Today, we manufacture things in bulk: we don't know and can't control where
each atom goes. In the future, with nanotechnology, we will build things
with the ultimate in precision, controlling the location of each atom.
Already achieved in the laboratory for a few limited types of molecular
structures, in the future we can expect to see this technology applied on
a commercial scale that will change both the world in which we live and
the assumptions that we live by. And yet even today only the smallest fraction
of the world's population is aware of the coming juggernaut, or even slightly
prepared to cope with the kinds of changes that it will bring in its wake.
As an abstract goal or a philosophical principle the idea of manufacturing
products in which each atom is in its place has attracted interest for some
time. It is the logical culmination of the age-old quest for the finest
possible control on the largest possible scale. But as a coming reality
that will change our lives and the lives of our children, it just hasn't
sunk in. The possibilities of rocketry didn't sink in to the good citizens
of England until they found themselves on the receiving end of a barrage
of V2's. The idea that washing your hands might be advantageous didn't sink
in to the medical profession until almost the turn of the century, despite
the fact that Ignaz Semmelweis demonstrated its value quite clearly in 1848.
In the case of nanotechnology, it might be advantageous if the idea were
to sink in before, rather than after, the technology becomes widely available.
After the first general purpose molecular manufacturing systems are built
events are likely to move at a brisk pace.
Today, a new technology must be reviewed and examined by the scientific
and technical community before it is accepted. This community speaks in
a very definite language and imposes very definite standards. Nanotechnology,
like any new technology, must survive this "rite of passage" before
it is accepted. This is the unique value of Nanosystems, for
it brings together in one place, for the first time, all the fundamental
concepts needed to understand molecular manufacturing: what it can make,
how it can work, how it can be achieved. Bringing together physics, chemistry,
mechanical engineering, and computer science, it provides an indispensable
introduction to the emerging field of molecular nanotechnology. For the
technically knowledgeable, it provides an invaluable reference work which
crosses the boundaries of several fields to bring together, in one convenient
spot, the quantitative information required to analyze the performance of
the molecular machines that will change our lives.
The reception by the scientific community has been favorable. William
A. Goddard III, Professor of Chemistry and Applied Physics and Director
of the Materials and Molecular Simulation Center at Caltech, said: "With
this book, Drexler has established the field of molecular nanotechnology.
The detailed analyses show quantum chemists and synthetic chemists how to
build upon their knowledge of bonds and molecules to develop the manufacturing
systems of nanotechnology, and show physicists and engineers how to scale
down their concepts of macroscopic systems to the level of molecules."
Prof. Marvin Minsky
of MIT stated: "Devices enormously smaller than before will remodel
engineering, chemistry, medicine, and computer technology. How can we understand
machines that are so small? Nanosystems covers it all: power
and strength, friction and wear, thermal noise and quantum uncertainty.
This is the book for starting the next century of engineering."
As one former nano-skeptic put it, "There's been more analysis on this
than I thought."
In short, Nanosystems provides the hard core of technical analysis
around which a new field and a new technology will form. It provides a coherent
picture of what molecular manufacturing can look like, and a coherent lower
bound to the capabilities it will be able to achieve. Every key equation
is illustrated with a graph to aid intuition and understanding. Several
dozen molecular mechanisms are shown in full atomic detail, and the accompanying
text describes their performance and function. The glossary provides a clear
description of the terminology, while the consistent use of MKS units makes
for easy comparisons between chemical, mechanical, and electric quantities
(unlike the Babel that usually inhibits comparison of, say, kilocalories
per mole with joules with electron volts). The scaling laws conveniently
summarized on a single page illustrate how over 31 different physical properties
scale with decreasing size; including area, volume, acceleration, stiffness,
resistance, wear life, power, thermal conductance and more. The summary
of molecular mechanics provides a clear picture of how atoms interact, and
what interactions are important for molecular machinery.
While Nanosystems provides only lower bounds on the performance
of future systems, this lower bound is a quantum leap beyond today's technology
and moves the discussion of what is possible into a new realm. It changes
the discussion from vague assertions that, some day, in the great future,
we might be able to make something where every atom is in the right place,
to more specific statements that (for example) mechanosynthetic assembly
of one kilogram products in about an hour with fewer than one atom in 10,000,000,000
out of place at a cost of much less than a dollar will be feasible. Drexler
gives specific estimates and lower bounds for critical performance parameters
for a host of fundamental materials and devices, ranging from the strength
of materials to the computational power of future computers to the speed
with which the arm of an assembler can move: all based on careful and detailed
It will take some time for the conclusions in Nanosystems to
sink in, but sink in they will. Several discussion groups have already formed,
and the debates on computer networks about nanotechnology have taken a refreshing
turn for the better. Arguments about the feasibility of some aspect of nanotechnology
less often deteriorate into vague and amorphous imponderables. Critics and
proponents alike are expected to cite page numbers and section headings,
and the resulting discussions are short and focused.
For the less technically oriented, the summaries in Nanosystems
will give you the fundamental conclusions, while the more detailed technical
discussions will convince your more technically-oriented friends that those
conclusions and their consequences for humanity should be taken seriously.
Anyone who cares about the future should buy Nanosystems, for
this is the basic premise of nanotechnology: the future matters and is ours
to create. Whether we create well or badly, we and our heirs must then live
in our creation. To create what is desirable we must understand what is
achievable. Nanosystems gives us a clear and in-depth preview
of a rich new vein of the achievable.
Nanosystems is available at many technical bookstores (in
hardcover or paperback) or through the Foresight Institute (paperback only).
To receive an order form, contact Foresight by phone (415-324-2490), fax
(415-324-2497), or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We receive many requests from students and researchers at all levels--post-docs,
graduate students, undergrads, and even some precocious high-school students--all
asking the same question: "At which universities can I pursue nanotechnology
studies and research?"
Currently we have only very incomplete information to provide; instead we
describe an information-gathering procedure which will turn up some answers.
But this is inefficient: young researchers need a central location to turn
to when selecting an institution for nanotechnology work. We're asking Foresight
members to help us gather this information about their institutions, to
be entered into our database. If you can provide any of the following data
about your university, please communicate it to us:
Is relevant work already going on, e.g. in proximal probes (STM, AFM),
supramolecular chemistry, macromolecular or protein engineering, molecular
modeling, or other related fields? If so, which professors or labs are involved?
(Keep in mind that we are focusing on molecular nanotechnology, not just
any work at the nano scale.) Are there any interdepartmental projects that
combine these fields?
Are relevant courses already being taught? What are their names, at
what level are they taught (advanced undergrad, graduate), and which staff
members teach them?
Are relevant degree programs already offered? Ideally these would
be interdisciplinary and interdepartmental.
If no degree program is offered in nanotechnology (as is almost certainly
the case, particularly for U.S. readers), are students permitted to design
their own degree programs? If so, at which levels: bachelor's, master's,
Which thesis topics would you like to see students pursue to further
progress toward nanotechnology?
Perhaps most important: which professors are interested in supervising
students with these interests, or in teaching a course on the topic? (Now
that Nanosystems is available, teaching such a course has become
much easier.) If a course is seen as premature, an informal study group
such as Stanford's can be a starting point.
Documentation of any of the above, such as written course descriptions,
would be most appreciated. With your help, Foresight can become a much better
resource for researchers and students, helping to direct them to where they
can be most effective in conducting nanotechnology work.
Foresight Institute's mission and fundamental goal is betterment of the
human condition, especially as it is related to molecular nanotechnology.
Foresight aims to chart a safe path through the potential upheavals and
reap the benefits of nanotechnology. We envision the beneficial application
of nanotechnology to the human quality of life: improved health, environmental
sustainability, a stable peace, opening resources beyond Earth, better information
systems, improved education, reduced poverty, enhanced individual rights,
and a broadening of personal freedom.
Nanotechnology will let us control the structure of matter within physical
laws and limits, but additional limits are necessary. The chief danger isn't
a great accident, but a great abuse of power. Global competitive forces
and the unrelenting progress in the molecular sciences will inevitably lead
to nanotechnology--but in whose hands will control rest?
If we are to guide its use, it must be developed by groups within our range
of influence. Only by emphasizing the benefits of nanotechnology in medicine,
environmental recovery, materials science, and the economic bounty these
advances portend can open, cooperative development be encouraged. Nanotechnology
must be developed openly to serve the general welfare and the continued
realization of the human potential.
We'll have formidable new tools to use in pursuing these goals. But if we
fail--if we blunder into this final industrial revolution without looking
ahead--all earlier progress toward these goals could vanish. It is our policy
to prepare the future for nanotechnology and to pursue this mission by:
Promoting understanding of nanotechnology and its effects.
Informing the public and decision makers;
Developing an organizational base for addressing these issues and
communicating openly about them; and,