Research challenges for the diamondoid mechanosynthesis path to advanced nanotechnology

Research challenges for the diamondoid mechanosynthesis path to advanced nanotechnology

On 5 June 2008, Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM) submitted to IEEE Spectrum the following response to the article “Rupturing the Nanotech Rapture” by Richard A.L. Jones (IEEE Spectrum, June 2008 issue). Their brief letter is reproduced below because Spectrum has chosen to publish only one of the responses it received on this topic.

Several items that Richard Jones mentions are well-known research challenges, not showstoppers. All have been previously identified as such along with many other technical challenges not mentioned by Jones that we’ve been aware of for years. Unfortunately, the article also evidences numerous confusions: (1) The adhesivity of proteins to nanoparticle surfaces can (and has) been engineered; (2) nanorobot gears will reside within sealed housings, safe from exposure to potentially jamming environmental bioparticles; (3) microscale diamond particles are well-documented as biocompatible and chemically inert; (4) unlike biological molecular motors, thermal noise is not essential to the operation of diamondoid molecular motors; (5) most nanodiamond crystals don’t graphitize if properly passivated; (6) theory has long supported the idea that contacting incommensurate surfaces should easily slide and superlubricity has been demonstrated experimentally, potentially allowing dramatic reductions in friction inside properly designed rigid nanomachinery; (7) it is hardly surprising that nanorobots, like most manufactured objects, must be fabricated in a controlled environment that differs from the application environment; (8) there are no obvious physical similarities between a microscale nanorobot navigating inside a human body (a viscous environment where adhesive forces control) and a macroscale rubber clock bouncing inside a clothes dryer (a ballistic environment where inertia and gravitational forces control); and (9) there have been zero years, not 15 years, of “intense research” on diamondoid nanomachinery (as opposed to “nanotechnology”). Such intense research, while clearly valuable, awaits adequate funding — as is now just beginning.

Robert A. Freitas Jr.
Ralph C. Merkle
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (


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  1. […] The researchers note that even with this impressive progress, a “millipede” type memory might not be competitive with flash memory. Regardless, the techniques for rapid and precise control of arrays of AFM tips might be of use to proposals for mechanosynthesis with AFM (see this post from two weeks ago and this one from three weeks ago).—Jim […]

  2. […] In a recent post on his blog, Jones responds to a response from Robert Freitas and Dr. Ralph Merkle to Jones’ article “Rupturing the Nanotech Rapture”, published in the IEEE Spectrum special issue on the Singularity from June 2008. (I made a response of my own shortly after the article was published.) The general gist of Jones’ position is that molecular nanotechnology based on mechanical engineering principles and rigid structures will never be successful, and that organic and soft structures are the future of nanotech. Meanwhile, Rob Freitas and Ralph Merkle have been championing the rigid, mechanical engineering-type approach for well over a decade. This blog post by Jones is the most recent message in a round of debating that has been ongoing between the soft approach and the rigid approach for two decades. […]

  3. Anonymous April 11, 2009 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    How researchers expect to drive or build things at nanoscale using a mechanical approach only?
    Its a naive idea assume that the environment works similar at nanoscale. Erick Drexler before writing his book on nanotechnology was a space researcher working with solar sail boats, so he know that a outside Earth the physics work differently. Therefore is no surprise that at nanoscale is another world and different rules apply. To start with Brownian Motion penalise heavily any type of motion at nanoscale. Water is every where and if you think about the size of water molecule is much bigger than the nanoscale device, hence the viscosity is another strong barrier. The Van der Walls potential literally move everything towards your device, stick anything stick to the surface. A hard device will probably not survive after been constantly shaking about, suffering high friction and strong collisions. At some point it will collapse. However a soft device would be much more comfortable and resistant at such condition, that why bacteria, sperm, any other cell are soft and can adapt to any situation. Just think about. Leandro

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