Richard P. Feynman


1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology

Nominations due September 4, 1998

Winners of the 1998 Feynman Prizes

The winners of the 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology were announced on Friday, November 13, at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology. As was done last year, the prize was divided into one prize for experimental work and one prize for theoretical work.

The winners of the 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Theoretical Work:

  • Ralph Merkle of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
  • Stephen Walch of ELORET at NASA Ames Research Center

The 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, Theoretical, went to Ralph Merkle (Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) and Stephen Walch (ELORET at NASA Ames Research Center) for their computational modeling of molecular tools for atomically-precise chemical reactions.

Merkle’s research is available on his nanotechnology Web site. Stephen Walch has provided the following nontechnical description of the work that he and Merkle did for the Feynman prize:

Current manufacturing methods move great numbers of atoms at a time. However as Richard Feynman pointed out in 1959: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of manuevering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big.” A number of people are currently working on the possibility of manufacturing miniature machinery one atom at a time as Feynman had visualized it. The concept is referred to as molecular manufacturing and would have tremendous application in many areas. One material which has great potential is diamond, since diamond has rather extraordinary physical properties, including a strength to weight ratio about two orders of magnitude greater than that of typical aerospace materials (e.g. aluminum). McKendree has discussed incredible possibilities for space exploration that would be enabled by molecular manufacturing. This includes the possibility of a spacecraft based on a logical core architecture that would have the capacity to manufacture structures as needed by recycling its own atoms or atoms mined from other sources, such as a carbon rich asteroid. Molecular manufacturing does not currently exist, but is something that could be developed from current technology over a span of a few decades if adequate resources were committed. Numerous proposals exist for how to enable this technology. One idea proposed by Eric Drexler, Ralph Merkle and others is to bring atoms into place using reactive tools that would be located at the end of a probe, such as an STM tip. Stephen Walch (ELORET/NASA Ames) and Ralph Merkle (Xerox PARC) won the 1998 Feynman prize (theory) for ab initio calculations that determined the interaction potentials between two such tools, the carbene tool (which adds a single C atom) and the dimer tool (which adds a pair of carbon atoms), and the 111 and 100 surfaces of diamond. Using density functional theory methods they were able to determine which reaction sequences work and which don’t. These theoretical calculations will be very useful in evaluating reaction sequences for building up atomistically precise materials.

The winner of the 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work:

  • M. Reza Ghadiri of Scripps Research Institute

This year’s experimental Feynman Prize was awarded to M. Reza Ghadiri of Scripps Research Institute for groundbreaking work in constructing molecular structures through the use of self-organization, the same forces used to assemble the molecular machine systems found in nature.

Ghadiri’s research can be seen on his web site at and at

1998 Feynman Prizes for Theoretical and Experimental Molecular Nanotechnology

Two prizes in the amount of $5,000 each will be awarded to the researchers whose recent work has most advanced the development of molecular nanotechnology. This year again separate prizes will be awarded for theoretical work and for experimental work. The prizes will be given at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, to be held November 13-15, 1998.

This prize is in honor of Richard P. Feynman who, in 1959, gave a visionary talk at Caltech in which he said “The problems of chemistry and biology can be greatly helped if our ability to see what we are doing, and to do things on an atomic level, is ultimately developed—a development which I think cannot be avoided.”

Distinctions between the annually awarded Feynman Prizes and the Feynman Grand Prize

Feynman Prizes
Experimental $5000 Presented for the best
work published in
recent years.
Theoretical $5000
Grand Prize
$250,000 Presented for demonstration
of 50 nanometer 8 bit adder
and 100 nanometer robot arm.

The 1998 Feynman Prize will be the most recent in a series of annually awarded prizes for accomplishment in molecular nanotechnology. Both the annual Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology and the Feynman Grand Prize are sponsored by the Foresight Institute to encourage and accelerate the development of molecular nanotechnology. Both are named in honor of Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman. However, these prizes differ in focus, frequency of award, and scale.

The 1998 and other annual Prizes (originally designated the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology) recognize recent achievements that contribute to the development of nanotechnology. The nature of the achievement is not specified in advance, and the judges choose from among the entries submitted which one most advanced the field during the preceding several years. In contrast, the Grand Prize will be awarded at some undetermined date in the future when someone builds two specified working devices, an accomplishment that will signal a crucial milestone on the road to a mature molecular manufacturing technology.

The annual Prize was awarded in 1993, 1995, 1997, and now in 1998. Henceforth it will be awarded every year until the Grand Prize is awarded, at which point the series of annual Prizes will be finished.

The first annual Prize was $5000, the second was $10,000, and the third consisted of two prizes of $5,000 each, awarded for separate accomplishments in theoretical and in experimental areas. The Grand Prize will be at least $250,000.

Relevant Research Areas

Research areas considered relevant to molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing include but are not limited to:

  • molecular electronics
  • biochemical molecular engineering
  • scanning probe microscopy
  • supramolecular chemistry and self-assembly
  • materials science
  • mechanosynthesis
  • natural molecular machines
  • artificial molecular machines
  • artificial self replicating systems
  • computational chemistry and molecular modeling
  • computer science
  • mechanical engineering and robotics applications
  • relevant chemical systems (fullerenes, diamond, biomolecules, etc.)

Special consideration will be given to submissions clearly leading toward the construction of a general-purpose molecular assembler. Applicants wishing further information on the field of the prize are referred to the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation (Wiley Interscience, 1992).

Selection Committee for the 1998 Prize

The Selection Committee for the 1998 Theoretical Prize:

The Selection Committee for the 1998 Experimental Prize was the above plus:

Previous Feynman Prize winners

The first Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology was awarded in 1993 at the Third Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology to Dr. Charles Musgrave (see the story in Update 17). An article describing his prize-winning theoretical work on a hydrogen abstraction tool for nanotechnology is available on the Web.

The 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology was awarded in 1995 at the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology to Dr. Nadrian C. Seeman for his pioneering experimental work on the synthesis of 3-dimensional objects from DNA. This award is described in an article in Update 23, an article on Ralph Merkle’s Web site, and an article on the UniSci Web Site.

The 1997 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology was awarded to teams at IBM Zurich and at NASA Ames. The prize for experimental work was won by a team at IBM Research Division Zurich Research Laboratory and at CEMES-CNRS (France), for work using scanning probe microscopes to manipulate molecules. The prize for theoretical work was won by a team at NASA Ames Research Center for work in computational nanotechnology. This award is described in an article in Update 31. The winners of the 1997 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work: James Gimzewski (IBM), Reto Schlittler (IBM) and Christian Joachim (CEMES-CNRS). The winners of the 1997 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Theoretical Work: Charles Bauschlicher, Stephen Barnard, Creon Levit, Glenn Deardorff, Al Globus, Jie Han, Richard Jaffe, Alessandra Ricca, Marzio Rosi, Deepak Srivastava, and H. Thuemmel.

Submission or Nomination Procedures

Either submit your own work or nominate a colleague who deserves this prize.

Submissions (and nominations) consist of one or more of the following:

  • an approved thesis or dissertation (bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D.)
  • an article published in a refereed journal
  • a paper approved for publication in a refereed journal

In addition, each submission or nomination must include a one-page summary of the work and its relevance to the goal of molecular nanotechnology and/or molecular manufacturing. [If the journal article submitted has multiple authors, the applicant’s (nominee’s) role in the research must be stated.] Summaries may be up to 400 words in length.

Submissions should be mailed to the Foresight Institute at the postal address below, to arrive by September 4, 1998. One copy of the paper or thesis and five copies of the one-page summary are required. The summary must include the applicant’s address, telephone, and (if possible) fax number and email address. In the case of nominations, contact information should be included for both nominator and nominee. Finalists may be contacted for additional information. The prizewinner must be present at the conference to accept the prize.

Applications may also be based upon more than one research paper, in which case copies of each paper should be submitted.

Applications will also be accepted on behalf of a group of collaborating workers. Team members may not be changed after the submission deadline.

For further information, contact the Foresight Institute