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August 09, 2008

Finally Diamond Mechanosynthesis Viability Experiments funded for $3.1 million


Finally experiments have been funded to test the viability of diamond mechanosynthesis as described in detail by Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle. This is a major step towards achieving the long held vision of molecular nanotechnology as envisioned by Eric Drexler.

UPDATE: Based on an interview of Robert Freitas in 2007.

Based on the computational chemistry work, their latest estimates suggest that an ideal research effort paced to make optimum use of available computational, experimental, and human resources would probably run at a $1-5M/yr level for the first 5 years of the program, ramp up to $20-50M/yr for the next 6 years, then finish off at a ~$100M/yr rate culminating in a simple working desktop nanofactory appliance in year 16 of a ~$900M effort.

Robert Freitas believes that early nanofactories necessarily will be extremely primitive. They will be very limited in the composition and complexity of products they can build and in the types of chemical elements and feedstocks they can handle. They will be fairly unreliable and will require significant supervision and maintenance. They will be relatively expensive to own and operate. Over a period of perhaps 10-20 years, nanofactory costs and capabilities will slowly improve and product costs will gradually drift downward toward the likely $1/kg regulatory floor, giving society some time to adjust to new threats as nanofactories become increasingly ubiquitous in our environment and economy.



The experimental proof of the nine molecular tools are the first funded steps on a journey of 27 years. [Unless after the first few years, funding is substantially increased and the effort is more coordinated then competing Manhattan projects could achieve results in half the time.]

Products of More Mature Molecular Nanotechnology
MNT-built diamond products can be at least ten times stronger than steel, 100 times stronger than aluminum or plastic.
-desktop computers with a billion processors
-inexpensive, efficient solar energy systems
-medical devices able to destroy pathogens and repair tissues
-materials 100 times stronger than steel
-superior military systems
-exponential manufacturing [I build one factory, it builds two factories, they build four factories and so on and so on]
-additional molecular manufacturing systems
More from the wikipedia entry
-smart materials and nanosensors
-medical nanorobots and nanomedicine
-Utility fog
-Phased array optics

Professor Philip Moriarty of the Nanoscience Group in the School of Physics at the University of Nottingham (U.K.) has been awarded a five-year £1.53M ($3.1M) grant by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to perform a series of laboratory experiments designed to investigate the possibility of diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS). DMS is a proposed method for building diamond nanostructures, atom by atom, using the techniques of scanning probe microscopy under ultra-high vacuum conditions. Moriarty’s project, titled “Digital Matter? Towards Mechanised Mechanosynthesis,” was funded under the Leadership Fellowship program of EPSRC. Moriarty’s experiments begin in October 2008.

The five year grant is described here

Computer-controlled chemistry at the single molecule level, a field very much in its infancy, represents arguably the most exciting and, to many, definitive example of the power and potential of nanotechnology. Recent ground-breaking work in Germany and the US has shown that it is possible to drive chemical reactions and to synthesise molecules via interactions driven by a scanning probe. In the UK, the nanoscience groups at Nottingham, Birmingham, and Oxford have demonstrated that atomic/molecular manipulation strategies pioneered at low temperatures can be extended to a room temperature environment. The focus of this fellowship application is to develop next-generation protocols for scanning probe manipulation capable of automated atom-by-atom assembly of, ultimately, three dimensional nanostructures. Our goal is to program the assembly of matter from its constituent atoms. This exceptionally challenging objective has the potential to revolutionize key areas of 21st century science including nanofabrication, materials processing, surface chemistry, and the study of low dimensional electron systems.


Moriarty is interested in testing the viability of positionally-controlled atom-by-atom fabrication of diamondoid materials as described in the Robert Freitas-Ralph Merkle minimal toolset theory paper. Moriarty’s efforts will be the first time that specific predictions of DFT in the area of mechanosynthesis will be rigorously tested by experiment. His work also directly addresses the requirement for “proof of principle” mechanosynthesis experiments requested in the 2006 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) review, in the 2007 Battelle/Foresight nanotechnology roadmap, and by EPSRC’s Strategic Advisor for Nanotechnology, Richard Jones (Physics, Sheffield University, U.K.).

“We congratulate Philip for his tremendous success in securing funding for this pathbreaking effort,” said Freitas. “We look forward to working together closely with his experimental team as this exciting project goes forward over the next five years.”

FURTHER READING

Philip Moriarty

Nanoscience group

School of Physics at the University of Nottingham

U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Leadership Fellowship program

Robert Freitas' site

Institute for Molecular Manufacturing

Mechanosynthesis debate

Ralph Merkle's site

The nanofactory vision is described here

Nanofactory publications

Dimer tool paper 2003

Theoretical Analysis of Diamond Mechanosynthesis. Part I. Stability of
C2 Mediated Growth of Nanocrystalline Diamond C(110) Surface 2004


Theoretical Analysis of Diamond Mechanosynthesis. Part III. Positional C2 Deposition on Diamond C(110) Surface Using Si/Ge/Sn-Based Dimer Placement Tools

High-level Ab Initio Studies of Hydrogen Abstraction from
Prototype Hydrocarbon Systems


Horizontal Ge-Substituted Polymantane-Based C2 Dimer Placement TooltipMotifs for Diamond Mechanosynthesis

Ab Initio Thermochemistry of the Hydrogenation of Hydrocarbon Radicals Using Silicon-,
Germanium-, Tin-, and Lead-Substituted Methane and Isobutane


Atomically precise manufacturing roadmap

3 comments:

kurt said...

I'm glad this is being funded. Even though I do not think DMS is possible, I could be wrong. It is nice that someone has stepped up to the plate with finance to finally answer this question.

Tom Craver said...

I like the fact that the grant proposal is written broadly enough that - should these particular reactions not pan out - it would still seem likely to create a foundation for mechanosynthesis as an valuable research tool.

But I would hope that any partial negative results are not considered a stake in the heart for diamond mechanosynthesis, rather than substantial progress.

I can't help being reminded of what happened in the area of neural networks, when perceptron logic was proven incapable of general purpose computing.

That was ultimately found to be irrelevant to the engineering question of whether artificial neuron-like processing could be made practical - but it discouraged research in that area, and delayed the field by years.

Brett said...

$1/kg "regulatory floor"? That needs some explanation: Am I reading this right, that they figure the products of this technology would be subject to a tax approaching $1/kg, in order to finance a comprehensive regulatory regime?

I recall some of the stuff I used to read at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, really Orwellian proposals for top down comprehensive control of nanofactories, that would make MicroSoft look hands off. Is this what we're talking about?