Foresight Update 41

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 41 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents


NASA and National Cancer Institute Join to
Develop "Nano-Explorers" for Medical Applications

On 13 April, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin and National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Dr. Richard Klausner signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop new biomedical technologies that can detect, diagnose and treat disease.

The joint collaboration will combine NASA and NCI initiatives requiring major advances in available technology. NCI is attempting to define cancer for the first time based on the unique molecular characteristics of tumors. NASA is seeking to develop a new form of patient care — "microscopic explorers" — that would travel through the human body looking for disease.

NASA and NCI envision that these technologies will "change health care as we know it on earth." A compelling application would be the early detection and treatment of cancer.

A NASA video presented to the Capitol Hill audience attending the signing ceremony discused non-intrusive molecular probes, or "nano-explorers" that might enter the patient's body as a pill, a nasal spray or skin patch or a needle, and continually evaluate molecular indicators of health. The explorers would communicate with on board computers to seamlessly monitor thousands of cellular signals. Minute changes or invasion by known or unknown diseases would be diagnosed in real-time. "Nano-therapists" could be introduced to attack the diseased cells before the problem spreads to organs, tissues or the entire body. "Nano-replicators" might mimic the operation of healthy cells and replace diseased or injured cells, speeding up recovery time.

"What we do at NASA is work on what I call the golden triangle . . . of three critical technologies: nano-technology, information technology, and bio-technology — not separately but as a whole," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "There are a whole variety of these technologies. But we will now be partnering with the National Cancer Institute that understands bio-informatics in the body."

The full text of the NASA press release describing the collaborative program can be found on the web. A MSNBC news article on the initiative and related NCI research is also available.

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents


Leading Researchers in Molecular Electronics
Quietly Form Private Firm

With little fanfare, some of the leading figures in the field of molecular electronics have formed a private company to pursue commercial applications of their research.

The formation of the new company, Molecular Electronics Corporation (MEC), was reported in the New York Times ("A New Era in Technology for Computers" by John Markoff) on 23 March 2000.

According to the article, the company was incorporated in December and opened its first office in Chicago in January. The company has obtained substantial initial financing from private investors and has hired a chief executive. While they do not yet have a working device prototype, MEC executives believe "they had solved all of the difficult research obstacles and would be able to create working models in 18 to 24 months," according to the Times report. The article noted that the move "has surprised computer industry executives."

The article quotes James Ellenbogen of MITRE Corp., who said while he did not have detailed knowledge about the new private venture, "researchers in the field have been making significant progress in recent years, and he would not be shocked by early commercialization."

The founders of the new company include:

Reed and Tour were co-authors of a November 1999 article in Science that described the creation of a functional single molecule switch (see Media Watch in Update 39, and Recent Progress in Update 40 for details).

According to the Times article, "Several people close to the company said that the first prototypes would be memory devices and that Molecular Electronics researchers had already succeeded in the laboratory in creating arrays of molecule-sized switches from which information can be stored and retrieved." There has been no public announcement on this possibility. The inclusion of Hasslacher as a founding member of the company, however, is suggestive: it may indicate that MEC intends to create actual computing devices, rather than simpler components like high-density memory.

MEC is the second private venture seeking to commercialize molecular electronics. California Molecular Electronics Corp. (CALMEC) was formed in 1997. Last year the company received a National Science Foundation grant to pursue the development of components of a molecular-scale switching device. In February, CalMEC issued a $6 million direct public offering via the Internet. Reed and Tour were scientific advisors to CALMEC until last November, when they resigned — for now obvious reasons.

Foresight Update 41 - Table of Contents


The Eighth Foresight Conference

November 3-5, 2000

In Washington D.C. area—same conference, different location

The conference, to be held in Bethesda, Maryland, is a meeting of scientists & technologists working in fields leading toward molecular nanotechnology, and will cover topics relevant to the pursuit of molecular control. It will begin with an evening reception on Thursday, November 2, and end on Sunday, November 5.

Tutorial: Foundations of Nanotechnology

An intensive Tutorial on Foundations of Nanotechnology will be held on November 2, to introduce nanotechnology to newcomers and to strengthen the interdisciplinary knowledge of seasoned researchers. Those with science, engineering or software backgrounds are invited to participate. Registration for the Tutorial is separate from conference registration.

For More Information

For more information on the conference and tutorial, and for registration information, see the conference Web page at:

Confirmed Conference Speakers

Keynote Speaker:

Raymond Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.,
1999 National Medal of Technology Award
Author, The Age of Spiritual Machines

Special Session: National Initiatives in Nanotechnology

Dr. Cheryl Shavers, Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology
Includes panel discussion with representatives of federal agencies

Scanning Probes:

Richard Superfine, UNC Chapel Hill: AFM nanomanipulation
Charles Lieber, Harvard University: AFM tips & nanotubes
Paul Weiss, Penn State University
Phillip E. Russell, North Carolina State University

Biological Machines and Materials:

Julio Fernandez, Mayo Clinic: protein unfolding
Nadrian C. Seeman, NY University: DNA self assembly
Peter G. Gillespie, Oregon Health Sciences University

Nano-Materials, -Mechanics and -Manipulation:

Bob Celotta, NIST: optical manipulation of atoms
James Heath, UCLA: nanotubes
Mostafa A. El-Sayed, Georgia Tech: nanoparticles
Jacqueline Krim, North Carolina State University: tribology

Molecular Electronics/Self-Assembly:

Mark Ratner, NWU: molecular electronics theory
James Tour, Rice University: molecular electronics experiment

Theory/Modeling and Computations:

Klaus Schulten: computing & biology
Susan B. Sinnott, University of Kentucky: nanotube theory
Ralph C. Merkle , Zyvex: nanodevice architectures

Tutorial Instructors:

Susan B. Sinnott, University of Kentucky; Tutorial Chair: Theory/Modeling and Computations
James Heath, UCLA: Materials, Mechanics, & Manipulation
Peter G. Gillespie, Oregon HSU: Biological Machines & Materials
Phillip E. Russell, North Carolina State: Scanning Probes

Ray Kurzweil Wins National Technology Award

President Clinton announced on 31 January 2000 the recipients of the 1999 National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology, the U.S. government's highest science and technology honors. Among this year's recipients was Ray Kurzweil, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

Kurzweil will be the keynote speaker at the Eighth Foresight Conference in November. He is well-known within the Foresight community as the author of The Age of Spiritual Machines.

The awards were presented by President Clinton in a formal White House ceremony on 14 March. Kurzweil was cited for his pioneering and innovative achievements in computer science such as voice recognition.

The National Medal of Technology, established by Congress in 1980 and administered by the Department of Commerce, recognizes technological innovation and advancement of the nation's global competitiveness, as well as ground-breaking contributions that commercialize a technology, create jobs, improve productivity, or stimulate the nation's growth and development in other ways.

Conference Will Include Special Session on U.S. Nanotechnology Initiatives

Dr. Carol ShaversCheryl L. Shavers, Ph.D., Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce, will participate in a special session during the Eight Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology. The session will include a panel discussion with representatives of several federal agencies with an interest in nanotechnology.

Dr. Shavers oversees the Commerce Department's Technology Administration and the Office of Technology Policy, as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Technical Information Service and the Office of Space Commercialization. As Under Secretary for Technology, she also serves as senior advisor to the Secretary of Commerce in forming new policies and program initiatives in the areas of science and technology. The Technology Administration is the federal government's focal point for working in partnership with U.S. industry to improve America's commercial and industrial innovation, productivity, and economic growth.

Before being nominated by President Clinton to be Under Secretary for Technology, Dr. Shavers served in Intel's Corporate Business Development Division, where she led technology assessments of emerging technologies, among other activities. Dr. Shavers has also worked in various engineering and managerial positions at Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Varian Associates. She has also served as a patent agent in Hewlett-Packard's technical legal department.

Dr. Shavers holds a B.S. degree in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Solid State Chemistry, both from Arizona State University.

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From Foresight Update 41, originally published 30 June 2000.