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1 Whither Nanotechnology Ralph C. Merkle Xerox PARC

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1 1 Whither Nanotechnology Ralph C. Merkle Xerox PARC

2 2 Seventh Elba-Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology April, 1999 Rome, Italy

3 3 The goal: nanotechnology (a.k.a. molecular manufacturing) Fabricate most structures that are specified with molecular detail and which are consistent with physical law Get essentially every atom in the right place Inexpensive manufacturing costs (~10-50 cents/kilogram)

4 4 Where we are today We can make only an infinitesimal fraction of what’s possible We spray atoms around almost randomly We pay many millions of dollars per kilogram for the thin layer on top of a computer chip that actually computes

5 5. What we can make today (not to scale) Possible arrangements of atoms

6 6. The goal of molecular nanotechnology: a healthy bite.

7 7 What we can make today (not to scale). We don’t have molecular manufacturing today. Molecular Manufacturing Systems We must develop fundamentally new capabilities

8 8 Should we actively pursue the development of molecular nanotechnology? Is it feasible? Is it valuable? Can we do things today to speed it’s development?

9 9 The good news It is now generally accepted that molecular nanotechnology is feasible and valuable. (This took a few decades)

10 10 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 big. Richard Feynman, 1959

11 11 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

12 12 The bad news There’s still a great deal of confusion and disagreement about what to do

13 13 What needs to be done Experimental work to advance existing capabilities Theoretical work to clarify pathways and objectives

14 14 Core molecular manufacturing capabilities Today Products Overview of the development of molecular nanotechnology

15 15 Issues Positional control Self replication Idiosyncratic versus systematic Making big things How long

16 16 A proposal for a programmable molecular positional device

17 17 Issues with positional control Speed Size Error rates Imperfect environment Tip characteristics

18 18 Proposal for a self replicating device: an assembler

19 19 Universal Computer Universal Constructor Von Neumann architecture for a self replicating system

20 20 Molecular computer Molecular constructor Positional deviceTip chemistry Drexler’s architecture for an assembler

21 21 C program 808 Von Neumann's universal constructor500,000 Internet worm (Robert Morris, Jr., 1988)500,000 Mycoplasma capricolum1,600,000 E. Coli9,278,442 Drexler's assembler100,000,000 Human6,400,000,000 NASA Lunar Manufacturing Facilityover 100,000,000,000 Complexity of self replicating systems (bits)

22 22 A C program that prints out an exact copy of itself main(){char q=34, n=10,*a="main() {char q=34,n=10,*a=%c%s%c; printf(a,q,a,q,n);}%c";printf(a,q,a,q,n);} For more information, see the Recursion Theorem:

23 23 English translation: Print the following statement twice, the second time in quotes: “Print the following statement twice, the second time in quotes:”

24 24 Idiosyncratic vs systematic Idiosyncratic view: each new thing that we synthesize requires some new and unique method of making it which takes much time and effort to work out. Systematic view: new things are made by using old tools in different ways to rearrange standard parts.

25 25 Is nanotechnology only about small things? Nanotechnology sounds like it’s about making small things. But it’s actually about the precision with which we make things of all sizes, including very big things.

26 26 How long? We don’t know Trends in computer hardware suggest early in the next century — perhaps in the 2010 to 2020 time frame How long it takes depends on what we do. A focused effort will greatly speed development.

27 27 It’s possible to think that “nanotechnology” Won’t involve positional control Won’t involve self replication Won’t be systematic Will only make small things Will take 100 years

28 28 Can we abandon these principles without compromising the goal? Positional control Self replication Systematic methods Products of all sizes A focused effort to develop the technology within our lifetimes

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