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News Library 1995-1998

News about Foresight

1998. Foresight Chairman addresses CATO/Forbes Conference

Foresight Chairman and IMM Research Fellow Eric Drexler addressed the Annual Conference on Technology & Society: Washington DC vs Silicon Valley, sponsored by Cato Institute and Forbes ASAP. His talk "The New World" was taped and is available on the Web for viewing, courtesy of Novell, Inc. Requires RealPlayerTM which can be downloaded from the RealNetworksTM website.

1998. Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology announces major advances

The Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology was held November 12-15, 1998 at the Westin Hotel in Santa Clara, CA. A press release from Foresight points out some major advances that were presented at the Conference.

1998. Award of two Feynman Prizes in 1998 announced

Foresight announced the award of two Feynman Prizes in 1998: one for theoretical work and one for experimental work.

1998. Proceedings of the IEEE publishes predictions of Foresight director regarding nanocomputers

Foresight Director and nanotechnology researcher Ralph Merkle published a paper entitled "Making Smaller, Faster, Cheaper Computers" in the November 1998 issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE, a contribution in their Predictive Paper series. The entire paper is available on Dr. Merkle's Web site at: http://nano.xerox.com/nanotech/IEEEpredictivePaper.html

1998. Foresight director on AAAS nanotechnology panel

Foresight Director and nanotechnology researcher Ralph Merkle was one of three participants on a nanotechnology panel organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. See story above.

1998. Foresight $10,000 Challenge Grant for Nanomedicine book a success

Matching donations were obtained before the June 30, 1998, deadline for the Challenge Grant for Nanomedicine.

1998. Foresight $45,000 Challenge Grant a success

Matching donations were obtained before the 31 January, 1998, deadline for the Foresight $45,000 Challenge Grant.

Award of two Feynman Prizes in 1997 announced

Foresight announced the award of two Feynman Prizes in 1997: one for theoretical work and one for experimental work.

1997. New milestone for Foresight's Web Enhancement project

New milestone for the Web Enhancement project was announced by Foresight: CritSuite web software ("The Other Half of Hypertext") demoed and released for free use. Ka-Ping Yee demonstrates his CritLink mediator software to Eric Drexler and to hypertext pioneer Doug Engelbart

Drexler named to Newsweek's "The Century Club"

Merkle shares Kanellakis Award for public-key cryptography

February, 1997. Foresight Director Dr. Ralph Merkle will share the Association for Computing's (ACM) Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award with the other five founders of public-key cryptography. For more details on the award, see: http://www.acm.org/announcements/pr/pkaward.html

Cryptography is the field Dr. Merkle worked in prior to entering computational nanotechnology, where he continues to do ground-breaking work as he did in cryptography.

Related Events Article: 1996. Foresight Institute Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration

The Events Archive contains an item about the Foresight Institute Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration, held in October, 1996.


Nanotechnology Headlines

1998. Major advances announced at Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

A Foresight Institute press release announced major advances reported at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology: Biopowered Nanomotor, Nanomanipulator, Bucky Horns, Nanotube Transistor, Single-Molecule Tape Measure. Also available on the Conference web site are extended abstracts and full papers of work presented at the Conference.

1998. Wired News reports on single atom switch

In late October Wired News reported that Danish scientists led by Francois Grey had demonstrated that single-atom switch could function at room temperature (in high vacuum) after an STM (scanning tunneling microscope) had been used to remove one of two hydrogen atoms from a silicon atom on the surface of a silicon chip, causing the remaining hydrogen atom to switch between the two positions. The work was done by the Nanoelectronics Research Group at the Mikroelektronik Centret (MIC) at the Technical University of Denmark. Their illustrated press release is available at http://www.mic.dtu.dk/mic/events/press.htm.

Foresight thanks John Faith for bringing this news article to our attention.

1998. Molecular propeller rotates in supramolecular bearing

In the article chosen for the cover of the July 24 issue of Science [281: 531-533], the winners of the 1997 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work (James Gimzewski, Reto Schlittler, and Christian Joachim) and their colleagues published the demonstration that a propeller-shaped molecule placed on a copper surface at room temperature would either rotate freely or stay still depending on its contacts with neighboring molecules. In their words, they reported the "Experimental visualization and verification of a single-molecule rotor operating within a supramolecular bearing...."

"Our results open the way to fabricate, spatially define, and test recent proposals involving mechanical devices fabricated in molecular structures. They raise interesting questions concerning the fundamentals of mechanics in molecular and supramolecular systems, including the role of thermal noise and the design of molecular devices."

The article's authors cite Drexler's Nanosystems as the earliest proposal for molecular based mechanical devices. [A minor error in the citation lists the publication date of Nanosystems as 1995, while in fact it was 1992.] Their work provides a path towards building and testing such devices.

An illustrated news story on this advance is available on the IBM Web site: http://www.ibm.com/news/1998/07/24.phtml and http://www.zurich.ibm.com/news/Wheel

A key issue that Gimzewski et al. address is whether useful work can be derived from their rotor, since its high-speed rotation is driven by room temperature thermal energy. They present results from molecular mechanics simulations that show this system possesses some important characteristics needed to produce the unidirectional rotation characteristic of a "ratchet and pawl" device, but that more work will be needed to produce a molecular rotor with unidirectional rotation.

The molecule they chose as both the rotor and the components of the surrounding bearing is hexa-tert-butyl decacyclene (HB-DC). This molecule consists of 3 naphthalene rings surrounding a central benzene ring, with two tert-butyl groups attached to each naphthalene. Steric interactions between adjacent naphthalene rings cause them to twist with respect to the benzene, giving the molecule the form of a propeller 1.5 nm in diameter.

After the HB-DC molecules were deposited on atomically clean Cu(100) surfaces they were visualized by STM (scanning tunneling microscopy) in ultrahigh vacuum. When the number of HB-DC molecules deposited was high enough to completely cover the surface, they formed a two-dimensional crystal such that each molecule was held in place (and immobile) by van der Waals contacts with its neighbors. Under these conditions the STM was able to image each of the six tert-butyl groups in each molecule as distinct lobes surrounding a central core. Isolated HB-DC molecules, however, diffuse over the surface too rapidly to be imaged by STM because the twisted shape of the molecule means that only the very weak interactions between the tert-butyl hydrogen atoms and the surface bind the molecule to the surface.

If the number of HB-DC molecules was just slightly less than needed to saturate the surface, then occasional voids could be seen where an HB-DC molecule had enough room to escape tight confinement by its neighbors, but where the neighbors were still close enough to keep the rotating molecule from diffusing away. In these cases, the six tert-butyl groups were imaged as a smooth torus rather than as six distinct lobes around the center of the molecule. The authors demonstrated that a move of only 0.26 nm across the lattice of copper atoms on the surface was enough to cause the molecule to switch from being held immobile to freely rotating, and back. The molecule could switch between these two states on its own, or be moved between them by the STM tip.

The authors also showed by calculating the appropriate energy barriers how supramolecular interactions of the rotating molecule with its neighbors caused it to rotate driven by thermal energy. While confined by its neighbors, the energy barrier to rotation was 117 kJ/mol, but shifting it out of registry with the lattice by 0.26 nm lowered the barrier to rotation to only 29 kJ/mol. The barrier to the 0.26 nm shift was 42 kJ/mol, rationalizing why the molecule could switch slowly between the two states on its own. Computing how the energy barrier varied as a function of rotation angle demonstrated some asymmetry (a sharper slope rotating in one direction than in the other), but not enough asymmetry for the present design to allow methods of producing unidirectional rotation.

In comparing their results to other work with very small rotors, the authors note that their 1.5 nm-diameter molecular rotor (an atomically perfect construction) works dry and appears to be wearless, while rotors micromachined from silicon that are more than 10,000 times larger in diameter have limited lifetimes. Unimolecular ratchets of similar scale to the HB-DC rotor have been reported to also have asymmetric rotational potentials, but, also like HB-DC, none yet have been reported to give unidirectional rotation (see the molecular ratchet constructed from triptycene and helicene moieties; Kelly, Tellitu, and Sestelo, 1997, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 36:1866-1868). Lastly, the authors note that biology provides examples of mid-sized rotors that are both wearless and chemically driven unidirectionally to produce work: flagellar motors that are ~50 nm in size and molecular motors based on H+ adenosine triphosphate synthase (an enzyme) that are ~10 nm in size.

More information in Jeff Soreff's column on the IMM Web site,
and in a feature article in Update 34.

1998. Demonstration of covalently functionalized nanotubes as tips for AFM's

In last month's "Steps Toward Nanotechnology" column, Jeff Soreff describes work by Richard Smalley and his colleagues demonstrating that when bulk single-walled nanotubes (SWNT) were oxidativley purified and cut to 100- to 300- nanometer lengths, the open ends of the tubes contained dangling carboxyl groups that could be chemically functionalized. Just a month later, Charles Lieber and his colleagues demonstrated (Nature 394: 52-55 2July98) that similarly functionalized nanotubes could be used as nanometer-sized probes for imaging in chemistry and biology. They further speculate that:

"Among intriguing future applications is the use of the highly selective and robust chemistry described here to link catalysts, such as transition-metal complexes, to nanotube ends to create tools that could modify or create structures at the molecular scale. The selective functionalization of nanotube ends might also open up the possibilities of creating interconnections for electronic devices on a nanometre scale and assembling new classes of materials from nanotubes."

This work differs from the work of Smalley's group in that Lieber's group used multi-walled nanotubes (MWNT, 15-50 nanometers in diameter vs. about 1 nanometer in diameter for SWNT), limiting the resolution of scanning probe applications to 10's of nanometers. However, they refer to other work of theirs submitted for publication that uses similar techniques to make probes of SWNT's, thus achieving resolution of less than 3 nm.

Lieber and his colleagues did their work with MWNT's shortened by oxidation in air at 700 °C and attached to silicon AFM cantilevers. They indirectly demonstrated the presence of dangling carboxyl groups on these tips by measuring the force of adhesion between the tips and terminal hydroxyl groups of self-assembled monolayers (SAM) on a gold-coated mica surface. The force observed dropped sharply as pH was increased past the pKa for the carboxyl group, as expected for the ionization of the carboxyl group on the tip to disrupt the adhesion with the hydroxyl groups on the surface. They further derivatized the carboxyl groups on the tips with standard chemistry to replace the carboxyl groups either aromatic (benzyl) groups or amine groups, and demonstrated the expected changes in the variation of adhesion force with pH.

They further tested their functionalized nanotube probes using surfaces prepared by microcontact printing to contain 10-µm squares of a methyl-terminated SAM surrounded by a carboxyl-terminated SAM. As expected for the scanning mode they used, surfaces scanned with a carboxyl-functionalized nanotube tip showed a pattern of light squares on a dark background, while aromatic-functionalized tips showed the reverse pattern.

Lastly, they were able to derivatize their nanotube tips with biotin and measure the adhesion to surfaces coated with the protein streptavidin, to which biotin is known to bind very tightly. Their measurements clustered around 200 piconewtons, consistent with other reports of the strength of the biotin-streptavidin interaction. With some tips they saw a second cluster of forces centered at 400 pN, consistent with two biotin-streptavidin interactions per tip.

It would appear that those working with nanotubes and with scanning probe instruments are rapidly accumulating the tools needed to make a wide variety of structures with nanometer precision, perhaps soon leading to positional chemistry, with scanning probes used to make or break specific bonds on large molecules, or on even larger supramolecular structures.

More information in Jeff Soreff's column on the IMM Web site.

1998. Nanotechnology Center opens in Seattle

The Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington, located in Seattle, opened on March 6, 1998, with a public seminar featuring Prof. Steven Chu of Stanford University, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics, who will also be the keynote speaker at this fall's Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.

The March 6 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced the opening of the center with the headline "Science of the ultrasmall makes big splash with new UW center". The article reported that the Center for Nanotechnology will have 30 faculty members drawn from eight departments, ranging from physics to pharmacology. Viola Vogel, associate professor of bioengineering and director of the new center is quoted as saying "We realized the future of our scientific and engineering endeavors was going to be on a nanoscale. ...one reason why (the center was created) is we need so many new tools."

More information on the center is provided by an article in the University of Washington University Week http://depts.washington.edu/uweek/archives/1998.01.JAN_29/article1.html:

"The UW Center for Nanotechnology was created with $1 million from the University Initiatives Fund, which reallocates resources from throughout campus to underwrite innovative, new programs strategically selected to strengthen the University and seize opportunities that otherwise would not be pursued.

Bringing together professors and students from a dozen departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, School of Pharmacy and School of Medicine, the center will coordinate an interdisciplinary approach to research and education in nano-scale science and engineering.


'The Center for Nanotechnology was an excellent investment for the University Initiatives Fund because it is sparking collaboration that makes us more competitive for major grants right at a time when the national trend in research is focusing on nanotechnology,' says Charles Campbell, professor of chemistry and co-director of the center.

'It is widely recognized throughout the research community, both in academia and industry, that the next century will be dominated by developments in nanotechnology just as the past quarter of a century has been dominated by microtechnology.'"

The article emphasizes the potential synergy between nanotechnology and biotechnology, and also states that an interdisciplinary minor in nanotechnology will be developed by faculty from various departments and will be open to students from throughout the University of Washington. Further, the center is "co-located with the Washington Technology Center's microfabrication laboratory in Fluke Hall to maximize the University's technical capabilities in analyzing and engineering nano-scale structures."

Thanks to John Faith for forwarding the url of the University Week article.

1998. Worldwide evaluation of nanotechnology

Study cosponsored by NSF, NIH, ONR, NASA, NIST, DOE, AFOSR, and DOC. Full story

1998. National Science Foundation announces nanotechnology research initiative

The US National Science Foundation announced a collaborative initiative on research in nanotechnology: "Partnership in Nanotechnology: Synthesis, Processing, and Utilization of Functional Nanostructures (FNS)".

The goal of the initiative is to catalyze synergistic, small-group, interdisciplinary, science and engineering research in emerging areas of nanotechnology, by combining resources from the participating programs to support coordinated research activities.


This initiative encourages team approaches to functional nanostructures research in the belief that a synergistic blend of expertise is needed to make major headway. Theoretical modeling, synthesis, processing with a focus on building up from molecules and nanoprecursors, utilization, and characterization of structure and properties are components of this activity.

Application is limited to "academic institutions with undergraduate and Ph.D. programs". The deadline date is February 17, 1998. They anticipate making approximately 20 awards for fiscal year 1998, totaling about $10 million. For further information and how to apply, see the program announcement: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9820/nsf9820.htm. For more information on nanotechnology at NSF, see: http://www.nsf.gov/nano.

1998. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) workshop spotlights nanotechnology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Advanced Technology Program (ATP) is holding a workshop on Microsystem and Nanosystem Technology. The workshop will be held on January 21, 1998, in Albuquerque, NM, as part of ATP's program "to help industry fill the gap between basic research and product development, and to invest in technology that would not be developed in a competitive time frame without government cost-sharing."

"Representatives from companies or groups of companies, technical and trade associations, academic institutions, non-profit research institutions, and government laboratories who are microsystem and nanosystem system developers, technology providers, and especially industrial firms with functional requirements for components and devices based on these technologies are strongly encouraged to participate in the definition of an ATP focused program in this important area."

For information, see their web page at http://www.atp.nist.gov/atp/conf/01-21mnt.htm

A report on this meeting prepared by Dr. J. Storrs Hall is available at the IMM Web site and in Update 32.

1997. Nanotechnology Center opens in Canada

The University of Toronto and Energenius Inc. announced the opening of the Energenius Centre for Advanced Nanotechnology.

"ECAN is a newly formed centre dedicated to advancing research and training students in the area of semiconductor nanotechnology for future device development. The centre brings together workers in the disiplines of material science, physics, and electrical engineering. Currently the centre is working on joint projects with the National Research Council of Canada, the Cornell Nanofabrication Centre, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Nanomanipulator Project."

They can be contacted by telephone at (416) 978-3012 or write to: Energenius Centre for Advanced Nanotechnology, c/o Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, Wallberg Building, University of Toronto, 184 College St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E4. WWW: http://www.utoronto.ca/~ecan/index.html

1997. Molecular Nanotechnology Startup Founded to Develop First Assembler

During the 1997 Senior Associates Gathering, Senior Associate Jim Von Ehr announced the formation of Zyvex, the first molecular nanotechnology development company, which has the mission to develop the first assembler. Jim further announced that he is now hiring.

1997. Design for a fine motion controller for molecular assembly

The Institute for Molecular Manufacturing presents a design for fine motion controller for molecular assembly developed by Dr. K. Eric Drexler.

1996. Nanotechnologist Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Prof. Richard E. Smalley, Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with his collaborators Robert F. Curl and Harold W. Kroto for their 1985 discovery of fullerenes, a hitherto unknown crystalline form of carbon. More details. See also the lead story in Update 27.


What people are saying about nanotechnology

1998. Media cover advances at Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology advances presented at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology have been covered by both the trade and technical media. For additional information, see also the Conference Press Release and illustrations.

1998. MSNBC feature story on Ralph Merkle and nanotechnology

A nanotechnology feature story on the MSNBC Web site entitled "Nanotechnology? Make it so!" focuses on the work of Xerox scientist and Foresight Director Ralph Merkle in "inventing the future one atom at a time."

1998. Nanotechnology meeting cosponsored by semiconductor companies

Wired News reported on a workshop "Emerging Issues and Opportunities in Nanotubes and Nanoelectronics" cosponsored by the Integrated Product Team on Devices and Nanotechnology at NASA Ames Research Center and Semiconductor Research Corp., a cooperative research body financed by Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and AMD. The workshop was held on Nov. 12, 1998, to "examine how carbon nanotubes could be used in conjunction with silicon-based technologies to provide tiny, but very powerful, components 500 times smaller than a Pentium chip." NASA is also interested in nanotechnology, Wired reported, for application to very strong, lightweight spacecraft components.

1998. MIT's Techology Review interviews Harvard Chemist on nanotechnology

The November/December 1998 issue of MIT's Techology Review features an interview of Harvard Chemist George M. Whitesides entitled "Nanotechnology: Art of the Possible ". Whiteside, a leading researcher in micro- and nanofabrication techniques appears ambivalent about molecular nanotechnology proposals: "There are a lot of things that range from being potentially real to things that are science fiction." He sees both great potential and that some applications have been "overhyped". Ralph Merkle has commented on some of Whiteside's views, and Merkle's comments can be viewed via the crit.org server by using the following URL: http://crit.org/http://www.techreview.com/articles/nov98/whitesides.htm.

1998. Nanotechnology researcher named to Wired 25

The November 1998 issue of Wired magazine featured "A salute to those about to change the rules all over again." The list of 25 pioneers "actively, even hyperactively, inventing tomorrow" includes James Gimzewski, winner of the 1997 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work. Wired cited Gimzewski's recent work on a molecular-scale wheel (see above).

1998. Science Online hosts nanotechnology panel

"Some say small is beautiful, but in the case of nanotechnology it's also proving to be hot stuff." These words opened the Nanotechnology Panel hosted during October by the Science's next wave Web site (URL no longer available; new careers web site) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Panelists Ralph Merkle, Richard Palmer, and Aristides Requicha addressed the questions:

The Nanotechnology Panel [Internet Archive Wayback Machine] is available on the Web, but a subscription is required for complete site access.

1998. National Science Foundation Director endorses nanotechnology

In Congressional testimony, the Director of the National Science Foundation named nanotechnology the "area of science and engineering that will most likely produce the breakthroughs of tomorrow"

Follow media coverage of nanotechnology in Foresight Update

Media Watch columns. For in depth coverage on what the media is saying about nanotechnology, see the Media Watch column in most issues of Foresight Update. Media Watch columns from 1998:

1997. DiscoverMagazine cites nanotechnology research

Discover Magazine awards recognize nanotechnology researchers James Gimzewski and Nadrian C. Seeman

1997. Scientific American hails nanotechnology progress

Article on Scientific American Web site hails progress in computational nanotechnology: molecular dynamics simulations of fullerene gears. See 1997 epilogue to debate with Scientific American on nanotechnology.

1997. MIT Technology Review discovers nanotechnology

Article on nanotechnology published by MIT Technology Review.


Comments on Foresight Tenth Anniversary. What people are saying about Foresight and its tenth anniversary

National Public Radio on Nanotechnology. National Public Radio enlightens and confuses about nanotechnology

Investment newsletter on nanotechnology. Investment newsletter considers nanotechnology

Scientific American publishes a more balanced look at nanotechncology on their Web site. The final chapter of the debate with Scientific American. See also the article in Foresight Update 24 and the article in Foresight Update 25.

Debate with Scientific American. During 1996 a debate about nanotechnology between Foresight Institute and Scientific American magazine was conducted on the World Wide Web. This debate is noteworthy for how the WWW made possible a detailed response to a published article that belittled the prospects for molecular nanotechnology.

Media Watch columns. For in depth coverage on what the media is saying about nanotechnology, see the Media Watch column in most issues of Foresight Update. Media Watch columns from 1996-1997:


Book Review by Jones in Nature. The April 27, 1995, issue of Nature contained a review written by David Jones, a chemistry professor, of the book Nano! Remaking the World Atom by Atom, by Ed Regis. Nano! is a well-written and informative popular account of nanotechnology and the work of Eric Drexler, but the review gives only token attention to the book under review and instead launches into a lengthy criticism of the feasibility of molecular nanotechnology. It seemed odd to many observers that this purported technical criticism of nanotechnology targeted a popularization of the field and ignored the leading technical book on nanotechnology, Eric Drexler's Nanosystems. Two responses to Jones's review are available on the Web.

Media Watch columns. For in depth coverage on what the media is saying about nanotechnology, see the Media Watch column in most issues of Foresight Update. Media Watch columns from 1995: