Why is Russia Hot on Molecular Nanotech and the US Not?

Proponents of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) often point to the backroom politics back at the turn of the century that relegated ideas of nanobots and tabletop factories to the margins of nanotechnology’s development in the United States. Instead what we saw was the rise of material science on the nanoscale become the darling of research funding. Or so the story goes.

But not to worry, the US is not the only country on the planet. The father of MNT (or, if you prefer, advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology), Eric Drexler, recently discovered this when he attended Rusnanotech 2011 and received an extremely warm reception to the ideas of MNT.

I say, well done. It’s about time. Just because the US government decided that it would make more sense to fund an evolution of technology that could show benefits in a few short years rather than a few short decades, doesn’t mean that funding for that line of research doesn’t exist.

I have often said that if the MNT community wanted to get funding, then they should propose physical experiments and go out and secure the funding as Philip Moriarty did. With successful physical experimentation--as opposed to merely successful computer modeling--this would open the way to new experiments and new funding.

Perhaps an inch-by-inch method was not what the MNT community wanted to hear when the distances that needed to be covered were so great, but it certainly seems better than sitting down and complaining about one's predicament.

But as you look at this story of Russia’s interest in MNT the question inevitably arises: Why would Russia be so keen on MNT and the US so uninterested?

Backroom deals notwithstanding, the forms of government in the US and Russia are quite different.

I recently heard it argued that if “no taxation without representation” is true, then so is its inverse: no representation without taxation.

In countries where the leadership is funded by the exploitation of the local natural resources (like fossil fuels), it is unnecessary for that leadership to levy taxes on its citizens for its revenues and therefore doesn’t need to engage in the messy business of giving them any representation. The leadership can just do whatever they want without fear of retribution at the ballot box.

Russia does have some form of elections but it doesn’t appear to be so sensitive to the electorate that the idea of spending $10 billion of the electorate’s tax money and having little to show for it except some far-off promises would make much of a difference to their political careers.

I would suggest to MNT proponents that they should go around to the countries of the world that have a glut of cash and managed to get that money without tax revenues and propose research projects that have gone unfunded to date. Time to start drawing up those physical experiments.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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