Recent Developments Give New Life to Molecular Nanotechnology

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Four recent announcements have reignited some proponents of molecular nanotechnology, most notably the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), to examine scenarios of what will happen to the world when desktop nanofactories are available in 15 years, which is â''arguably optimisticâ'', according to CRN.

The four recent developments are:

â'¢ The release by US National Research Council last year calling for more funding or experimental research in molecular manufacturing

â'¢ A request for proposals last July by DARPA for developing tip-based nanofabrication

â'¢ The UK Government in October providing grants into developing nanomachines that can build materials molecule by molecule

â'¢ The release last week of the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems , which was previewed last week on this blog

Proposed funding for further research into the potential of molecular nanotechnology is overdue and hopefully will lead to some productive research in this field.

Whether it is necessary to start working out the possible economic and societal scenarios of a technological outcome for which little hard research has been conducted, is a question best left to those who decide to devote their time to such an enterprise.

But the Technology Roadmap is now available and it is a serious document, albeit mostly couched in the subjunctive mood (â''couldâ'' and â''wouldâ'' are used often in this document).

When reading a roadmap, you want to know where you are, where you want to be, and how youâ''re going to get there. The latter in cases such as these takes the form of a research agenda. This Roadmap delivers such a plan, but doesnâ''t provide much in terms of what the likely obstacles will be along the way (in fact, the word â''obstacleâ'' is used only once throughout the entire document). Surely, there is at least one mountain or body of water that must be overcome and traversed.

Nonetheless the Roadmap rightly calls for a coordination of all efforts (knowledge, instrumentation, modeling, techniques, and components) in order to lead to functional engineering systems, and a clear research agenda. However, it does offer some areas that will need to be addressed:

â'¢ Components and Devices

â'¢ Systems and Frameworks

â'¢ Fabrication and Synthesis Methods

â'¢ Modeling, Design, and Characterization

Hopefully, the combination of announced funding and a research agenda will remove much of the speculation and acrimony that seems to have surrounded molecular nanotechnology and just bring it to where it should have been all along: a field of scientific endeavor.

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