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Where Can You Look for Progress in Nanotechnology?
3

Where Can You Look for Progress in Nanotechnology?

Tech
Published or Updated on
August 14, 2021
/
3
min read

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of objects at the nanometer scale. It encompasses a wide range of scientific fields and engineering disciplines. Nanotechnology research typically studies or manipulates objects with features measuring 1 - 100 nanometers.

Some fields within nanotechnology don’t usually label their work as such, like molecular biology or semiconductor fabrication. The latter often uses photolithography to create chip features measurable in the tens of nanometers, so it fits the standard definition of nanotechnology, but its research doesn’t always bear the name.

In one area of materials science, researchers covered grains of sand with a hydrophobic coating only nanometers thin, causing them to repel water. In medicine, researchers design and fabricate polymers less than 100 nanometers in at least one dimension, which go through the body and bind to cancer tumor cells for drug delivery. These are both examples of nanotechnology.

The Revolutionary Kind of Nanotechnology

The most transformative nanotechnology is atomically precise manufacturing (APM). With APM, we’d specify products at the molecular level and build them with atomic precision. Our biological machinery can serve as a loose metaphor. Ribosomes, for example, build proteins with atomic precision, but in a less controlled, predictable way than APM.

APM systems resemble factories, but with parts scaled down to the nanometer level. Just like you’d put together a variety of devices—gears, shafts, pistons, etc.—to build machines that themselves build even larger machines to form factories, APM systems would have their own versions of devices—nanoscale gears, nanoscale motors, etc.—to build parts for nanoscale machines, which themselves build even larger machines, and so on until we get to the microscale, objects visible through a light microscope, and eventually the meter scale.

APM would let us construct radically more efficient versions of today’s products as well as altogether new ones, through desktop APM factories in your home (for desktop-scale products).

You could produce a billion-core laptop at home, for example. Or a new car at the local garage-scale APM factory, costing no more than “a good restaurant dinner (and with a discount for watching the demo)”.* The healthcare industry could make low-cost handheld devices for rapid medical diagnosis, possibly within minutes, compared to what might today take hours or days. The latter part of a lecture with nanomedicine researcher Sonia Trigueros and pioneer K. Eric Drexler discusses some exciting medical applications.

Following Progress in Your Favorite Nanotech Field

For most areas of nanotechnology, you can visit a site like the Nanotechnology news section of Phys.org. Search for some keywords in the relevant research area, like “materials science” or “nanomaterials”, and it will bring up more-or-less intuitive results. The titles of articles and papers may contain some or all of these keywords, and the abstracts would summarize recognizable objectives within the field of interest.

For APM, it gets trickier. It’s hard to gauge the APM field’s pace because early progress occurs in less visible areas like protein engineering and organic synthesis. These fields study the building blocks needed to produce complex nanoscale objects and control their assembly with precision. Thing is, even if you search for protein engineering or organic synthesis, you can’t always tell whether the research aims to build molecular systems that would lead to advanced, high-throughput APM.

Researchers across these and other fields explore a spectrum of capabilities ranging from molecular structures that self-assemble without guidance—throw the building blocks together and the right parts will "find" each other because they can only fit in one way—and structures that require advanced means of control because their parts bind to each other unselectively. In between are structures with intermediate levels of these features, which can help bridge the early stages of an assembly process to the later stages that require more stringent control.

Along another axis are enabling tools like virtual reality visualization and AI-assisted molecular design, which would accelerate progress across all areas of molecular engineering. For example, Nanome immerses you into molecules' 3D environment, helping you perceive and manipulate 3D models with clarity and accuracy.

This helps both researchers and students, who benefit from more intuitive and engaging ways to learn about chemistry, molecular biology, and other subjects that might otherwise be great insomnia cures.

Hankering to Learn More about Atomically Precise Manufacturing?

I recommend reading K. Eric Drexler’s book Radical Abundance as a starting point to figure out where to look to observe progress in APM. The Appendixes are particularly illuminating because they describe the gradients along which the core features of APM systems progress. One gradient, for example, is the size of the molecular building blocks; decades ago we could build useful structures with only tens of atoms, then a decade ago we could build million-atom structures, and today it’s… maybe more?

Footnotes

* On pp. 147-148 of Radical Abundance, Drexler describes the fascinating process of producing a car from the viewpoint of someone looking into a garage-sized APM factory, hence the “demo”.

Nancy Todd
Digital Sorceress

Imaginator. Reality TV fanatic. Troublemaker. Lifetime student. Ambivert. Recovering carrot cake addict.

Where Can You Look for Progress in Nanotechnology?
3

Where Can You Look for Progress in Nanotechnology?

Tech
Published or Updated on
Aug 14
/
3
min read

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of objects at the nanometer scale. It encompasses a wide range of scientific fields and engineering disciplines. Nanotechnology research typically studies or manipulates objects with features measuring 1 - 100 nanometers.

Some fields within nanotechnology don’t usually label their work as such, like molecular biology or semiconductor fabrication. The latter often uses photolithography to create chip features measurable in the tens of nanometers, so it fits the standard definition of nanotechnology, but its research doesn’t always bear the name.

In one area of materials science, researchers covered grains of sand with a hydrophobic coating only nanometers thin, causing them to repel water. In medicine, researchers design and fabricate polymers less than 100 nanometers in at least one dimension, which go through the body and bind to cancer tumor cells for drug delivery. These are both examples of nanotechnology.

The Revolutionary Kind of Nanotechnology

The most transformative nanotechnology is atomically precise manufacturing (APM). With APM, we’d specify products at the molecular level and build them with atomic precision. Our biological machinery can serve as a loose metaphor. Ribosomes, for example, build proteins with atomic precision, but in a less controlled, predictable way than APM.

APM systems resemble factories, but with parts scaled down to the nanometer level. Just like you’d put together a variety of devices—gears, shafts, pistons, etc.—to build machines that themselves build even larger machines to form factories, APM systems would have their own versions of devices—nanoscale gears, nanoscale motors, etc.—to build parts for nanoscale machines, which themselves build even larger machines, and so on until we get to the microscale, objects visible through a light microscope, and eventually the meter scale.

APM would let us construct radically more efficient versions of today’s products as well as altogether new ones, through desktop APM factories in your home (for desktop-scale products).

You could produce a billion-core laptop at home, for example. Or a new car at the local garage-scale APM factory, costing no more than “a good restaurant dinner (and with a discount for watching the demo)”.* The healthcare industry could make low-cost handheld devices for rapid medical diagnosis, possibly within minutes, compared to what might today take hours or days. The latter part of a lecture with nanomedicine researcher Sonia Trigueros and pioneer K. Eric Drexler discusses some exciting medical applications.

Following Progress in Your Favorite Nanotech Field

For most areas of nanotechnology, you can visit a site like the Nanotechnology news section of Phys.org. Search for some keywords in the relevant research area, like “materials science” or “nanomaterials”, and it will bring up more-or-less intuitive results. The titles of articles and papers may contain some or all of these keywords, and the abstracts would summarize recognizable objectives within the field of interest.

For APM, it gets trickier. It’s hard to gauge the APM field’s pace because early progress occurs in less visible areas like protein engineering and organic synthesis. These fields study the building blocks needed to produce complex nanoscale objects and control their assembly with precision. Thing is, even if you search for protein engineering or organic synthesis, you can’t always tell whether the research aims to build molecular systems that would lead to advanced, high-throughput APM.

Researchers across these and other fields explore a spectrum of capabilities ranging from molecular structures that self-assemble without guidance—throw the building blocks together and the right parts will "find" each other because they can only fit in one way—and structures that require advanced means of control because their parts bind to each other unselectively. In between are structures with intermediate levels of these features, which can help bridge the early stages of an assembly process to the later stages that require more stringent control.

Along another axis are enabling tools like virtual reality visualization and AI-assisted molecular design, which would accelerate progress across all areas of molecular engineering. For example, Nanome immerses you into molecules' 3D environment, helping you perceive and manipulate 3D models with clarity and accuracy.

This helps both researchers and students, who benefit from more intuitive and engaging ways to learn about chemistry, molecular biology, and other subjects that might otherwise be great insomnia cures.

Hankering to Learn More about Atomically Precise Manufacturing?

I recommend reading K. Eric Drexler’s book Radical Abundance as a starting point to figure out where to look to observe progress in APM. The Appendixes are particularly illuminating because they describe the gradients along which the core features of APM systems progress. One gradient, for example, is the size of the molecular building blocks; decades ago we could build useful structures with only tens of atoms, then a decade ago we could build million-atom structures, and today it’s… maybe more?

Footnotes

* On pp. 147-148 of Radical Abundance, Drexler describes the fascinating process of producing a car from the viewpoint of someone looking into a garage-sized APM factory, hence the “demo”.

Nancy Todd
Digital Sorceress

Imaginator. Reality TV fanatic. Troublemaker. Lifetime student. Ambivert. Recovering carrot cake addict.