A pioneering UK program aimed at developing a nanofactory has made a £1.53M ($3M) award to Professor Philip Moriarty of the University of Nottingham to support a five-year series of experiments to investigate the possibility of diamond mechanosynthesis, testing the theoretical proposals recently made by Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle. Details are contained in the following press release from the Nanofactory Collaboration: “Nanofactory Collaboration Colleague Awarded $3M to Conduct First Diamond Mechanosynthesis Experiments

Professor Philip Moriarty [1] of the Nanoscience Group [2] in the School of Physics at the University of Nottingham (U.K.) [3] has been awarded a five-year £1.53M ($3M) grant [4] by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [5] to perform a series of laboratory experiments designed to investigate the possibility of diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS). DMS is a proposed method for building diamond nanostructures, atom by atom, using the techniques of scanning probe microscopy under ultra-high vacuum conditions. Moriarty’s project, titled “Digital Matter? Towards Mechanised Mechanosynthesis,” was funded under the Leadership Fellowship program [6] of EPSRC. Moriarty’s experiments begin in October 2008.

The Nottingham work grew out of continuing discussions on DMS between Moriarty and Robert Freitas [7], a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM) (Palo Alto, California, U.S.) [8]. These discussions started in January 2005 [9].

Freitas and Ralph Merkle [10], also a Senior Fellow at IMM, founded the Nanofactory Collaboration [11] in 2001 to pursue molecular manufacturing via DMS. Since then they have produced a series of papers [12,13] reporting a set of careful density functional theory (DFT) and quantum chemistry calculations on fundamental mechanosynthetic reactions in diamondoid systems. In April 2008 the two IMM researchers published the results [13] of a comprehensive three-year project to computationally analyze a complete set of DMS reaction sequences and an associated minimal set of tooltips that could be used to build basic diamond and graphene (e.g., carbon nanotube) structures. These structures include all of the tools themselves along with the necessary tool recharging reactions. A particularly useful result of this study was the proposal of an experimentally viable route towards the fabrication of a rechargeable toolset that can extract hydrogen, deposit carbon, and donate hydrogen to a diamond surface.

Moriarty is interested in testing the viability of positionally-controlled atom-by-atom fabrication of diamondoid materials as described in the Freitas-Merkle minimal toolset theory paper. Moriarty’s efforts will be the first time that specific predictions of DFT in the area of mechanosynthesis will be rigorously tested by experiment. His work also directly addresses the requirement for “proof of principle” mechanosynthesis experiments requested in the 2006 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) review [14], in the 2007 Battelle/Foresight nanotechnology roadmap [15], and by EPSRC’s Strategic Advisor for Nanotechnology, Richard Jones (Physics, Sheffield University, U.K.) [16].

“We congratulate Philip for his tremendous success in securing funding for this pathbreaking effort,” said Freitas. “We look forward to working together closely with his experimental team as this exciting project goes forward over the next five years.”

“We invite computational theorists and scanning probe experimentalists in the nanoscience community to join our Collaboration,” added Merkle. “There’s lots of interesting work to do. The first important steps toward practical realization are now underway.”

The EPSRC announcement of the grant can be found here.
—Jim