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Nano-Scale Robot Arm Moves Atoms With 100% Accuracy 266

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the human-tetris-anyone? dept.
destinyland writes "A New York professor has built a two-armed nanorobotic device with the ability to place specific atoms and molecules where scientists want them. The nano-scopic device is just 150 x 50 x 8 nanometers in size — over a million could fit inside a single red blood cell. But because of its size, it's able to build nanoscale structures and machines — including a nanoscale walking biped and even sequence-dependent molecular switch arrays!"
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Nano-Scale Robot Arm Moves Atoms With 100% Accuracy

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  • by elzurawka (671029) on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#30811246)

    So, the first one builds a friend, then each builds a friend, and each of those builds a friend. Soon enough there will be millions, and they will be able to invade your blood cells!

    I for one welcome our nano sized robot overlords

  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:28PM (#30811256)

    If it can move and place particles with 100% accuracy then at least at some point we know both where it is and how fast it's moving...

  • DNA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mxh83 (1607017) on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:29PM (#30811286)
    does this mean someone can artificially alter their DNA using the nanobots?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dkh2 (29130)

      Well, a good portion of DNA is now known to fit the description "sequence driven molecular switch arrays." I would say the answer is a resounding 'Yes!'

      The follow-on question - after determining which switches to throw for me to grow wings - how long before I go through probate to change my name to Warren Worthington?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by maxume (22995)

        Why wait to change your name?

        Wings or not, you are still going to have the same problems with gravity as everyone else.

        I guess once you build your (enormous) space habitat it might be cool to have wings.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:30PM (#30811312)

    Now it is possible to build the perfect woman! Of course, it'll take a few thousand years to get her fully assembled.

    • Nope, just a few months to assemble the basic building blocks into an egg, about 9 months and a couple thousand dollars for a surrogate, $AGE_OF_CONSENT years for maturity, and then preventative maintenance from then on to fix minor defects as they arise.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:37PM (#30811400)
    That narrows it down.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by snl2587 (1177409)
      I guess the editors saw that the name is Dr. Seeman and decided to spare us the flood of Anonymous Cowards.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You might call his work.....seminal......
  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:39PM (#30811424) Homepage
    "100% Accuracy" implies a positional error of zero meters (to infinite decimal places), which is obviously not what they're talking about. Amazingly, this mistake is not just in the Slashdot summary, but in the cached [74.125.47.132] FA as well.

    If we go to the referenced Nature article abstract [nature.com] we see that the development "yields programmed targets in all cases."

    The correct terminology then would be "100% Success Rate" not "100% Accuracy".

    P.S. Presumably "success" is defined by something like "90% Accuracy", to put an ironic spin on it. But it makes no sense to speak of accuracy in terms of percentage without a reference, such as "a single atom". So the criteria was probably something like X nanometers accuracy.

    • by m0nstr42 (914269) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:06PM (#30811776) Homepage Journal

      "100% Accuracy" implies a positional error of zero meters (to infinite decimal places), which is obviously not what they're talking about.

      I caught that, too. But really "percent" doesn't even make sense as a unit of accuracy, does it? Unless it's fractional, in which case I'd take it to mean that if you want to make a relative move of x, you'll get something in the range (0,2x) or maybe (0.5x, 1.5x)? I mean, on the nano scale that's still kind of remarkable, but as you've pointed out it's just not what they mean. /pedantic

    • by pgn674 (995941)

      "100% Accuracy" implies a positional error of zero meters (to infinite decimal places), which is obviously not what they're talking about.

      By physical, and not mathematical, definition, wouldn't 100% accuracy mean a positional error of 1 Planck length, instead of infinitely approaching zero meters?

    • by Adambomb (118938)

      Sex Panther by Odeon.
      They say that 60% of the time, it works every time.

      That doesn't even make sense!

  • Oooops! Dropped one. For what period of time did it achieve 100%?

    • They started the test, and it failed. Then they started the test again, and it failed again. A few days later, they started the test, and it succeeded to move one particle correctly. At this point, they instructed it to stay still and wait for 8 hours, at which point they concluded the test. It therefor worked 100% of the time for a span of 8 hours.

      Duh.
      • by Qzukk (229616)

        They started the test, and it failed. Then they started the test again, and it failed again. A few days later, they started the test, and it succeeded

        And that's what you're gonna get, lad. The strongest robot arm in these lands.

  • The Assembler Breakthrough that we all read about in Engines of Creation?

    -jcr

  • Watch where you are going with that thing, Mr, or you are going to find my Nano Fist in your face!

  • almost a year old (Score:2, Informative)

    by snoop.daub (1093313)

    The Nature Nanotechnology article is almost a year old. There are lots of people working on similar stuff, here's a review which mentions the Seeman work among many others (you probably need a library subscription to see the article, but the abstract should be accessible at least):

    http://journals2.scholarsportal.info/details-sfx.xqy?uri=/14394227/v10i0015/2420_catdn.xml [scholarsportal.info]

  • by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Monday January 18, 2010 @03:57PM (#30811662) Homepage Journal

    I don't know a heck of a lot about nanorobots and such, so I don't know whether it's possible or not, but if placing atoms with 100% accuracy is possible, shouldn't it also be possible to _remove_ atoms with 100% accuracy?

    In that case, would it be possible to build something that disassembles atmospheric carbon dioxide, and build pencil lead and release oxygen in the process?

    Of course, then you get into the problem of the energy stored in chemical bonds, and the energy required to overcome that. I have no idea if/how that applies to nanoscale robots, since they're mechanically working on individual atoms, rather than a bulk chemical reaction.

    • by inviolet (797804)

      In that case, would it be possible to build something that disassembles atmospheric carbon dioxide, and build pencil lead and release oxygen in the process?

      Of course, then you get into the problem of the energy stored in chemical bonds, and the energy required to overcome that. I have no idea if/how that applies to nanoscale robots, since they're mechanically working on individual atoms, rather than a bulk chemical reaction.

      What do you mean "then you get into the problem..."? That IS the problem!

      In a less

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:31PM (#30812126)

      It's still a chemical reaction, it's just a very precisly controlled one. You would still have to add energy to break the bond in a molecule of CO2. I suspect that if someone goes through all the trouble to do that, they'll have it produce diamonds instead of pencil lead, since at least then you can sell the result and maybe make a bit of profit off of it (though not for long, what with economies of scale and everything. If this is really possible in large scale diamond will be cheaper than glass someday).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by martas (1439879)
      well, you can never cheat a molecule out of its potential energy, so of course this would still apply. however, maybe this method would be more energy-efficient that chemical methods of achieving the same thing, although i have no idea if this is the case or not.
      • Interesting concept. Would it be plausible to have a nano-arm physically ripping the C off of CO2 molecules or doing some similar useful function? Obviously you'd need energy input... Just the other month there was that report of nano-scale imaging of a single molecule of pentene or a similar hydrocarbon, showing that the atoms really do sit around in something like the toy models chemists build. But (1) how would the arm grasp an atom -- with more atoms or some kind of electric field? And (2) could it just
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LuxMaker (996734)
      And when this technology matures it will be used not only to scrub CO2 but also in a eugenics program to scrub unwanted DNA sequences. If you think it can't happen you are very naive and put too much faith into humanity as a whole.
  • Misleading headline (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flaming error (1041742) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:02PM (#30811728) Journal

    The article is about protein folding and manipulating DNA. It has nothing to do with a robot that picks up atoms and places them somewhere else.

  • by goldaryn (834427) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:10PM (#30811844) Homepage
    a two-armed nanorobotic device with the ability to place specific atoms and molecules where scientists want them

    yes, but where the scientists want them and where the scientists have told its programs to put them are two different things!
  • This reminded me of the joke (can't find it now - if you know it please link to it!). Some scientists in a lab though it was funny because they made a large molecule 30% larger than the other molecules like it. Everyone looking at the image of it though it was the funniest thing ever. I thought it was one of those intel commercials, but I couldn't find it.

    Anyway, this reminded me of that. Also when you are talking about something that small, how do you prove that they are doing what they are saying th
  • Here comes the first wave attack of the replicators...lucky I am a close friend of Thor!

  • Is the server being powered by a tiny nanobot that responds to the on and off states of the transistors via direct manipulation? Maybe the 'nanoscale walking biped' is powering the server by running on a nanoscale hamster wheel to generate electricity? These are all questions I wouldn't have to post if only I could RTFA...

  • In a 2009 article in Nature Nanotechnology, Dr. Seeman shared the results of experiments performed by his lab,

    So in the history books of the future, we can read: “The first generation of our glorious overlords, were conceived with the power of the giant intelligent Seemæn. All hail the Hypnobot!”

  • No Grey Goo... (Score:2, Informative)

    by tylorsan (1724118)
    Not a nanobot, but perhaps another tiny incremental step toward positionally controlled chemistry. I can't get to the core Nature article, but it looks like they make a DNA tile cassette, which they can insert a variety of DNA tooltips into. They probably get ~1-10 nm positional accuracy between tooltips. Not precise enough or controlled enough to do diamond mechanosynthesis, but possibly an interesting route to bootstrapping into that kind of technology. As per usual, the biggest problem is that DNA is
  • by TeethWhitener (1625259) on Monday January 18, 2010 @08:05PM (#30814514)
    Mr. Anissimov (author of TFA) has either dumbed the science down too much or simply doesn't understand what's going on. I'll try to give a summary of the Nature Nanotechnology paper as clearly and concisely as possible.

    First, the researchers made a nanodevice with two slots that could accommodate so-called "DNA cassettes" in a programmable way. The DNA cassettes themselves have free ends that can only bond with complementary DNA. Each of the DNA cassettes has an 'A' end (that can only bond with other A-type molecules) and a 'B' end (I'm simplifying this greatly; 'A' has nothing to do with adenine). The cassettes can be inserted into the two slots with either the 'A' end up or the 'B' end up. So this means there are a total of four states for the device: (1) first slot: A up, B down; second slot: A up, B down; (2) first slot: A down, B up; second slot: A up, B down, etc. The researchers were then able to take four target molecules (one for each of the four programmable states) and show that they bonded to their complementary state. Further, by developing an error-correcting scheme, they were able to get the fidelity of the bonding to 'apparently flawless' levels (quoting FTA, more on this in a sec).

    A little more explanation is in order. All of the target molecules have an 'A' and 'B' marker on both ends of their strand. Now, say for example the nanodevice is in state 2: 1A down, 1B up, 2A up, 2B down. The complementary molecule to bind this state would have four markers with 'A' oriented downward and 'B' oriented upward on one end of the strand, and 'A' orented upward and 'B' oriented downward on the other end of the strand. The problem with this is that other target molecules which aren't complementary can still bind. For example, the target for the 1A up, 1B down, 2A down, 2B up would fit equally well into this binding pocket upside down. Also, any of the target molecules can bind with half of the binding pocket, leaving the non-complementary end either dangling or only loosely bound. The researchers get around these two problems using their error-correction scheme. It turns out that the correct target molecules bind more tightly to their complements than the incorrect ones. By heating the devices slightly, the researchers can dissociate the incorrect binding while keeping the correct binding intact. This is, I believe, what was meant by the phrase '100% accuracy.' So, in short, it's still exciting research, at least from my point of view, but no one's moving individual atoms with 100% accuracy or any of the hyper-exaggerated nonsense that I've been reading here.

  • I Don't Believe It (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday January 18, 2010 @11:36PM (#30815834) Homepage Journal

    I don't believe that there's such a thing as "100%" of anything happening at atomic scale. "100%" is what "99.9999999999999%" looks like when things are big enough that you have to drop the precision due to statistical balancing.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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