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MOLECULAR MANUFACTURING -- Molecular nanotechnology, unlike micromachining, starts at the bottom and works up, building materials and structures one atom at a time. This process has been described in the literature since 1986 and could eventually be used to build both nanoscale and macroscale structures. It is already made possible on a primitive level by the advent of scanning tunneling microscopes, which allow atoms to be picked up and positioned at will, subject to the laws of chemistry. To achieve economically viable nanoscale assembly, namely, the aggregation of large numbers of atoms in a finite time, a system of molecular "assemblers" has been proposed. "Assemblers" are self-replicating molecules capable of reproducing themselves in large numbers and then gathering and positioning other atoms and molecules in desired constructions. By analogy to biology, these electromechanical devices would use only those atoms needed, building up to the desired product. In such processes, industrial waste would be minimized, recycling of materials would be almost total, energy would be used most efficiently, and a vast number of new products and capabilities would be made possible.Dr. Arlan Andrews, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, contributed this section of the report while serving as an ASME Fellow for Technology Adminstration at the White House Science Office. The phrase "has been described in the literature since 1986" refers to the book Engines of Creation.
Research in mechanical engineering, molecular biology, chemistry, and physics is leading to advances in this interdisciplinary field. With a realizable system of practical molecular manufacturing, the very definitions of design, manufacturing, and factories would be profoundly affected. Miniaturization Technologies, a recent study published by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, estimated that the first versions of the molecular "assemblers" may be realized in 5 to 10 years.
"With this book, Drexler has established the field of molecular nanotechnology.Dr. Drexler did his doctoral work at MIT, earning the first Ph.D. granted in the field of molecular nanotechnology. He also taught the first university course in nanotechnology (at Stanford in 1988) and has chaired the first conference series, including this fall's event focusing on computational nanotechnology: using computers to speed nanotechnology development.
-- William Goddard, Professor of Chemistry and Applied Physics at Caltech
"This is the book for starting the next century of engineering."
-- Prof. Marvin Minsky of MIT
"We believe this work to be of fundamental importance, leading to major benefits in manufacturing, the economy, and the environment. It's gratifying to see IMM's lead researcher being recognized at the national level."
-- Neil Jacobstein, IMM board member and president, Cimflex Teknowledge
"Nanotechnology has been discussed intensively in certain scientific circles for a couple of years. In a couple of decades, nanotechnology will have the same kind of importance that microtechnology does today. . .In response to the question of what products could be produced with nanotechnology:
"It sometimes seems to me that companies would prefer to avoid [considering] nanotechnology so that they don't get disturbed, so that they don't have to rethink. I really see the low interest level of companies at seminars and conferences: very rarely do companies or people in their research and development departments come to us nano researchers asking what it is that is actually important...
"In part, it's the reluctance to embrace something new. On the other hand, entry into the nano domain shouldn't pose any barrier that is unsurmountable. We in Switzerland have a very good scientific foundation in nanotechnology...
"Disinterest of industry in nanotechnology demonstrates a certain insular existence of science and industry. Often both are proceeding much too separately... Unfortunately, science in the domain of microtechnology was neither a communication partner nor a driving force. We will try to do that better with nano this time around..."
"You're asking the question the wrong way around, the same as most companies do. At first it's not important that companies produce nanoproducts... At first it's important that people get interested and ask questions such as what is nanotechnology? What could nanotechnology give us today? And it's important that people start to understand how to handle the nanometer scale. The question of products cannot really be answered by scientists. Companies will have to answer that part.
"With nano we can look at properties of materials with much higher resolution and much more precision, namely with atomic precision. . .
"With nanotechnology, development time is shorter and competition is greater than with microtechnology, because a lot of experience already exists in the area of miniaturization. But I'm not pessimistic about our [Switzerland] being able to accomplish this step. See, for example, we are now talking about nanotechnology; that is already a big advance. If now a couple of people from industry, after reading this interview, would go on to say 'A nanoscientist should perhaps study my materials, and maybe he'll find something'; if these people from industry would say that, then that already would be a beginning."
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