Sunday, December 31, 2006

Picture of the day

lanthanum aluminate Paul A. Midgley

This is a false colour convergent beam electron diffraction pattern recorded at 150kV parallel to the three-fold axis of lanthanum aluminate. In addition to the mesh of reflections at the centre, the pattern also shows concentric circles of reflections in successive higher order Laue zones. Odd numbered zones have only a single branch of intensity that corresponds to scattering solely from the oxygen atoms in the structure.

As with the previous picture, I will post the others in this series over time. To see it all now, visit the Nanotechnology Now Gallery.

Acknowledgements: Paul A. Midgley, University of Cambridge - Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

Quote of the day

Molecular nanotechnology promises to usher in the next Industrial Revolution and replace our entire manufacturing base with a new, radically precise, less expensive, and more flexible way of making products. These pervasive changes in manufacturing will leave virtually no product, process, or industry untouched. To be sure, nanotechnology has the potential to disrupt entire industries while leading to the creative destruction of current business models. It has already dramatically changed the competitive landscape of many industries worldwide including advanced materials/composites, aerospace/defense, automotive, energy, life sciences, medicine, electronics and semiconductors. Yet the future potential of nanotechnology depends on creating the tools that will enable us to effectively position molecules and build complex structures with atomically precise control. Every aspect of basic nanoscale science and the commercial production of nanotechnology will rely---first and foremost---on the capacity of these tools, instruments, metrology devices, and modeling/simulation applications to measure, sense, fabricate, and manipulate matter at the atomic level. Nanomanufacturing Conference 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

Picture of the day

3-dimensional Si composite nanostructure Ghim Wei Ho and Prof Mark Welland

This 3-dimensional Si composite nanostructure is one of the most recognized "nanotech" images. It has been posted on several key websites and used as cover and interior art in several science magazines. When I first found it I was struck by it's underlying beauty; bleeding-edge tech meets 21st Century art.

At the time this image was created, Ph.D. student Ghim Wei Ho was doing research in the lab of Prof. Mark Welland. Her project involved the fabrication and characterization of novel nanostructures. "For the remainder of my Ph.D., I will be focussing on the potential device aspects of these extraordinary structures," she said.

I will post the others in this series over time. To see it all now, visit the Nanotechnology Now Gallery.

Copyright © Ghim Wei Ho and Prof Mark Welland, University of Cambridge Nanoscale Science Laboratory

Quote of the day

Nanotechnology's potential to improve the human condition is staggering: we would be shirking our duty to future generations if we did not responsibly develop it.

~Ralph C. Merkle

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2007 Headlines

As a result of progress made and “nano” issues raised in 2006, I see several headliners in 2007:

Regulation of some or all nanoparticles, in one or more countries

Answers to some toxicity issues, but not all (by a long shot)

Breakthroughs that make a few medical nanotechnologies practical, and human studies of same

Extensive use of nanotubes in composite materials

A significant increase in nano-based products

A great deal of interest in and subsequent higher funding of solar, fuel cells and hydrogen storage technologies.

A great deal of interest in and subsequent higher funding of sensor technologies for military, homeland security and civilian applications.

Watch for:

any regulation to bend someone’s nose out of joint and possibly be such a compromise as to satisfy none.

the same thing in regards to toxicity issues; findings on any given nanoparticle or material may cause widespread dismay among enviro and/or business interests.

either issue could result in a loss of confidence by investors and/or the public, and a subsequent reduction in funding.

bulk nanotube prices to drop, separation techniques to become more efficient, and functionalization methods to create opportunities in the medical and functional materials fields.

Wildcards: things we cannot predict but know from experience do occur. Examples include splitting the atom, and creating the first integrated circuit; both game changers. As the unique properties of nanoscale materials continue being quantified, and resultant advanced products created in greater numbers, nanotechnologies have become widely accepted as game changers, rule breakers, and enablers.

My expectations are “hopefully confident” that the best of nanotech will dominate. For 2007, if investor and public confidence remain high and nano-based products remain safe, expect many economies to experience a growth spurt.

In the near future, don’t be surprised when several countries start to state in their yearly GDP reports that “nano” has become a significant growth-enabling factor. Don’t be surprised when new players enter the market, “changing the game” in ways we cannot imagine today. It’s happened before, and nanotechnologies are enabling a social/economic change as great as any we’ve experienced, if not greater.

Is your company or investment group prepared for these possibilities? Do you have in-house experts who track, analyze, prepare for and make plans based on these issues? Do you have enough information to enable you to make good decisions?

Quote of the day

Even a small fraction of the raw capability of molecular manufacturing would be sufficient to satisfy the world's humanitarian needs for generations to come. Another fraction could multiply the economy and enrich every owner of the technology. And only a small fraction of possible nanotech-built products are unacceptably dangerous.

~Mike Treder Nanotechnology: Time to Make a Choice

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Quote of the day

Today nanotechnology is still in a formative phase--not unlike the condition of computer science in the 1960s or biotechnology in the 1980s. Yet it is maturing rapidly. Between 1997 and 2005, investment in nanotech research and development by governments around the world soared from $432 million to about $4.1 billion, and corresponding industry investment exceeded that of governments by 2005. By 2015, products incorporating nanotech will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy. About two million workers will be employed in nanotech industries, and three times that many will have supporting jobs.

~Mihail C. Roco, Senior adviser for nanotechnology to the National Science Foundation and a key architect of the National Nanotechnology Initiative link

(RR note: the $1 trillion figure is widely disputed)

Nanotubes, Pt. II

Nanotube-based materials…soon?

For the past decade we’ve been reading about the potential of carbon nanotubes for use in advanced materials (100X stronger than steel at 1/6th the weight…). Currently, they are used in a very small handful of products; not the widespread applications that were predicted in the recent past.

Major hurdles have included production scaling problems (and therefore cost), separation (each type of nanotube displays specific characteristics), and functionalization (necessary for medical uses). Another major hurdle has been, and remains, both the public perception and the actual risk associated with these vanishingly small materials; we just don’t know, yet, all the ways in which nanotubes may prove toxic.

In 2007 we may start to see nanotubes used in more and more diverse applications. However, this will only happen if the companies that make them are able to increase their production batches while at the same time deal with the separation and toxicity issues. Simply increasing the total amount of nanotubes produced will allow for their use in areas where weight and strength are the most highly sought attributes (think auto and space industries). This, of course, anticipates a subsequent reduction in cost as batch size increases; a not unreasonable expectation. So if we can deal with the toxicity issues we may, finally, be on the road to a nanotube-enabled advanced materials world.

Expect news of production ramp ups to be greeted with investor enthusiasm and news of toxicity problems to dampen that enthusiasm.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Quote of the day

"The ability of our industry to effect positive change is no longer merely a result of the powerful technology we create. We are global citizens accountable for our actions. It is time for technology to close the ever-widening digital, economic and social divides. This requires us to do things differently. IT has proven it has a brain; now it is time to show the world it has a heart."
~Hector Ruiz, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nanotechnology Q&A, Pt I ~more

“If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding molecular manufacturing?”

Damian Gregory Allis I’d take a very different approach to the question. I think it safe to assume that more people still rely on the plow than the microprocessor as a means to individual sustenance, if for no other reason than that most people who work with plows know how to fix’em, and I don’t think I know more than a handful of people who wouldn’t ask for a cattle prod when I asked them to reseat RAM. I perceive the gap between molecular manufacturing and the microprocessor to be on par with the plow/processor gap, which is to say that what underlies the gap is so fundamentally different from the technology people are familiar with/oblivious to that words (well, my words) offer little insight into just what’s ahead. In America’s case, we’ve seen that negative campaigns work wonders for capturing the public’s attention. How fortunate are we for that? Therefore, I’d address the public not as a scientist trying to wax mechanosynthetic on molecular manufacturing, but as a molecular manufacturing enthusiast (and I’ve NO DOUBT that we’re all headed in the direction of absolute atomic control and precision in our manufacturing processes because, quite simply, it makes absolutely no scientific sense to stop at some size regime en route to such control) taking a good long look at the state of the world and wondering just how odd what we do now is going to look in a century (if we all make it that long).

So, at the risk of offending just about every researcher on the planet (given my background, perhaps myself under different circumstances), I’d probably spend a good long paragraph taking the position inflammatory to the state-of-the-art and ask questions such as, “Does it not seem a little strange to everyone that people measured in meters and centimeters are currently using equipment measured in meters and centimeters to build molecules and structures measured in nanometers?! Does it seem a bit unusual that a team of trained Ph.D.’s will spend years of their lives in multi-step organic syntheses involving large quantities of starting materials and solvents, fractional yields and highly condition-sensitive chemical reactions, just to make a drug molecule that the biomolecular factories in simple sea sponges will spit out as a part of daily activities? Are not numerous scenes from “Quest for Fire” invoked when considering that the most heralded means of atomically characterizing molecules and proteins comes from slowly growing crystals large enough for a researcher to see (if they can grow them) so that they can be picked up with tweezers and placed into a diffractometer the size of a closet in a three-star hotel? Does it make sense that nanometer-regime microprocessor chip features are attainable only in some of the world’s largest fabrication facilities? And really think about scale for a moment. If we ballpark the Sears Tower to 500 meters (cutting the building off somewhere between the roof and the spire) and take the period at the end of this sentence as being 0.5 millimeter, we get a factor of 1 million. If we take that same period and one atom, which I also ballpark to 0.5 nanometer (and I do that to make the math look easy. Most of the atoms in your person have diameters closer to 0.25 nanometer), we get that same ratio. Does it not make at least 1 million times more sense to manipulate that period with a desktop PC or, if you can find them, pencil and paper than a physical manipulator the size of the Sears Tower? Even cells a fraction of the size of that period have had a good long ride in this solar system performing feats of atomic precision without the benefit of calculus or 6-sigma. Does it not make some greater sense generally to manipulate building blocks, be they atoms or molecules, using equipment within, just for the sake of argument, only a few orders of magnitude larger than those building blocks?!”

Good heavens! Anyone still thinking molecular manufacturing is crazy should take a good long look at the alternative.

If Ray Kurzweil is right, I won’t have to wait the usual year to regret this being posted. It might drop to 3 months!

~Dr. Damian Gregory Allis, Intelligence Community Research Fellow ICPRFP, Theorist-in-Residence, Syracuse University, Scientist and Advisory Board Member, Nanorex, Inc.

Visit his personal site:, and take a look at his MM designs.

Friday, December 22, 2006

100 Words

OK, you’re given 100 words or less to use to present your most important thought or thoughts on nanoscale materials or molecular manufacturing to the following:

The UN
A group of grade school students in Japan
A meeting of UAW members

What do you say? The same message for all, or one for each?

What is your message or messages?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Listen to them

What would you do?

What would you do if someone presented you with convincing evidence that something catastrophic (1) was about to happen to the human race, and that unless your country spent billions of dollars on technologies to defeat said catastrophe, you and your way of life could literally become a thing of the past (e.g. everyone dies or is reduced to a state of universal extreme poverty)?

You have probably read about the possibility of a killer meteor strike between 2026 and 2028 (2). How much would you be willing to authorize your government to spend if we learned definitively that it was going to strike? If this or any other meteor or comet was on a collision course with Earth would you authorize $1 trillion to save the planet? $100 billion? $10 billion? (3). And consider that this is but one of many known civilization-ending events.

A different but no less frightening possibility

What would you do if someone presented you with convincing evidence that a technology that is being marginally funded today might present the same catastrophic potential as one of the well known civilization-ending events?

What would you do if someone presented you with convincing evidence that a technology that is being marginally funded today may yield the greatest gifts that humankind has ever received?

What if you learned that they were one in the same…

Molecular Manufacturing (MM) has the potential to be either; destroyer or savior. Many learned, credible and respected people honestly believe that MM is one of if not the most important things humanity should be focused on, immediately, if not sooner. They base their belief on hundreds of years of collective research and collaboration into one or more areas pertaining to MM. And the best they can say at this moment is “We don’t know when MM will happen. There are, however, several paths leading to it, and we’re pretty sure that one will succeed, and within the next couple decades. We’re also not sure of it’s impact, but we believe that either extreme is possible. We also believe that one of the more favorable futures could happen if we start discussing MM, now. With input from a much larger group of stake holders (RR note: that’s you and I and all of us folks) a few core groups should be able to find a good path, provided modest funding.”

With $10 billion you could fund an aggressive MM R&D program; a program that helps us learn more about how we can steer clear of the dangers, and that helps us realize the grand vision. And, possibly, one that in a few short years answers the most fundamental question "what needs to be done to help us realize one of the best futures?"

So now we come to the point of this post, the tip of the nanotube if you will, and the Question: “If any one of many potential civilization-ending events was in the works or about to happen, and if you would authorize the spending of billions of dollars to spare us from it, why not at the very least give these learned, credible and respected folks an honest listen regarding MM? If they’re right, then we have to consider spending those dollars, and the sooner the better. So ask them questions of your own, right here. Assert your stake holder obligations and participate!

And yes, listen to their critics, especially those that engage in honest debate.

Learn more about MM at:
The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
The Foresight Nanotech Institute
Preparing for Nanotechnology

Full disclosure: I happen to believe that should the well-defined stepping-stone technologies receive enough funding, molecular manufacturing is in our near future (5 to 25 years). I also believe that without extensive preparation and planning, things could go horribly wrong.

When might MM happen? Who knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2012—especially given the possibility of existing unknown programs—and I would be surprised if not by 2030. We are an ever-inquisitive bunch of caffeine injected monkeys, sticking our tool wielding hands into and prying open the secrets of the universe with mad abandon; sometimes succeeding beyond our wildest imaginings, and sometime… not. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t crack this nut, soon.

I also happen to believe that we’ll choose one of the paths that leads us to universal abundance, where no one is lacking for their basic needs. Those needs include adequate food, safe water, a clean environment, housing, medical care, education, public safety, fair labor, unrestricted travel, artistic expression and freedom from fear, tyranny and oppression. I also believe that MM will enable humankind to realize it’s dream of traveling to the stars, and will allow for a world where we work only to follow our passions, while enabling us to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

(1) Meteor or comet strike, Yellowstone magma pool erupts, the once in a thousand-year tsunami, monster earthquake, etc. “These are risks that would imperil humankind as a whole and/or have major adverse consequences for the course of human civilization.” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. link

(2) “The risk of an impact by asteroid 2004 MN4 went up slightly on Saturday, Dec. 25. It is now pegged at having a 1-in-45 chance of striking the planet on April 13, 2029. That's up from 1-in-63 late on Dec. 24, and 1-in-300 early on Dec. 24. Astronomers still stress that it is very likely the risk will be reduced to zero with further observations. And even as it stands with present knowledge, the chances are 97.8 percent the rock will miss Earth.” Source:

See also link. An example of what might happen if we got hit by a meteor the size of the moon. (RR note: I included this one because it is an interesting video)

(3) As of 2000, there were at least 7 countries with a GNP of $1 trillion or more, and 6 more at $500 million or more. So it is very likely that a $1 trillion investment would be authorized to prevent a civilization-ending event.

Nanotechnology Q&A, Pt I ~more

“If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding molecular manufacturing?”

Brian Wang Important discoveries and radical breakthroughs are happening now with molecular manufacturing. For instance, a fairly advanced form of DNA nanotechnology is being created (DNA origami, Ned Seemans Work).

Analog superconducting quantum computers will be released next year by Dwave systems. Quantum computers will be very useful for molecular simulation which will in turn drive the science and development even faster.

Radical breakthroughs are possible and need to be part of the planning and funding process. If you or your country are only backing incremental gains then you will fall behind. You need an entrepreneurial minded approach, and "out-of-the-box thinking" engineers and scientists who will find ways around the many challenging hurdles to radical breakthroughs.

Funders need to consider the following:

1. More focus needs to be on molecular manufacturing efforts with the greatest potential. For instance, Freitas and Merkles work on Diamondoid Mechanosynthesis holds great promise. There is a high percentage chance that molecular manufacturing will generate a great deal of societal change; from aggressive adoption and super-fast roll out of lightweight materials in cars and other products where weight and strength are primary factors.

2. Create a portfolio of advanced technologies that include a large portion - 15-25% - that shoot for radical breakthroughs in life extension, regeneration, extending human capabilities, revolutionary energy sources and space access.

Winners in molecular manufacturing will have been aggressive and creative.

~Brian Wang, Futurist, advanced nanotechnology blog

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

MM: yes or no

As with most other "future technologies," when it comes to MM, folks have different opinions. Some say “recent developments suggest that yes, it will happen, sooner rather than later, and we need to start preparing, now,” and others say “ain’t no way no how, never ever going to happen.” Some say “we’re hurtling towards our collective deaths on a high speed runaway locomotive called science,” and some “MM will herald the greatest and most profound change in humankind, ever.”

Do you have an informed opinion on the matter? Are you willing to back it up with facts and/or informed speculation in an open debate? Then here is your invitation; reply with a comment.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nanotechnology Q&A, Pt I ~more

“If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding molecular manufacturing?”

Mike Treder Future generations of nanotechnology will use advanced nanoscale machinery to construct powerful products with molecular precision. Molecular construction will lead to advanced capacities, such as tabletop fully-automated factories capable of constructing duplicate factories in less than a day. The economic, security, military, and environmental implications of molecular manufacturing will be extreme. Vicious cycles in any of these areas could spiral quickly out of control unless the problem has been studied and understood in advance. Extreme or hasty responses to developing problems could easily make things worse.

Based on a recently released US National Research Council study, increased funding of research leading toward exponential construction of atomically-precise products appears to be a strong possibility. The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology urgently recommends equivalent funding and priority for research into the profound societal and environmental implications of molecular manufacturing, including consideration of the most aggressive potential timelines and powerful capabilities.
~Mike Treder, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Nanoscale Materials Q&A, Pt I

Following on the heels of yesterday's Q&A on molucular manufacturing is the same basic Q, this time presented to prominent members of the nanoscale materials community "If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding nanoscale materials?"

Tim Harper Nanoscale materials will be the building blocks of the 21st century, but you'd have to be crazy to start a nanomaterials company. Why? Well Michael Dell didn't need to make microprocessors to build a computer business, and the key to adding value is always in the application, not the material, the silicon, not the sand.

By 2010 we will see a new wave of nanotech-based innovation based on the availability of high quantities of well characterised, high quality nanomaterials produced by the worlds leading chemical companies, not the few grams being produced by most nanotech startups. The time is ripe for exiting nanotech companies - I'm working on an ever increasing number of acquisitions and there is plenty of money there for the right technologies, but the spending spree won't last.

~Tim Harper, CEO, Cientifica

Bo Varga Nanoscale materials have the potential to solve the world's energy, pollution, and water problems - at least for this century - and possibly the world's food problems and taking a big bite out of global warming.

To achieve this goal will require (i) more experimental research on the activity of various materials at various scale levels and in various combinations (ii) robust computational models that can predict the behaviour of materials & combinations of materials at various scale levels and (iii) robust manufacturing technologies that can deliver cost-effective nanoscale materials in the quantities and of the quality required for targeted applications.

My take is that we may achieve these goals in the 2020 - 2030 time period.

~Bo Varga, Managing Director, Silicon Valley Nano Ventures

Monday, December 18, 2006

Nanotechnology Q&A, Pt I

This blog will cover technologies that by all reasonable estimates will have a huge impact on society; namely nanoscale materials technologies and nanotechnology (AKA molecular manufacturing).

Today I would like to present to you the beginning of an ongoing Q&A, in this case asking prominent members of the nanotech community “If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding molecular manufacturing?

Christine Peterson What people want most from nanotechnology are dramatic medical, environmental, and energy advances. Today's nanomaterials are starting to make an impact, but for truly revolutionary breakthroughs, we should push for the development of programmable, atomically-precise manufacturing. The Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, to be published this spring, will point the way.
~Christine Peterson, VP, Foresight Nanotech Institute

K. Eric Drexler Molecular manufacturing has advanced greatly during the last year, both in its technology base and its acceptance as a research objective. DNA engineering techniques can now be used routinely to build 100 nm scale, atomically precise objects with a million atoms, providing a way to organize more complex systems than before. Protein engineering and molecular machine work continues to advance. A National Research Council study has evaluated molecular manufacturing systems as an objective and called for defining and funding a research program: both the evaluation and the call for funding are firsts within the U.S. federal government. Meanwhile, the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, led by the Battelle Memorial Institute with participation by researchers from its 5 U.S. National Labs, has garnered widespread support from academia and industry groups. The Roadmap, launched in 2005, is slated for publication in Spring, 2007.
~Dr. K. Eric Drexler, Chief Technical Advisor, Nanorex, Inc.

Patrick Lin It takes a lack of imagination to think that molecular manufacturing (MM) will never become a reality. We are already doing similar work - creating things from the bottom up - with 3-D printers, for instance, so MM is just a logical extension of that idea and nothing so radically new that there should be so much skepticism surrounding it. Further, history has shown that humans are ingenious enough to overcome perceived and technical limitations as daunting as they may seem at the moment - creating things that were thought to be impossible, from flying machines to personal computers to most recently the "invisibility cloak." So it's not so much a question of if MM will happen but when...and this is very difficult timeline to predict.

That said, it's never too early to begin thinking about MM's impact on society, if we want to mitigate any disruptive effects. For instance, if MM enables us to create anything we want, how does that impact local, national, and global economies? How does that affect the distribution of wealth and political power? How can we prevent MM from being misused, e.g., producing weapons of mass destruction? How can we maximize the benefits of MM? Undoutedly, MM will do much good in many areas of life, but with such profound power - as with any power or right - comes new responsibilites. But it still remains to be seen if enough people, and in the right positions of influence, will accept this responsibility and contribute to this debate in time to make a real difference...
~Dr. Patrick Lin, Research Director, The Nanoethics Group

Bold Claims

This just in from the UK: Electricity-saving nanotech start-up to move to the UK.

AirNatech has a technology that they say will cut electricity usage "by at least 50 per cent" in heat exchangers, such as those found in HVAC units.

Given their $250 million in funding and their claim of a "market capitalization of more than $1bn by the end of next year" can we expect this "nanotechnology" to help create one of the first big evolutionary changes in a large industry?

Further, is it time to consider investing in an industry that may undergo huge change as a result of this technology?

IMHO, it’s wait and see time. Wait for AirNatech to prove the technology beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hat tip to Brian Lundquist at Nanotechnology Now for pointing this out.



Friday, December 15, 2006

Nanotubes, Pt I.

In the days ahead, one of the topics we’ll cover a lot is nanotubes.

To start the ball rolling, let’s begin with the most studied and well-known variety, carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

CNT potential is pretty much accepted as both "fantastic" and "far-reaching." Enthusiasts predict both enabling and disruptive applications, many of which we’ll see within the next few years.

Three of the remaining caveats re: realizing the enthusiast’s vision are 1) bulk production (and therefore cost), 2) functionalization, and 3) separation.

All three are being addressed by hundreds of well-financed groups, academic, government, and business. It is clearly only a matter of time --near future time that is – before one of those groups finds a way to address each issue.

For more about this and other issues, read nanotechnology news at Nanotechnology Now

Read about Investing in Nanotech at NanoNovus

Read about preparing for molecular manufacturing at Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the Foresight Nanotech Institute

NIOSH Guidelines

Josh Cable pens an article titled "Nanotech: NIOSH to Issue Guidance for Employers" where he talks about possible recommendations re: a medical surveillance program for nanotechnology workers.

If your company is currently (or planning on) working with nanoscale materials then you need to stay abreast of this developing story; it may mean changes to the way you do business, along with oversight, regulations, and additional costs.

Read full article here

NIOSH Nanotechnology web page