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Practical Nanotech 14

Bruce Hollebone writes "Last week, chemists at the University of Rochester reported they had figured out how to get optical plastics to self-assemble (Abstract from Science ,requires login. non-technical summary from ABC News). This material could be an important step towards better photonics, including an optical computer. This is real nano-tech, with precise molecular control. The molecular structure of the plastic was engineered to be a precise shape from the human scale right down to the atomic level. The point here is that this was done with boring old chemicals in test tubes rather than the exotic "nano-machines", proposed by the Drexlerites, shrouded in their mists of vapour. "
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Practical Nanotech

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  • Posted by Grabski:

    Wow, my university actually in the news. This almost makes me wish I had done chemical engineering instead of mechanical and electrical...geez, the chemE's are just about in the same building as us.

    Maybe I can grab some of that stuff after my Solid Mechanics class tomorrow. ;) Kinda doesn't surprise me it's mainly for optical uses though, we have one of only two (I think) undergrad optics programs in the USA.
  • There is currently a listing on the Ford Motor Company job site for a Nanotechnology Scientist to do research into applications of nanotech.

    The Big 2.5 do a lot of basic research (less that 30 years ago, but still a lot) but they usually don't jump way out in front of mainstream science. So I would have to say that nanotech might be ready to be considered mainstream.

  • Ever notice how when any form of physical technology is mentioned on /., the reponse is always positive, yet whenever any form of biotech is mentioned, it is treated as some sort of dangerous technology and lots of FUD is spread. This is despite the fact that humans have been mucking with agricultural genetics for thousands of years with beneficial effects, while modern physics has basically only given us nuclear weapons. If self-replicating nanotech machines are possible, they will almost certainly be used as weapons of war. If people feel a need to protect themselves from dangerous technology, nanotech is far more dangerous than biotech
  • The really interesting part of the abstract that nobody has mentioned yet was the brief reference to self-assembly of 3D structures. This is a fairly obvious next step, but only time will tell where this can bring the computing world... if theres a company out there with guts to bring something that revolutionary to market. I wonder what Transmeta would say...
  • by blocked ( 10071 )
    Sounds neat. The 'machines' versus 'chemicals' issue sounds a bit like a religious issue---but it sounds as if this is very good, exciting work, and credit is due....
  • ... while modern physics has basically only given us nuclear weapons

    And lasers, x-ray machines, MRI machines, PET scanners, CAT scanners, semi-conductor electronics (i.e. transistors and thus microchips ...), radar, superconductors, electron microscopes, carbon dating and other dating techniques, solar cells, ...

  • > ...this was done
    > with boring old chemicals in test tubes rather than the exotic
    > "nano-machines", proposed by the Drexlerites, shrouded in their
    > mists of vapour.

    Since you feel free to criticize the nanotech community, I'm confident
    that you've at least troubled yourself to read Engines of Creation.
    You will recall that it discussed the unfolding of future technology
    over a timeline of many decades. The reason that there are no
    "vaporware Drexlerite nano-machines" today is simply that the many
    decades have not yet elapsed.

    There will probably be lots of prerequisite technological steps before
    we have a mature nanotechnology. Let's lump them under a few labels:
    "atomic manipulation", "replication" and "programmability".

    Atomic manipulation is an extension of present-day synthetic
    chemistry, and the article about self-assembling plastic molecules is
    a good example. What we really want is a general ability, for a very
    broad range of structures, to build any such structure under
    laboratory conditions. A not-very-interesting example of a broad range
    of structures might be "everything that could possibly be made out of
    single-bonded carbons and hydrogens without violating physical law".

    Replication is the really important piece, because it will make
    nanotech affordable. If there were no potatoes on Earth, you might
    imagine setting about making one in a lab. The first potato would cost
    an enormous amount of money, time, effort, grad students, academic
    careers, or whatever other currency you like. Because potatoes can
    replicate themselves with dirt, air, water, and sunshine, their price
    would quickly fall to vegetable-like prices.

    Designing a replicator from scratch (no DNA, no ribosomes) is a hard
    engineering problem. We are likely to piggy-back on the replicative
    ability of biological systems for a long time to come. (Interesting
    work in this direction is being done by Tom Knight at M.I.T.) Novel
    replicators will require the development of advanced design and
    simulation software that does not yet exist.

    Once you have self-replicating widgets that will do your
    manufacturing, you obviously want to be able to get them to build
    different things at different times, and so you program them. We
    already have many examples of programmable things, and a large number
    of skilled programmers, so this will be (relatively speaking) a

    If you really want to show up those vapourous Drexlerites for the lazy
    slackers they are, design and demonstrate a programmable replicator
    that doesn't use DNA or ribosomes. Your place in history will be
  • by cody ( 11975 )
    All of this makes me think that by the year 2000, we'll all be living on the moon and folding up our space cars in our briefcases.
  • While nanotechnology has some serious potential good uses, there is also a bad side to using it.

    Nanotechnology could be used to create the biggest and badest virus to date. We're talking biological and computer. Think of a nano byte that could process the biological functions of the body and attack crucial organs. Or in the case of a comptuer, multilate a computer from the inside.

    They can also be used for warfare against nanobytes alike, but also in wartime battles.

    And the list goes on...
  • Wow, glad to know im not the only one that cought that episode of X-files.

    Scary huh? Wonder if it could ever really go that far. Also I saw something on the discovery channel about alias existance, they discussed a little about nano-tech, or beings that could reproduce them selvs that were "non-carnbon bassed" i.e. made by humans, or silicon based.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court