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Foresight Update 51

page 4

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 51 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Scientific Tutorial: October 9, 2003

In conjunction with the 11th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

Tutorial Chair: Hicham Fenniri, Purdue University

GOAL: To bring the conference attendees up to speed on major areas of nanoscale science and technology and provide a scientific background to understand and evaluate emerging trends in this field. A particular focus is a critical but basic discussion of recent research on key topics.

Who Should Attend: Researchers and technologists with science or engineering backgrounds.

The Chemistry and Physics of Molecules, Assemblies, and Devices
Cherie Kagan is a research staff member at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. Her research focuses on understanding the chemistry and physics of molecular assemblies and the fabrication of molecular electronic and memory devices. She received the MIT TR10 in 2000 and was recognized by the ACS as one of the top women chemists in 2002.

A Top-Down Look at Bottom's Up Electronics
Mark Lundstrom is the Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is the founding director of the NSF Network for Computational Nanotechnology and also serves on the leadership councils of the MARCO Focus Center on Materials, Structures, and Devices and the NASA Institute for Nanoelectronics and Computing. His recent research interests have been on applying the insights and methods being developed in molecular electronics to semiconductor transistors at the scaling limit and in exploring new devices that might complement gigascale Si CMOS. His work with his colleague, Supriyo Datta, on these topics was recently recognized by the 2002 IEEE Cledo Brunetti Award.

Implications of Nanotechnology for Energy and Environmental Remediation
Tom E. Mallouk is DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry at the Pennsylvania State University. His research involves the synthesis of materials from nanoscale building blocks, and he is credited with some of the earliest experiments in the area of inorganic self assembly. He is currently interested in the development of functional materials from nanoscale components and their applications in solar energy conversion, environmental remediation, molecular electronics, fuel cells and catalysis, chemical sensing, and separations. Mallouk is a co-founder of Molecular Electronics Corp., is Chief Scientist of NuVant Systems, Inc., and serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is the author of approximately 200 publications, including a few good ones, and has edited three books on solid state chemistry and chemical sensors.

An Integrated Systems-Oriented Approach to Molecular Electronics
Fraser Stoddart is the Saul Winstein Professor of Chemistry at the University of California in Los Angeles and the Scientific Co-Director of the California NanoSystems Institute. He has published over 650 scientific papers and is currently one of the 100 most highly cited chemists according to the Institute for Scientific Information. He has pioneered the development of molecular recognition-cum-self-assembly processes and template-directed protocols in, respectively, noncovalent and covalent synthesis with supramolecular assistance, for the construction of nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) and the fabrication of nano-electronic devices. His research has taken our fundamental knowledge of chemical bonding into the realm of smart mechanical bonds, which can be directed to control the movements of motor-molecules and the operations of molecular switches. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of London in 1994 and to the Fellowship of the German Academy of Natural Sciences, the Leopoldina, in 1999.

Self-assembly Approaches to Nanoscale Materials
Steven C. Zimmerman is the William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a synthetic organic chemist whose research lies at the interface of chemical biology and polymer chemistry. The current efforts of his group are focused on molecular recognition and self-assembly processes involving DNA, DNA base analogs, dendrimers, and other polymeric materials.

Tutorial registration is separate from the conference registration. The tutorial registration fee includes Thursday lunch. You may register for the conference only, the tutorial only, or both the conference and the tutorial.

Tutorial space is limited, therefore early registration is recommended. For additional information, see Registration Information at, or contact the Conference Office at 1(650) 917-1122,

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Foresight Update 51 - Table of Contents


Book Review: Surviving the Time Bombs

Why nanotechnology may be our only hope

Reviewed by Jim Lewis

Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics, and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World

Douglas Mulhall
Prometheus Books, 2002
Hard Cover, 392 pages $28
ISBN: 1-57392-992-1

Douglas Mulhall has provided an excellent introduction to the emergence of molecular manufacturing and added one more powerful reason to the list of reasons why attempting to ban the development of nanotechnology would be a grave error. Mulhall proposes that we will need molecular nanotechnology and machine intelligence to survive various natural disasters that might happen sooner, and with more extreme consequences, than we would like to think.

"The relatively calm natural conditions that allowed our technological society to develop during past centuries may be more rare than we thought. They may end. ... a new survival imperative may inspire us to adapt to a universe that now appears more risky than we once thought."

In trying to stimulate discussion of the challenges facing humankind, Mulhall explores three spheres—technology, nature's time bombs, and anti-technology backlash—and how these spheres might interact.

The first section of the book provides a very good introduction to nanotechnology: history, recent progress, various definitions of nanotechnology, near-term applications, and molecular manufacturing. Also included is a discussion of plausible time frames to develop a molecular assembler, and the various factors that might accelerate or impede development. Extrapolating existing trends into the molecular future of the 21st century brings consideration of possible outcomes of mature molecular manufacturing and machine intelligence. Among these are personal aircars and robot companions, construction materials that make buildings and ships resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes, and the collapse of patents and intellectual property law as genetic programming automates innovation. Agricultural use of land will be eliminated as food is produced by molecular manufacturing. Human beings will share the world with Robo sapiens (autonomous intelligent machines), Homo provectus (upgraded, enhanced humans), and Robo servers (machines with high intelligence in certain narrow areas).

In the second section of the book, Mulhall's consideration of "Nature's Time Bombs" unveils a much wider and more imminent series of potential disasters than most of us might have expected. In addition to the small but real possibility of a strike by an asteroid or comet, we are at risk in the near future from any of a number of volcanic eruptions, each of which could produce tsunamis that could smash a hundred miles inland along thousands of miles of coastline, or from global financial collapse produced by an earthquake that flattens Tokyo and withdraws trillions of dollars from the world economy. Making these accounts of potential environmental disasters even more sobering are facts, such as that 9-15 years of famine followed a volcanic eruption in 536 CE. And the fact that studies of Arctic and Antarctic ice cores indicate that until about 10,000 years ago, climate fluctuated much more violently than it has since; large changes occurred in years rather than centuries.

As an environmentalist who is very aware of the disasters that Nature has visited on humanity in the past, and may visit again in the near future, Douglas Mulhall brings a unique perspective to environmental concerns about the development of nanotechnology. The "elephant in the room of environmentalism" is the fact that environmental groups ignore natural disasters except in the cases where human intervention seems to be making them worse. "The evidence suggests that if we continue to rely on existing ideas of 'living in harmony with nature' we may be thrown backwards centuries when disaster strikes. ... A war is going on between environmentalism and 'technologism.' This war may be distracting us from the true environmental challenge." This theme is restated throughout the book. "It's becoming clear that the more we learn about nature's extremes, the more we see that forestalling our perilous journey to a molecular age may relegate us to nature's dustbin."

The central dilemma of emerging powerful technologies is thus clearly stated: We may need powerful molecular defenses against natural disasters, but abuse of those same molecular technologies may threaten our existence. The rest of the book is devoted to the three parallel tasks that Mulhall sees awaiting us:

  1. Build defenses against natural risks that we already know about.
  2. Begin to ask the right questions about the things we don't know.
  3. Establish principles to guide the development of risky technologies that may help protect us.

Space available here does not allow a detailed review of the solutions that Mulhall offers, but his solutions are definitely worth reading and considering in detail. The many ways he describes in which molecular manufacturing could protect against natural disasters will not surprise many readers of Update. A few of his other conclusions can be stated very briefly.

Mulhall attributes much of the growing backlash against technology to concern over who controls the technology. Public distrust grows in part because scientists would rather communicate with the special interests who drive funding decisions than with the public. Productive debates on the value of molecular technologies will not happen "...until the scientific and technology communities are seen to more seriously acknowledge and address technology-induced misfortunes that fall upon ordinary persons and their children."

To minimize the risk of military destabilization caused by nanotechnology, stabilize the social and economic security of the individual. Although it is probably true that poor people do not start wars, they supply the fodder for conflict. It is essential to deal with psychological as well as economic poverty, and to deal with the security not just of the majority, but of every individual on the face of this planet. "A first step to achieving such security is to make sure that the enabling tools are broadly available for individuals to improve their own conditions. In the molecular age, those tools revolve around digital information, otherwise known as intellectual property." Such considerations in turn lead Mulhall to consider how to redesign democracy to cope with artificial intelligence.

This book is easy and fun to read, and of great use in providing a plausible guide to sorting through a very complex set of possible futures, both inspiring and terrifying. It is provocative and sure to stimulate both those for whom these are all new ideas, and those who have already considered some of these concepts for a few decades. There is of course the occasional minor error. For example, the term "robot" was invented by Czech writer Karel Capek in a play written in 1920, not in the 1940s, as stated.

Douglas Mulhall maintains a website at

Order a copy of
Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics, and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World
from our Online Nanotechnology Bookstore

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Stock Donations to Foresight: A Win–Win

Donate stock that's appreciated in value. This is a win–win move. Donate stock and you won't have to pay capital gains taxes on the profits, and the full value of the stock can be deducted as a charitable donation.

For example, say you own $10,000 worth of stock that you originally bought for $3,000. If you sell it now, you'll pay tax on the $7,000 profit. (If you're in the 28 percent federal tax bracket, and qualify for the 20 percent long-term capital gains rate, you'd pay $1,400 in tax. That reduces the $10,000 to $8,600.) But if you give your $10,000 worth of unsold stocks to a charity, the IRS kindly lets you claim a tax deduction for the full $10,000. At the 28% tax bracket that works out to a $2,800 deduction.

It's quick, it's easy, it helps Foresight.

  • Instruct your broker to transfer stock to Foresight through our broker, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, 200 Crescent Court, Suite 500, Dallas TX 75201-6959, Foresight Institute Account 5XJ-110901. If you need to process a direct stock transfer between banks you will need the following information: Pershing LLC DTC 0443 - For the account of Foresight Institute Acct Number 5XJ-110901. Our investment representatives there are Todd Clendening and Kris Humphrey, phone 800-527-3903.
  • Please notify the Foresight office by email or phone (650-917-1122) and let us know what stock you've donated, as our broker is unable to tell where arriving stock gifts have come from.

If you have any additional questions, please contact Elaine at or 650-917-1122. Tax benefits are described at:


Foresight Update 51 - Table of Contents


Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Report

The portion of Update 51 that constitutes the IMM Report is on the IMM Web site:

"Disasters" by J. Storrs Hall, PhD.

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"Recent Progress: Steps Toward Nanotechnology" by Jim Lewis

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"Nanomedicine: Will Intracellular Medical Nanorobots Disrupt the Cytoskeleton (Part I)?" by Robert A. Freitas Jr.

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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.

Foresight Institute and Institute for Molecular Manufacturing are nonprofit organizations; 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.

To contribute, obtain a donation form on the Foresight Institute or Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Web sites, call 650-917-1122, fax 650-917-1123, or email

Benefits of Membership include:

Special Newsletters and Online Interactions
Since the inception of the Senior Associate program in 1992, Senior Associates have received a quarterly special newsletter from the desk of Eric Drexler detailing "state of development" nanotechnology news and activities. We also have an exclusive members-only web site with news, information and events.

Special Meetings and Networking Opportunities
One of the most valuable benefits of being a Senior Associate is the opportunity to participate in yearly gatherings with other Senior Associates. This program has been expanded to include special events, workshops and seminars. We also hold a special reception for Senior Associates each year during the annual technical conference.

Discounts on Registration Fees for Foresight Conferences
Senior Associates receive a substantial discount when registering for the annual Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology, our technical conference series.


Foresight Update 51 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 51, originally published 15 April 2003.


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