those without access to USENET groups. Accepted languages are French or English. Bonnet says, "This would be a friendly companion of sci.nanotech." Subscription is open but subject to verification of your email address via an autoresponse mechanism. To subscribe, send an email to :
with the string
in the body of the email, not in the subject.

Of limited interest are the mail lists of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group (NSG & NSG-D). NSG is moderated. Its function is to publish the lecture schedule of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group. Very rarely other notices dealing with events of exceptional interest will be posted. Discussion of these lectures and any other matter involving nanotechnology should be directed to NSG-D. For subscription and posting instructions, send an eMail to ""

Zyvex LLC, a company devoted to the development of molecular nanotechnology, maintains two lists for those who wish to be updated about interesting news related to Zyvex. The lists get mailed to infrequently, about once every three or four months, and are moderated lists, so only the Zyvex list administrator can mail to them. The main mail list is named "inform" which is typically used for informing people of a significant update to the Zyvex web site. A press list for journalists wanting to hear about newsworthy happenings at Zyvex is named "press". For instructions on how to subscribe, go to:

A list devoted to nanotech oriented molecular visualization and modeling software is available for anyone interested in discussion of NanoCAD, a Java-based molecular visualization program developed by Will Ware, or related topics. Subscription instructions are available at the web site. The mailing list is primarily hosting disccusions of an open-source programming project called OpenChem. Peter McCluskey has graciously archived the NanoCAD mailing list online with his CritMail program.

Finally, for a roster of other, sometimes nanotech-related topics (MEMS & other microtechnology, scanning probe instruments, cryonics, extropianism, and nanotech in science fiction) see the page maintained by Sean Morgan on his web site.

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From Foresight Update 39, originally published 30 December 1999.


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