Introduction | Background | Basics
Nano-Computing | Utility Fog | Nano-Medicine
The Downside | Comments | Sources


Background

In December, 1959, a physicist named Richard P. Feynman gave a talk at Caltech about the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale, called "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom". He was not talking about miniaturization or about writing the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin, but of writing the whole Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin! He followed with a detailed description of how this might be done, and was the first to suggest that atoms might be manipulated to build perfect small circuits of 7 atoms or so that would replicate themselves. His talk started the ball rolling on the concept of creating molecular devices that could compute, replicate, and manufacture. Feynman died in 1988, and there is a Feynman Nanotechology Grand Prize of $250,000 issued each year to the most deserving candidate.

Bucky-Gears

In 1986, K. Eric Drexler published the "Engines of Creation", an enormously original book about the consequences of new technologies. The book begins with the insight that what we can do depends on what we can build. This leads to a careful analysis of possible ways to stack atoms. Then Drexler asks, "What could we build with those atom-stacking mechanisms?" For one thing, we could manufacture assembly machines much smaller even than living cells, and make materials stronger and lighter than any available today. Hence, better spacecraft. Hence, tiny devices that can travel along capillaries to enter and repair living cells. Hence, the ability to heal disease, reverse the ravages of age, or make our bodies speedier or stronger than before. And we could make machines down to the size of viruses, machines that would work at speeds which none of us can yet appreciate. And then, once we learned how to do it, we would have the option of assembling these myriads of tiny parts into intelligent machines, perhaps based on the use of trillions of nanoscopic parallel-processing devices which make descriptions, compare them to recorded patterns, and then exploit the memories of all their previous experiments. Thus those new technologies could change not merely the materials and means we use to shape our physical environment, but also the activities we would then be able to pursue inside whichever kind of world we make.

Drexler gained quite a following from his book, and nanotechnology was "legitimized". It was an uphill battle, however. He was the first to receive a PHD in Nanotechnology from MIT in 1991 and taught the first course on the subject at Stanford University. He has continually published numerous works on the contemporary concept of "bottom-up" molecular manufacturing and gives many lectures. Drexler and his colleagues undoubtedly will be looked upon in the future as heroes of the definitive technology of the 21st century.

History will read - Newton, Einstein, Drexler.


Introduction | Background | Basics
Nano-Computing | Utility Fog | Nano-Medicine
The Downside | Comments | Sources
Valerie Brownrigg
Telecommunications Class
Santa Rosa Junior College
Section 5294
Spring 2000

valerie@wildirisdesign.com