[Paleopsych] Nanotech: a next big thing
shovland at mindspring.com
Sun Feb 27 16:54:31 UTC 2005
Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products
depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal
we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other
trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in
dirt, water and air we can make potatoes.
Todays manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level.
Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great
thundering statistical herds. It's like trying to make things out of LEGO
blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks
into great heaps and pile them up, but you can't really snap them together
the way you'd like.
In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We'll
be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily,
inexpensively and in most of the ways permitted by the laws of physics.
This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer
hardware beyond about the next decade, and will also let us fabricate an
entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and
It's worth pointing out that the word "nanotechnology" has become very
popular and is used to describe many types of research where the
characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers. For
example, continued improvements in lithography have resulted in line widths
that are less than one micron: this work is often called "nanotechnology."
Sub-micron lithography is clearly very valuable (ask anyone who uses a
computer!) but it is equally clear that conventional lithography will not
let us build semiconductor devices in which individual dopant atoms are
located at specific lattice sites. Many of the exponentially improving
trends in computer hardware capability have remained steady for the last 50
years. There is fairly widespread belief that these trends are likely to
continue for at least another several years, but then conventional
lithography starts to reach its limits.
If we are to continue these trends we will have to develop a new
manufacturing technology which will let us inexpensively build computer
systems with mole quantities of logic elements that are molecular in both
size and precision and are interconnected in complex and highly
idiosyncratic patterns. Nanotechnology will let us do this.
When it's unclear from the context whether we're using the specific
definition of "nanotechnology" (given here) or the broader and more
inclusive definition (often used in the literature), we'll use the terms
"molecular nanotechnology" or "molecular manufacturing."
Whatever we call it, it should let us
Get essentially every atom in the right place.
Make almost any structure consistent with the laws of physics that we can
specify in molecular detail.
Have manufacturing costs not greatly exceeding the cost of the required raw
materials and energy.
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