Perhaps our headline is a bit overstated…or perhaps not. Jim Lewis brings to our attention an article in Chemistry World on the Royal Society of Chemistry website announcing that, as anticipated, the UK has officially funded a set of projects aimed at developing a nanofactory able to build with atomic precision:

UK scientists have been granted £2.5 million to invent a nanomachine that can build materials molecule by molecule…this autumn, researchers across the UK are starting work towards it, following the funding of three research projects by the Engineering and physical sciences research council.

One of the projects, led by Rasmita Raval at the University of Liverpool, imagines creating a machine that can be instructed by computer to move molecules or atomic clusters as desired. Scanning tunnelling microscopes are already able to nudge atoms over surfaces, and image the result. But the goal now is to move into three dimensions, and to build a structural network of atoms…

In a related project led by Harris Makatsoris at Brunel University, computer scientists and chemists are hoping to develop a computer language that could instruct the putative nano-assembler to work without human intervention…

A biological slant on the problem is taken by another EPSRC project, led by Andrew Turberfield at the University of Oxford. His team are copying nature’s matter compiler: the ribosome, which assembles proteins from strands of messenger RNA. Turberfield told Chemistry World that the plan was to create a machine acting as an artificial ribosome. Like nature’s ribosomes, it would run on an instruction tape: not RNA, but a strand of synthetic DNA, created by commercial solid-phase synthesis. The machine would read the tape, creating a strand of molecules and then linking them together in sequence, much as ribosomes do. Every component of the molecule-making factory would be a molecule itself…

Read the whole thing. This is likely to stimulate similar projects elsewhere. —Christine