Financial Times of Londoncarried a major article on June
4 discussing the growing mainstream scientific recognition of nanotechnology.
It leads with the description Eric Drexler has drawn of a future with fully
realized molecular nanotechnology: "factories far smaller than the
head of a pin will manufacture everything."
Despite some differences of opinion among scientists about the degree to
which Drexler's vision can be realized, all those involved in nanotechnology
research "do agree on one thing: some day it will be possible to create
miniature factories at the molecular level," wrote columnist Victoria
Griffith. She quotes Rice University's Richard
Smalley that, "nanotechnology as a science is gaining respect."
As evidence, she points to Drexler's talks at companies like 3M, Foresight
funding from major companies like Apple Computer, and Rice's
new nanotechnology center.
The story quotes skeptics who surfaced earlier in Scientific American,
such as MIT chemistry professor Julius Rebek, but concludes positively with
a quote from David Braunstein, a bioapplications scientist with Park
Scientific Instruments: "What nanotechnologists are after is nothing
more and nothing less than to understand and extend what nature already
On the side of confusion, the article was illustrated by a photo of a 24-step
micromechanical stepping motor made by depositing successive layers of silicon
on the base--a manufacturing technique wholly unrelated to molecular nanotechnology.
Chicago Tribune,Detroit News
The Chicago Tribune and Detroit News both carried a
story in June on the future of the automobile industry. It extensively quotes
Foresight Institute Director Chris Peterson, who says that "We're learning
how to manipulate atoms to make cars with a process called molecular manufacturing.
It doesn't exist yet, but it will." She is quoted describing the potential
for underground vacuum tunnels that could propel cars "halfway around
the world in two hours, based on the laws of simple physics."
Investment newsletter Taipan
The investment newsletter Taipan in its August 1996 issue
reports that it has found "real, emerging (investment) potential for
nanotech." Noting that computer chip manufacturers are running up against
the limits of physics, the newsletter says that chipmakers will sooner or
later have to abandon "the microscopic equivalent of ditch digging
and...start crafting chips like fine masonry: from the bottom up."
The newsletter advises its readers to avoid the "torrent of nanohype"
and instead go to "the scientists who are actually involved" in
implementing technology. They offer three sources--the Web pages of Foresight
Institute and the Institute for Molecular
Manufacturing, and Ralph Merkle's web page at http://nano.xerox.com/nano/.
[A longer report on this article]
American Production and Inventory Control
The July 1996 issue of APICS (American Production and Inventory Control
Society) carries an article by past APICS President Keith Launchbury on
future trends. He devotes a very positive paragraph to nanotechnology and
mentions that "the potential of this new technology is awesome, and
I predict that we will see its first commercial applications within the
next five years."
Radio and Television
Severalradio news programs have covered nanotechnology recently,
with variable quality. CBS Radio carried an item in June on a program
called "The Way We Will," discussing recent work with STMs at
IBM Geneva, manipulating molecules at room temperature, and IBM Almaden,
plucking an atom off a metal substrate using an STM hooked into a Virtual
Reality Dataglove apparatus. Foresight member John Papiewski, who heard
the broadcast on CBS Radio Station WBBM in Chicago, described the broadcast
as "exciting, factual and straightforward reporting."
National Public Radio did less well on July 17. In the space of an
eight-minute segment, part of a four-part series on "miniaturization,"
NPR's Morning Edition muddied the waters with confused definitions of nanotechnology,
discussed some of the potential outcomes of molecular nanotechnology, and
then quoted "experts" to the effect that this is all unrealizable
[A longer report on this program]
The Dutch public television network NEDERLAND 2 carried a program
called Nanotopia, based on Drexler's Engines
of Creation from 10 to 11 p.m. on June 29.
NanoTechnology Magazine: Research
(Three Degrees Kelvin Publishing, Inc., Honolulu), carries an interesting
survey of nanotechnology-related research in its June 1996 issue by Richard
H. Smith II, a research administrator at Georgetown University and graduate
student in the Virginia Tech Science and Technology Studies Ph.D. program.
The entire paper is available on the Web version of the magazine athttp://planet-hawaii.com/nanozine/nanofund.htm.
Smith describes his Internet-based search for funding sources for molecular
nanotechnology research. Referring extensively to a bibliometric study by
Alan L. Porter and Scott Cunningham (published
in Update 21), Smith found that considerable nanotechnology-related
research is underway in the U.S., but that it is disjointed and often difficult
to find. "As sophisticated as the search engines in libraries and on
the Web are becoming, one needs familiarity with specific terminology in
order to find anything," he writes.
Referring to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University
of Chicago Press, 1986), Smith notes that many involved in relevant
research would be considered "practitioners of 'normal science' who
help to lay the groundwork for a scientific revolution but don't necessarily
buy into it at the time."
Using varied search terms, he identified considerable government research
funding for nanotechnology, mostly grants in the range of $50,000 to $100,000.
The grants are provided by the National Science Foundation and (harder to
locate in computer searches because of terms used) the National Institutes
of Health, he writes.
Smith laments the fragmented nature of relevant research, and proposes a
clearinghouse of nanotechnology research and funding sources. He suggests
Foresight Institute as a provider of the service.
The issue also provides an interesting description of the groundbreaking
ceremony for the new Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice
University (featuring a nanoscale ribbon cutting of one nanotube by another),
projected on a video screen for observers by Dr. Richard Smalley. The $32
million facility is expected to be open in the fall of 1997.
New Technology Week
New Technology Week carried a substantial story on Foresight Institute's
Feynman Grand Prize, quoting computational
nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle of Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center
that nanotechnology breakthroughs are needed to develop "post-lithographic
manufacturing technologies" to make smaller and faster computer components.
Science fiction and fact magazine Analog
Science fiction and fact magazine Analog Editor Stanley Schmidt,
who deals both in fiction and science, had no trouble telling one from the
other in an extended editorial responding to Scientific American's April
1996 attack on nanotechnology. "It pains me to have to say so,
because I have long thought of Scientific American as a good layman's
source of fairly in-depth information about what's going on in many fields
of research, but this article seems to me to contain far too much opinions
presented as factual reporting - and ultimately to give an impression that
may be dangerously wrong." SciAm staff writer Gary Stix's "bias
is quite clear in both his selection of quotes and his personal comments,"
Schmidt offers comparisons between the existing state of nanotechnology
and the emergence of earlier technologies: "The people who made the
first vacuum tubes, early in this century, had plenty of trouble just getting
them to work in quite simple circuits, and felt justifiable pride whenever
they found a way to make them work a little better. At each stage, an experimenter
with an idea might see one improvement he could reasonably aspire to making
with the time and resources he had available. If you had described to him
the tiny, powerful, ubiquitous computers of the late twentieth century,
or the huge, sophisticated communications network of the same period, he
probably would have found it hard to believe you were serious. If you were
his boss and told him he had to build one of those computers, he
would have had little choice but to give up in despair."
He concludes, "let's hope that the Foresight Institute keeps trying
to look ahead at what this stuff can do for and to us--and what we can do
about it. We may need that knowledge a lot sooner than some of us think."
New Sci-Fi Documentary Film Discusses Nanotechnology,
Draws Viewers into Mind-Bending Time Warp
Synthetic Pleasures, written by Iara Lee and produced by George
Gund, is a feature-length sci-fi documentary that, in a mixture of interviews,
previously-produced footage and original computer graphics, delves into
genetic engineering, smart drugs, cryonics, robotics, artificial life, life
extension and, of course, nanotechnology. The film emphasizes nanotechnology's
capability to offset human disease. It features Ed Regis, author of Nano,
a non-technical discussion of nanotechnology.
"Technology becomes a life-style," says Lee. "Synthetic
Pleasures tries to get beyond high-tech theory and engage technology
where it is lived. Computers facilitate tasks, but somehow make us work
even harder. Technology frees and enslaves at the same time. It is a wonderful
Lee's extensive use of mind-bending footage, good pacing, and lively editing
succeeds in drawing the viewer deeper in this futurist time warp and in
bringing home the point that most of the elements the film discusses are
happening to some extent today. The film offers broader perspectives on
our relationship with technology, where this relationship is taking us and
what its implications will be for the future. It was scheduled for release
in public theaters August 30.
Sept. 30-Oct. 2, University of Leipzig. Includes molecular modeling, molecular
recognition, self-organization, DNA computing. Contact GCB '96, tel 49-341-9716100,
fax 49-341-9716109, email GCB96@imise.unileipzig.de.
First Electronic Molecular Graphics and
Modelling Society Conference,
evening of Oct. 19, 1996, Palo Alto. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122,
fax 415-917-1123, email firstname.lastname@example.org. See
Biological Approaches and Novel Applications
for Molecular Nanotechnology,
Dec. 9-11, 1996, San Diego, International Business Communications. Topics
similar to Foresight conferences: scanning probes, self-assembly, modeling,
DNA structures, protein structures. Tel 508-481-6400, fax 508-481-7911,
email email@example.com, http://www.io.org/~ibc/nano
Biomolecular Design, Form and Function,
Feb. 1-5, 1997, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Nature Biotechnology. Self-assembly,
protein design. Tel 305-243-3597, fax 305-324-5665, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chemistry and Physics of Small-Scale Structures,
Optical Society of America, Feb. 9-11, 1997, Santa Fe. Includes some self-assembly;
STM nanofabrication. Tel 202-416-1980, fax 202-416-6100, email@example.com;
Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular
Nov. 5-9, 1997, Palo Alto, CA. Enabling science and technology, computational
models. Contact Foresight, tel 415-917-1122, fax 415-917-1123, email firstname.lastname@example.org,
Web http://nano.xerox.com/nanotech/nano5.html. The conference web page has
just been moved to: http://www.foresight.org/Conferences/MNT05/Nano5.html