There’s Nothing Small about Nanotechnology

Talk given at the Twenty-Fourth Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop

April 22-24, 1998

(This talk is on the web at

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Table of Contents

There’s Nothing Small about Nanotechnology

for an index of talks

The best technical introduction to molecular nanotechnology:
Nanosystems by K. Eric Drexler,
Wiley 1992

Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

November 12-15
Santa Clara, CA

Seventh Elba-Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology

April, 1999
Rome, Italy

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Today’s manufacturing methods move atoms in great thundering statistical herds

The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering 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

Richard Feynman, 1959

Most interesting structures that are at least substantial local minima on a potential energy surface can probably be made one way or another.

Richard Smalley
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1996

(a.k.a. molecular manufacturing)

Terminological caution

Born-Oppenheimer approximation

Quantum positional uncertainty in the ground state

Quantum uncertainty in position

Molecular mechanics

Example: H2

Molecular mechanics

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Two more fundamental ideas

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Illustration of an assembler

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A C program that prints out an exact copy of itself

English translation:

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How cheap?

How strong?

How long?

Developmental pathways

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Self assembled DNA octahedron

DNA on an SPM tip
(Lee et al.)

(Tough, well defined)

Bucky tube glued to SPM tip
(Dai et al.)

Building the tools to build the tools

Diamond Physical Properties

A hydrocarbon bearing

A planetary gear

A proposal for a molecular positional device

Classical uncertainty

A numerical example of classical uncertainty

Molecular tools

Synthesis of diamond today:
diamond CVD

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Some other molecular tools

A synthetic strategy for the synthesis of diamondoid structures

The impact of molecular manufacturing
depends on what’s being manufactured

How powerful?


It costs less to launch less

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A revolution in medicine

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Clinical trials
to evaluate cryonics

Today’s choice:
would you rather join

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Environmental impact depends on

Molecular nanotechnology and the environment

Nanotechnology and energy

Nanotechnology and the environment

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Author: Ralph C. Merkle


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