Foresight Update 22 (page 1)
A publication of the Foresight Institute
Table of Contents
Nanotechnology on the Web
by Lewis M. Phelps
Nanotechnology and the World Wide
Web were made for each other. On one hand, nanotechnology is a complex and
intellectually diverse subject with ties to many scientific disciplines.
It portends rapid technological development and significant social and economic
changes. It's a field in which knowledge is growing exponentially...faster
than the printed page can accommodate.
On the other hand, unless you have spent the last year camping on the Barents
Sea shores of Novaja Zemlja, you know that the World Wide Web is an explosively
fast-growing communications medium whose unique ability to forge links between
loosely related pieces of information is changing the way people work and
learn. (If you don't already have access to the World Wide Web, read the
accompanying sidebar story, "Getting on the Web," on page 7.)
This article profiles some of the main nanotechnology sites on the Web.
Internet addresses of all mentioned sites are included in a sidebar on page
Browsing through these sites spotlights the truly global nature of research
underway on nanotechnology-related subjects today. Beside numerous U.S.
institutions, significant work is described in Japan, Canada, Switzerland,
Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, and Hungary. By the time you read this
article, new countries are likely to have joined the list.
Foresight and IMM
have just published their first rudimentary home pages. Watch these over
the next few months as they evolve. (Web addresses for these and all pages
described here are given in the accompanying box.)
Meanwhile, an excellent nanotechnology entry point to the Web is the Nanotechnology
page created by Dr. Ralph Merkle at
Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center.
As most Foresight Institute members know, Ralph is deeply involved in nanotechnology-related
work, including creation of computer software used to design molecular-level
This well-designed and up-to-date nanotechology home page features an excellent
introduction to key nanotechnology concepts, a number of related articles,
a comprehensive listing of books, periodicals, other key print documents
related to the subject, and links to other major nanotechnology Web sites.
Ralph has recently added the complete text of Richard Feynman's now-famous
1959 talk at Caltech, "There's
Plenty of Room at the Bottom" If you're new to nanotechnology,
this is an excellent place to begin learning.
Also not to be missed at this site is Ralph's witty and devastating rebuttal
of criticism aimed at nanotechnogy concepts by an ill-informed book review
in Nature magazine. The writer apparently
chose the book review as a vehicle for a general attack on nanotechnology.
Ralph's rebuttal concludes, "The New York Times published an article
in 1920 explaining that flight to the moon was impossible because there
wasn't any air for a rocket to push against. Nature now joins the club with
Another highly useful site is NanoLink-Key
Nanotechnology Sites on the Web. Offered by the National University of Singapore
and Memex Research, this home page offers a comprehensive set of links (over
50) to world-wide sites with nanotechnology-related information.
From either of these sites, you're only a mouse click away from other valuable
sources of nanotechnology information. Without attempting a complete catalog
(well beyond the space limits of this article), some sites worthy of special
Finally, new nanotechnology-related sites appear on the Web with some frequency.
You can find them with "search engines" such as WebCrawler. Some
simply point to the other nanotechnology sites; others have real content.
- The Nanotechnology
Archives at Rutgers University, presided over by Dr. Josh
Hall, have an extensive collection of items on nanotechnology and related
subjects. This is one of the earliest and most significant nanotechnology
presences on the Internet. Josh's FAQ
("Frequently Asked Questions") page is a must-read for newcomers
to nanotechnology. This site also includes most back issues of Foresight
- One particularly interesting item in the "related" category
at Rutgers is an essay by Robin Hanson, written in 1990 when he was a visiting
fellow at Foresight Institute. "Could
Gambling Save Science? Encouraging an Honest Consensus" argues that
science's current system of "peer review is just another popularity
contest, inducing familiar political games; savvy players criticize outsiders,
praise insiders, follow the fashions insiders indicate, and avoid subjects
between or outside the familiar subjects. It can take surprisingly long
for outright lying by insiders to be exposed." He proposes a novel
system of wagering, or Idea
Futures, as a means to provide financial incentives to encourage the
emergence of sound scientific thinking. Like the Science Court and Hypertext
concepts, his proposal could help to advance scientific thought (see Update
- Laboratory for Molecular Robotics
at the University of Southern California. Created by Dr. Ari
Requicha (see Update
20), this page describes the work of Dr. Requicha and his colleagues
with Scanning Probe Microscopes and other technologies of possible use in
building molecular-scale machines.
Project at the University of North Carolina. This site describes a multi-university
project (whose work is mentioned on page 10 of this issue) to develop a
virtual reality simulator of Scanning Tunnel Microscope operations.
- Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut
Group, part of the National Space Society. This Web site looks at the
implications of nanotechnology for building space craft, space exploration,
and space settlement.
The STM Home Brew Page. For those with curious minds and hot soldering
irons, this site offers complete plans to build your own scanning tunnel
microscope for about $1000. You, too, can manipulate matter at the atomic
level-in your basement workshop!
- Initiatives in Nanotechnology
at Rice University. This home page describes nanotechnology-related work
underway at this Texas university, divided into "wet" (biological
aspects), "dry" (mostly carbon-based), and computational nanotechnology.
The three subjects are highly inter-related, Rice says.
Perhaps representative of these newcomers is a personal home page created
by Tom Nugent, a U.S. citizen
interning in the Space Development Division at Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy
Industries in Japan. Through his interest in space travel, and personal
connections with several people involved in Molecular
Manufacturing Enterprises Inc., he became interested in nanotechnology.
He created the nano-page, he says, because, "after I finish the internship
here in Japan, I plan on attending engineering graduate school, most likely
in an area that would allow me to do work in nanotechnology. So I am using
the links on my nano-page to stay up-to-date with developments, as well
as to become familiar with the people in the field. And of course so that
anyone who finds my page can learn more about nanotech." Tom's home
page also provides interesting links to Web sites devoted to Space Development,
Japan's Space Program, Search Engines, and Ballroom Dancing.
Lew Phelps is guest editor of this issue of Update. He prowls the Web
through an America OnLine connection from his office in Pasadena, CA.
Table of Contents - Foresight Update 22
Web URL's for Nanotechnology Sites
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing
Nanotechnology (Ralph Merkle's page at Xerox)
Nanolink: Key Technology Sites on the Web (in Singapore)
Nanotechnology Archives (at Rutgers)
Laboratory for Molecular Robotics (at USC)
Nanomanipulator Project (at UNC)
Molecular Manufacturing Shortcut Group
Nanotools: The STM Home Brew Page
Initiatives in Nanotechnology (at Rice University)
Tom Nugent's Home Page
Table of Contents - Foresight Update 22
Dr. Ralph Merkle on nanotechnology and the
I first got interested in nanotechnology when I heard Drexler give a talk
on the subject at Stanford, circa '85 or '86. I read Engines
of Creation and rapidly concluded that Drexler was fairly obviously
correct in the substance of his conclusions. I was somewhat surprised, therefore,
when I found that there were very few people working in this area. My interest
in this area increased over the next few years, until I eventually decided
to pursue it full time at Xerox PARC.
Given the likely impact, I continue to view this area as remarkably underfunded
and under researched, though there is at last evidence of growing interest.
With the explosive growth of the Web during the past year it's rather obvious
that here, at last, is a communications and publication medium that takes
advantage of electronic distribution in a sufficiently convenient manner
that it can secure a mass audience. As Web publication is rapid, convenient,
and permits the individual author to bypass the slow and clumsy refereeing
process, I adopted it as soon it was obvious that it would more easily permit
distribution to a wider audience than the more conventional paper publication.
Those familiar with my past work in cryptography might recall that my first
publication on public key distribution was held up for three years by the
referees because it was "not in keeping with current cryptographic
thinking." My opinion both of the referees for that particular paper
and of the refereeing process in general were correspondingly reducedWhile
some traditional magazines continue to argue that refereeing is essential
to maintain "quality," it has been my experience that monopoly,
even the limited monopoly provided by a magazine or journal, simply slows
down the dissemination of new ideas.
The Web, of course, makes it easy for bad ideas to get their own page; we
risk being swamped by second-rate pages. This problem, however, can be relatively
easily dealt with by reputation. People who maintain quality Web sites will
soon become recognized, and links recommended by those sites will be read
more rapidly. A new page that is worthwhile will at first attract little
interest, but as time goes by and more people evaluate it and find it worthwhile,
the web of links pointing to the new page and recommending it will increase.
Casual readers who have neither the time nor the inclination to search out
the obscure but well-done page can rely on established pages to point the
At the present time, my nanotechnology
page (http://nano.xerox.com/nano) is receiving about 100 "hits"
each day. (Note that there are many more hits on the site as a whole, but
somehow I don't think that retrievals of small "gif" files used
to dress up the nanotechnology page provide an unbiased estimate of the
traffic). I expect this number to increase as the Web grows. Naturally,
I would encourage anyone working on nanotechnology to establish a Web page
and describe his or her work on it.
The upcoming Fourth
Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology is using the Web extensively.
The conference page is at http://nano.xerox.com/nanotech/nano4.html. It
currently has a list of speakers and their topics, and some abstracts. We'll
be making preprints of the papers submitted to the conference available
on the Web, as well.
Table of Contents - Foresight Update 22
From Foresight Update 22, originally published 15
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