Chris Phoenix and Tihamer Toth-Fejel of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology think humanity will have molecular manufacturing only 10 years from now.
Molecular manufacturing is the capability to build products from the molecular level up. Being able to do this would be very beneficial to humankind. CRNano plans to achieve this by building a nanofactory. A nanofactory would be able to replicate itself quite cheaply, leading to many more nanofactories. All of those nanofactories can then replicate other, useful products. Cheaply, and rapidly. Since the products, built by a nanofactory, are 'perfect' at the molecular level, we can expect these products to be on the order of a thousand times more efficient than the products we have today.
One possible application would be CPU's that are orders of magnitude faster than today's CPU's. They would only require 1 or 2 watts to run (as opposed to many hundreds of watts that today's computersystems use), it would be easy to cool, and it would be really, really small.
It's obvious that such nanotechnology would be a boon to The Future Of Computers.
Many other benefits exist. As do dangers.
Taking a look at the article in which Chris Phoenix and Tihamer Toth-Fejel are interviewed, we can see that nanotechnologists are already viewing nanoparticles as LEGO-blocks. It's a sign of the times, really.
"That's the basic building block,” Toth-Fejel said. “We'll take one cube and put some fancy organic molecules on each corner and attach another cube to that. You do it again so you have two layers of silica, and this second-generation cube has certain active sites. Under the right conditions, and if you position them correctly, you can use them as building blocks. It's like LEGOs at the nanoscale.And:
But that approach isn't as efficient as using, in effect, a silkscreen model. So Phoenix and Toth-Fejel have designed a simple pore that grabs a cube in a particular orientation. The receiving AFM tip gets a signal, moves and places the cube exactly where the product has been moved to receive it. "You can control the process to a greater extent. No blocks land accidentally," said Toth-Fejel."
If Phase II funding is received, he envisions the more primitive model will be validated within a year or two. "If we can get that working, we're halfway to the smart silkscreen, and if we get there, we can build an atomically precise water filter. For space missions, that's quite important."
The same technique would also make possible an artificial kidney, he said. Perhaps after some tweaking, fuel and solar cells and more powerful computers and displays, too.
The silkscreen that is mentioned is an important part of a nanofactory. The whole concept is explained in this pdf. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader (freely available) to read that.
There is also a movieclip (rightclick to save, quicktime required) available of the nanofactory as it is envisioned by CRNano. It's more than just a movieclip. A computer simulation (complete with physics and stuff) has also been run of this machine. It indicates that the nanofactory would indeed work like shown in the movie if it existed in the real physical world.
- simulations show molecular manufacturing is possible
- calculations show molecular manufacturing is possible
- the very existence of our own human bodies show that nanotechnology is possible (that's right: we could not exist if it weren't for Mother Nature's handy protein-machines, which indeed exist at the molecular level)
Detractors say it's impossible. Phoenix says he's seen plenty of -- and done his own --calculations that prove it's not.
Toth-Fejel agrees. "I'm hopeful that within five years we'll have some pretty impressive tools, assuming funding. I used to think it would be 15 years, but that's no longer the case now."
And their numbers diminish every year.
It really looks like molecular manufacturing will be here shortly. Prepare for a wild ride.
Here's another interview with Tihamer Toth-Fejel, where he talks some more about molecular manufacturing.