Feynman Grand Prize


Foresight Institute offers a $250,000 prize for the first persons to design and build two nanotechnology devices – a nano-scale robotic arm and a computing device that demonstrates the feasibility of building a nanotechnology computer.

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology based upon the ability to assemble individual molecules and atoms into precise structures. Its realization will pave the way for building such devices as supercomputers the size of a sugar cube, and nanorobots that could repair damage inside human cells. The large cash prize is expected to focus the efforts of many researchers working in nanotechnology-related fields.


$250,000 Feynman Grand Prize

Foresight Institute Offers $250,000 Feynman Grand Prize
For Major Advances In Molecular Nanotechnology

Palo Alto, CA – Foresight Institute, a not-for-profit organization dealing with nanotechnology-related issues, is offering a $250,000 cash prize to the first individual or group to achieve specific major advances in molecular nanotechnology.

To win the Feynman Grand Prize, entrants must design and construct a functional nanometer-scale robotic arm with specified performance characteristics, and also must design and construct a functional nanometer-scale computing device capable of adding two 8-bit binary numbers.

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology based on the ability to assemble individual molecules and atoms into precise structures. Its realization will allow the construction of supercomputers the size of a sugar cube, pollution-free manufacturing, and molecular-scale robots that could repair damage in individual human cells. More than one billion such nanorobots would fit inside a single drop of blood.

“Foresight Institute expects this large prize to attract the interest of talented people working in the many sciences and technologies bearing upon molecular nanotechnology,” said K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D., Founder of Foresight Institute and author of several books defining the technology.

Prizes have long played a key role in technological advancement. For example, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic Ocean to claim a $25,000 cash prize. More recently, the £50,000 ($95,000) Kremer prize led to the realization of man’s age-old dream of man-powered flight. “The Feynman Prize will recognize one of the most significant technological breakthroughs in human history,” Drexler said.”However, the rewards awaiting those who achieve significant nanotechnology breakthroughs will be far greater than the prize itself.”

Funds for the $250,000 Feynman Grand Prize have been donated to Foresight Institute by individuals interested in advancing the progress of nanotechnology, and are being conservatively invested. Fund raising is continuing in an effort to increase the prize to $1 million, Drexler said.

Foresight Institute will continue to offer its annual Feynman Prize for the most significant recent advance in nanotechnology.

Specifications for the Feynman Grand Prize require the winning entrant to:

  • design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a robotic arm that initially fits into a cube no larger than 100 nanometers in any dimension, meeting certain performance specifications including means of input. The intent of this prize requirement is a device demonstrating the controlled motions needed to manipulate and assemble individual atoms or molecules into larger structures, with atomic precision; and
  • design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a computing device that fits into a cube no larger than 50 nanometers in any dimension. It must be capable of correctly adding any pair of 8-bit binary numbers, discarding overflow. The device must meet specified input and output requirements.
  • full, detailed specifications

The Feynman Grand Prize is named in honor of Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman, who in 1959 pointed in the direction of molecular nanotechnology in a talk at California Institute of Technology, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Carl Feynman, son of the late Nobel laureate, has participated in the definition of requirements for the Feynman Grand Prize and comments, “I’m delighted that Foresight Institute chose to name this prize after my father. It will be an important prize for an important accomplishment.”

Foresight Institute is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Its mission and fundamental goal is betterment of the human condition, especially as it is related to molecular nanotechnology. It seeks to pursue its mission by:

  • promoting understanding of nanotechnology and its effects;
  • informing the public and decision makers;
  • developing an organizational base for addressing nanotechnology-related issues and communicating openly about them; and
  • actively pursuing beneficial outcomes.

Funds for the Feynman Grand Prize have been donated by two entrepreneurs associated with Foresight Institute who support its goals. They are James R. Von Ehr II, formerly founder of Altsys Corporation, and currently vice president at Macromedia, a leading computer software company; and Marc Arnold, chief executive officer of Angel Technologies, a St. Louis-based wireless telecommunication company.

Foresight Institute is open to membership by any interested individual or organization. It sponsors major conferences on molecular nanotechnology and provides technical and policy development information through its World Wide Web site located at http://www.foresight.org. Official detailed specifications of the Feynman Grand Prize requirements will be posted there. The site also provides links to many other nanotechnology-related sites on the Internet. Foresight Institute also publishes a quarterly Foresight Update newsletter for members. For more information about membership and its benefits, interested persons may contact Foresight Institute at (650) 917-1122 or e-mail [email protected].



Requirements for Winning the Feynman Grand Prize

1) Design and Construct a Functional Nano-scale Robotic Arm

The prize winner must design, construct and demonstrate the performance of a robotic arm or other positional device that initially fits into a cube no larger than 100 nanometers in any dimension. The device must:

  • carry out actions directed by input signals of specified types (see below).
  • be able to move to a directed sequence of positions anywhere within a cube 50 nanometers in each dimension.
  • perform all directed actions with a positioning accuracy of 0.1 nanometer or better.
  • perform at least 1,000 accurate, nanometer-scale positioning motions per second for at least 60 consecutive seconds.

The intent of this robotic arm specification is a device demonstrating the controlled motions needed to manipulate and assemble individual atoms or molecules into larger structures, with atomic precision.

2) Design and Construct a Functional Nano-scale Computing Device

The prize winner must also design, construct and demonstrate the performance of a digital computing device that fits into a cube no larger than 50 nanometers in any dimension. The computing device must be capable of:

  • adding accurately any pair of 8-bit binary numbers, discarding overflow.
  • accepting input signals of specified types (see below).
  • producing its output as a pattern of raised nanometer-scale bumps on an atomically precise and level surface.

The intent of this computing device specification is a nanometer-scale device that is capable of performing the functions of a conventional 8-bit adder.

General Requirements

Input signals:

Devices may accept inputs from acoustic, electrical, optical, diffusive chemical, or mechanical means. However, any mechanical driving mechanism used for input shall be limited to a single linkage that either slides or rotates on a single axis. The Panel of Judges may specify additional acceptable input methods. It will not remove any methods previously designated as acceptable.

Multiple copies:

To demonstrate that the device can be mass produced, contestants must provide at least 32 copies of each item for analysis and destructive testing by judges. Entrants must provide design specifications and theory of operation to allow judges to evaluate the submitted devices.

Testing Procedures:

The proposed devices will be tested for performance using Scanning Probe Microscopes (available now) and other appropriate devices available at the time the entrant’s work is being evaluated.

Judging Procedure:

Decisions whether entrants have met the Prize specifications will be made solely according to the judgement of a Panel of Judges appointed by Foresight Institute; their decision is final. Both specifications (robot arm and 8-bit adder) must be met by the entrant before the Prize is awarded.

Application for Prize:

Parties interested in applying for the Feynman Grand Prize should contact Foresight Institute to announce their intentions and to obtain specific procedures for application.

Intellectual Property Rights:

All entrants will retain all intellectual property rights to their work.


Prizes in Science and Technology

An Important Stimulus for Breakthrough Thinking

Although scientific grants today are the most common source of funding for scientific and technological research, prizes awarded for specific accomplishments have played an important role in the advancement of science and technology. In the 18th and 19th centuries, prizes were the most common form of funding for scientific advancement. That was particularly true in France, the leading scientific nation of that era. Goal-specific prizes remain important today as a means to stimulate breakthrough thinking. The Feynman Grand Prize offered by Foresight Institute thus continues an important tradition in the funding of scientific and technological advance.

The Longitude Prize

One of the most famous prizes in science history led to the development of accurate nautical navigation. Skilled mariners have known for more than two millennia how to establish their latitude. However, accurate positioning at sea also requires knowing the ship’s longitude. The means to do so had eluded the world’s best thinkers for centuries. As the leading maritime power in the 18th Century, England had a vast strategic interest in finding a useful means for its ships to establish their precise location at sea. Thus, the English Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714. It specified a prize of £20,000 (equivalent to about $2.5 million in today’s funds) for the person who devised a reliable means for a ship captain to establish his longitude within half a degree of great circle (30 nautical miles at the equator). Two smaller prizes were also designated for lesser accuracy.

Although scientists of the era sought celestial solutions to the problem, the question ultimately was answered not by an astronomer but rather by a clock maker, John Harrison. He designed and built the world’s first chronometer – a special clock capable of keeping accurate time under the adverse circumstances of life at sea. By comparing the difference between the time of a known location and the ship’s local time (established by the sun’s position), navigators could tell longitude accurately. An early test voyage proved Harrison’s chronometer’s ability to establish longitude within a few miles through the duration of a trans-Atlantic voyage.

The Orteig Prize

In 1919 Raymond Orteig, a wealthy French hotel owner, offered $25,000 for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh won the prize in a modified single-engine Ryan aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. Others had been pursuing the prize diligently, using different approaches. Two weeks after Lindbergh’s feat, Clarence Chamberlain and Charles Levine flew nonstop from New York to Germany in a Bellanca monoplane. A month later U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd and a crew of three also crossed the Atlantic, in a Fokker trimotor. Their efforts changed the way people thought about flight, and about the world itself.

The Orteig Prize was one of many offered to stimulate the development of the fledgling aeronautical industry. Between the first flight by the Wright Brothers and 1929, over 50 major aeronautical prizes were offered by governments, individuals, newspapers and corporations. In 1926 and 1927, Daniel Guggenheim offered more than $2.5 million in prizes and trophies.

The Kremer Prizes

The Kremer Prize for Human Powered Flight was offered in 1959 at £5,000 by British industrialist Henry Kremer. It grew to £50,000 (worth $95,000 at that time) before it was claimed by Dr. Paul MacCready and his team in 1977 for flying a figure eight along a half-mile course with his Mylar-skinned Gossamer Condor. Kremer immediately offered a second prize of £100,000 for the first human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel. Only two years later, MacCready’s Gossamer Albatross won that prize as well. The lightweight construction techniques MacCready developed for these human-powered aircraft contributed to MacCready’s more recent design for the General Motors Impact, the first modern car designed “from the wheels up” as an electric vehicle.

Prizes Offered by Richard Feynman

A defining moment in the history of molecular-scale technology was a 1959 speech at the California Institute of Technology by Nobel Laureate physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman. “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” he declared in his discussion of the possibilities of molecular-scale engineering. To spur work in that direction, he offered $1,000 prizes from his personal funds to the first person to construct a working electric motor 1/64 inch or less on a side, and to the first person to produce written text at 1/25,000 scale (the size required to print the entire Encyclopedia Britannicaon the head of a pin).

The motor prize was claimed in 1960 by an engineer who found a way to construct a very small motor using conventional mechanical techniques. Dr. Feynman had unfortunately set the size limits slightly too large to require breakthrough technology. He paid anyway. The printing challenge took longer; but in 1985 a Stanford University graduate student named Thomas Newman reproduced the first page of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, on a page measuring only 1/160 millimeter on a side (20 times smaller than the human eye can see), using electron beam lithography. Dr. Feynman paid that prize enthusiastically, since it had produced technological advance.

Super Efficient Refrigerator Prize

In 1992, a consortium of U.S. electric utilities, seeking to enhance environmental quality and energy efficiency, announced a prize of $30 million to be awarded to the most energy-efficient refrigerator design that did not using environmentally harmful CFC refrigerant. Fourteen manufacturers submitted entries. The winning company, Whirlpool Corp., devised a refrigerator that used 25% less energy than the most energy-efficient available model before the contest, and 40% less than the Federal energy efficiency standard for new refrigerators.

Richard P. Feynman




New York, New York, May 11, 1918


to Gweneth Howarth, Ripponden, Halifax, England


Carl Richard (April 22, 1962)
Michelle Catherine (August 13, 1968)


February 15, 1988


B.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1939
Ph.D. Princeton University, 1942


Research Assistant, Princeton University, 1940-41
United States Government (Manhattan Project) 1941-45
Professor of Theoretical Physics, Cornell University, 1945-50
Visiting Professor, California Institute of Technology, 1950
Professor of Theoretical Physics, Caltech, 1950-59
Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Caltech, 1959-88


Albert Einstein Award (Princeton), 1954
Atomic Energy Commission E.O. Lawrence Award, 1962
Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Society, 1965
Nobel Prize for Physics (for work in quantum electrodynamics), 1965
Oersted Medal for Teaching, Caltech, 1972
Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, 1973

Dr. Feynman also served as a leading member of the Rogers Commission, which investigated the cause of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident.

Those who knew Dr. Feynman remember him as an extraordinarily brilliant theoretical physicist, a passionate and inspiring teacher, a witty and lucid public speaker, a lover of practical jokes, a devoted family man, and a strong advocate for honesty in science and public policy. In his personal appendix to the Rogers Commission report, he concluded, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” He published numerous scientific papers, and several popular books for lay readers.

Dr. Feynman spoke at Caltech in 1959 on the topic, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In that talk, he pointed toward the feasibility of molecular nanotechnology. It is because of that speech that the Feynman Prize is named in his honor.

“A magician does things that nobody else can do and that seem completely unexpected, and that is Feynman” — Hans Bethe

Books by and about Richard Feynman

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman— by R. Feynman
What Do You Care What Other People Think, Mr. Feynman? — by R. Feynman
Six Easy Pieces — Some easy physics lectures
The Feynman Lectures on Physics — Texts of lectures at CalTech
QED – by R. Feynman
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation — by R. Feynman
Genius: The Life and Times of Richard Feynman — by James Gleick
Most of the Good Stuff: Memories of Richard Feynman— edited by Laurie Brown and John Ridgen
No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman — by Christopher Sykes
The Beat of a Different Drum — by Jagdish Mehra
Tuva or Bust!— by Ralph Leighton

Information on ordering these publications online from the California Institute of Technology bookstore can be obtained on the World Wide Web at http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~citbook/.

[More information about Dr. Richard P. Feynman is available on the Web.]


Foresight Institute Purpose and Policy


Foresight Institute’s goal is to guide emerging technologies to improve the human condition. Foresight focuses its efforts upon nanotechnology and upon systems that will enhance knowledge exchange and critical discussion, thus improving public and private policy decisions.


Foresight Institute recognizes that nanotechnology – like all pivotal technologies – brings both potential perils and benefits. To help achieve the advantages and avoid the dangers, Foresight’s policy is to prepare for nanotechnology by:

  • promoting understanding of nanotechnology and its effects;
  • informing the public and decision makers;
  • developing an organizational base for addressing nanotechnology-related issues and communicating openly about them; and,
  • actively pursuing beneficial outcomes of nanotechnology, including improved economic, social and environmental conditions.


Foresight Institute recognizes that sound public and private policy can be built only upon a solid foundation of knowledge and tested ideas. Humanity needs better methods to exchange knowledge, and to subject new ideas to effective intellectual scrutiny. Foresight thus supports the development of new systems and technologies that will lead to better dissemination of information and analysis of proposed policies. This is crucial in addressing emerging technologies. When nanotechnology is realized, it will trigger widespread social and economic change, for which public and private policy must now prepare.

Nanotechnology will allow control of the structure of matter within the broad limits set by physical laws. Other limits will be necessary to prevent abuses by individuals, groups and nations bent upon undesirable ends. Global competitive forces and continuing progress in molecular sciences will lead ultimately to the realization of nanotechnology. Foresight seeks to ensure that nanotechnology, when developed, will be used to improve conditions in the broadest sense, rather than for destructive or narrow purposes. Nanotechnology must be developed openly to serve the general welfare and the continued realization of the human potential.

Sources of Information

Technical Book:

Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computationby K. Eric Drexler, (John Wiley & Sons, 1992) provides the definitive technical dissertation on molecular manufacturing.

Books accessible to non-specialists:

Engines of Creationby K. Eric Drexler (Doubleday, 1986) discusses both the technology and its possible applications and consequences.
Prospects in Nanotechnology: Toward Molecular Manufacturing, edited by Markus Krummenacker and James Lewis (John Wiley & Sons, 1995) has chapters by 15 authors providing multiple perspectives on the field.

Books accessible to a broader audience:

Unbounding the Future, by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson and Gayle Pergamit (Quill 1991) provides a non-technical discussion of what nanotechnology should let us do, using technically feasible scenarios to clearly illustrate the possibilities.
Nano!by Ed Regis (Little, Brown 1995) is an engaging and entertaining book that describes the researchers involved in this area, particularly Drexler, and the reactions of different members of the scientific community to the concept.

Journal, publication and Internet newsgroup

Foresight Update is a newsletter published by the Foresight Institute and is an excellent way to keep abreast of developments and events in this rapidly moving area. Many older copies are available from Josh Hall’s nanotechnology site on the Internet. The current issue is available from Foresight.
Sci.nanotech is an Internet news discussion group that covers nanotechnology and related areas.
The journal Nanotechnology covers nanotechnology both in the specific sense of molecular nanotechnology and in the broader sense. Nanotechnology is published by the Institute of Physics.



Key Nanotechnology Internet Sites

Foresight Institute http://www.foresight.org
Includes past issues of Foresight newsletters, Feynman Prize information.

Nanotechnology (Ralph Merkle’s nanotechnology page at Xerox)
A comprehensive nanotechnology site with excellent basic information and many links to other sites; maintained by one of the leading researchers in the field.

Nanolink: Key Technology Sites on the Web (in Singapore)
A comprehensive (over 50) set of links to other nanotechnology sites.

Laboratory for Molecular Robotics (at the University of Southern California)
Describes relevant research at USC.

Nanomanipulator Project (at University of North Carolina)
Describes multi-university project to develop virtual reality simulator of Scanning Tunnel Microscope operations.

Nanotechnology Archives (at Rutgers)
The most comprehensive reference source for nanotechnology related research reports and related information.

Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group
A discussion of the positive implications of nanotechnology for space exploration and settlement.

Nanotools: The STM Home Brew Page
Instructions to home-build at low cost a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, one of the key tools in nanotechnology research.

Initiatives in Nanotechnology (at Rice University)
Describes work at one of the leading academic centers of nanotechnology research.

Brad Hein’s Nanotechnology Page
Another useful set of links to other nanotechnology sites.

Scanned Probe
The definitive Web reference for scanning probes and related research tools.

Small is Beautiful
An extensive set of links to other nanotechnology sites maintained by NASA.

All of these sites offer cross-links to many other nanotechnology-related sites on the Internet; over 100 content-based sites are dedicated to the topic.

The Biennial Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology

Winners of Previous Biennial Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology

1995: Dr. Nadrian C. Seeman, professor of chemistry, New York University, for his pioneering work in synthesizing complex three-dimensional structures from DNA molecules.

1993: Dr. Charles Musgrave, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for his work on modeling a hydrogen abstraction tool useful in nanotechnology.

Judges for the 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology

  • Dr. K. Eric Drexler, Molecular nanotechnologist, Institute for Molecular Manufacturing
  • Carl Feynman, Computer scientist
  • William A. Goddard III, Professor of Chemistry and Applied Physics, Materials and Molecular Simulation Center, Caltech
  • Tracy Handel, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, UC Berkeley
  • Neil Jacobstein, Chairman, Institute for Molecular Manufacturing; President, Teknowledge, Inc.
  • Arthur Kantrowitz, Professor of Engineering, Dartmouth College, and Advisor, Foresight Institute
  • Ralph C. Merkle, Computational nanotechnologist, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
  • Marvin Minsky, MIT Media Lab professor, and Advisor, Foresight Institute
  • Charles Musgrave, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, MIT; Winner of 1993 Feynman Prize
  • Nils Nilsson, Professor of Computer Science, Robotics Laboratory, Stanford
  • Heinrich Rohrer, IBM Research Division, Zurich, Switzerland; Nobel Laureate in Physics
  • George M. Whitesides, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University

Announcement of 1997 Feynman Prizes in Nanotechnology



Background on Nanotechnology

By Ralph C. Merkle

Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in graphite (as in a pencil lead) we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes.

Todays manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. It’s like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can’t really snap them together the way you’d like.

In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We’ll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in almost any arrangement that we desire. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond about the next decade, and will also let us build a broad range of manufactured products more cleanly, more precisely, more flexibly, and at lower cost.

It’s worth pointing out that the word “nanotechnology” has become very popular and is used to describe a broad range of research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers. For example, continued improvements in lithography have resulted in line widths that are less than one micron: this work is often called “nanotechnology.” Sub-micron lithography is clearly very valuable (ask anyone who uses a computer!) but it is equally clear that lithography will not let us build semiconductor devices in which individual dopant atoms are located at specific lattice sites. Many of the exponentially improving trends in computer hardware capability have remained steady for the last 50 years. There is fairly widespread confidence that these trends are likely to continue for at least another ten years, but then lithography starts to reach its fundamental limits.

If we are to continue these trends we will have to develop a new “post-lithographic” manufacturing technology which will let us inexpensively build computer systems with mole quantities of logic elements that are molecular in both size and precision and are interconnected in complex and highly idiosyncratic patterns. Nanotechnology will let us do this.

When it’s unclear from the context whether we’re using the specific definition of “nanotechnology” (given here) or the broader and more inclusive definition (often used in the literature), we’ll use the term “molecular manufacturing.”

Whatever we call it, it should let us:

  • Get essentially every atom in the right place.
  • Make almost any structure consistent with the laws of physics and chemistry that we can specify in atomic detail.
  • Have manufacturing costs not greatly exceeding the cost of the required raw materials and energy.

There are two more concepts commonly associated with nanotechnology:

Clearly, we would be happy with any method that achieved the first three objectives. However, it seems difficult to accomplish all three objectives without using some form of positional control (to get the right molecular parts in the right places) and some form of self replication (to keep the costs down).

The need for positional control implies an interest in molecular robotics, e.g., robotic devices that are molecular both in their size and precision. These molecular scale positional devices are likely to resemble very small versions of their everyday macroscopic counterparts. Positional control is frequently used in normal macroscopic manufacturing today, and provides tremendous advantages. Imagine trying to build a bicycle with both hands tied behind your back! The concept of manipulating individual atoms and molecules is quite new and still takes some getting used to. However, as Feynman said in a classic talk in 1959: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom.” We need to apply at the molecular scale the concept that has demonstrated its effectiveness at the macroscopic scale: making parts go where we want by putting them where we want!

The requirement for low cost creates our interest in self replicating systems, studied by von Neumann in the 1940’s. These systems are able to make copies of themselves, and so if we can design and build one such system the manufacturing costs for more such systems (assuming they can make copies of themselves in some reasonably inexpensive environment) will be very low. (The reader might note that I do work at Xerox. Hence, an interest in systems that can make copies of themselves is perhaps appropriate).