Denmark pursues goal of 3D nanomachines

Judy Conner at Foresight brings to our attention this item at by Ben Mathiesen:

“Until recently, nanoscale devices could only be crafted through chemical reactions or by pushing components together on a smooth surface. Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark have developed and demonstrated practical tools allowing the precise manipulation and assembly of complex, three-dimensional nanomachines…

“In many cases it would be vastly preferable to build a new machine by picking up and placing individual components one by one, in exactly the order desired…Professor Kristian Mølhave has not only designed several new nanoscale tools, but also modeled their mechanical properties and demonstrated them in action…

“Just as we have several kinds of screws and screwdrivers, nanoengineers will want a variety of structural elements and specialized tools to manipulate each one. Robot actuators that can hold the tools and guide them with nanometer precision are already commercially available…

“A fully functional workshop would allow scientists to design and assemble working prototypes of complex machines, as well as measure the properties of individual components much more easily and accurately. Mølhave speculates that this achievement is only a year or two away.

“Then his real work can begin, for the creation of prototypes is clearly not enough. ‘Once we have this nano-workshop up and running,’ Mølhave says, ‘we will be able to work towards the automation of assembly processes.’ If he and his colleagues continue working at their present pace, the mass production of nanomachines may be closer than we think!”

What’s confusing about this is that, while the article keeps mentioning nanoscale, the illustrations appear to be microscale. The journal article title helps clarify this: “Pick-and-place nanomanipulation using microfabricated grippers”. So this is a top-down approach; the nanomachines mentioned are not atomically precise. —Christine

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