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 scale, is ultimately developed -- a development which I think cannot be avoided.
from There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom
NANOTECHNOLOGYThe first reaction is "I'm glad you guys (that includes women, of course) found a new name for chemistry. Now you have the incentive to learn what you didn't want to learn in college." Chemists have been practicing nanotechnology, structure and reactivity and properties, for two centuries, and for 50 years by design.
What is exciting about modern nanotechnology is (a) the marriage of chemical synthetic talent with a direction provided by "device-driven" ingenuity coming from engineering, and (b) a certain kind of courage provided by those incentives, to make arrays of atoms and molecules that ordinary, no, extraordinary chemists just wouldn't have thought of trying. Now they're pushed to do so.
And of course they will. They can do anything. Nanotechnology is the way of ingeniously controlling the building of small and large structures, with intricate properties; it is the way of the future, a way of precise, controlled building, with, incidentally, environmental benignness built in by design.
Most interesting structures that are at least substantial local minima on a potential energy surface can probably be made one way or another.
From The Potential of Nanotechnology for Molecular Manufacturing, by Max Nelson and Calvin Shipbaugh, RAND document number MR-615-RC, (310) 393-0411 ext. 7002.
RecommendationGiven the combination of potentially large far-term payoffs with major current technical uncertainties, a vital first step would be a detailed and objective technology assessment examining the current status and likely prospects of molecular nanotechnology. The working group that performs this assessment should consist primarily of biotechnology experts, chemists, computer scientists, electrical engineers, materials scientists, mechanical engineers, and physicists to represent the contributing disciplines. The challenge is to bring together leading experts who can participate in unbiased but informed analysis of a multidisciplinary topic.
'Single atoms of more structurally useful elements at or near room temperature are amazingly mobile and reactive,' Jones writes, 'They will combine instantly with ambient air, water, each other, the fluid supporting the assemblers, or the assemblers themselves.'
From Technical Boundless Optimism by David Jones, Nature, Vol. 374, No. 6525, April 27 1995, pages 835-837; as quoted in Scientific American, April 1996.
When highly reactive intermediates are actually proposed it is also proposed that they be used in vacuum to prevent unwanted side reactions. People concerned about reactions with "ambient air" in a vacuum are ... how shall we phrase it ... confused. This seems on par with the infamous statement that rockets won't work in space because there's no air to push against.
Scientific American's more recent coverage seems to be fully supportive of nanotechnology. Check out the Scientific American web site, click on "search the site" and enter "nanotechnology".
Click here for reactions to Nanosystems: molecular machinery, manufacturing, and computation.
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