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Sun Microsystems Technology

Real Nanotechnology Getting Closer, Says Drexler 134

destinyland writes "Sun Microsystems has helped fund a 198-page nanotechnology roadmap — but how close are we to real nanotechnology? A science writer asked four nano pioneers, including K. Eric Dexler ('progress is accelerating') and Ralph Merkle ('the exponential trends continue to be exponential') Though we don't have Star Trek replicators yet, the article lists some surprising recent nano developments (artificial tissue, nanoparticle sheets, ultrathin diamond nanorods). And the roadmap's scientists are envisioning targeted cancer therapies, super-efficient solar cells, high-density computer memory chips and even responsive 'smart' materials."
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Real Nanotechnology Getting Closer, Says Drexler

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Wouldn't most of the microchips be considered nanotechnology?
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @11:49AM (#28336047) Journal
      Nanotechnology is like cybernetics: Any application that no longer feels exotic no longer falls under the common use of the term. This is why people with cardiac pacemakers or cochlear implants are generally not considered to be cyborgs, and microchips are not considered to be nanotech.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Nope, microtechnology, hence the micro. ;)

      Spell check says it isn't a word, but what do spell checkers know? Bah!

      • Um, Intel's down to 0.18 microns. That's 180 nanometers, which is definitely nanoscale. Better yet, this [] NAND flash is 34 nanometers.
    • My first thought was that we already had nanotechnology. Microchips would count. Hell, we already manipulate bacteria to make things like insulin, clotting factors, and other stuff for us.

      • There's a guy around here somewhere with a sig that says "the grey goo scenario already happened; the earth is covered in self-replicating nanobots". He's right, too.

        Thinking about it pragmatically, we can build machines that far out-scale animals, but going in the other direction you can't just build things bigger with stronger materials. I can see man-made nanobots being more effective than living cells, but not by more than a couple of orders of magnitude.
    • Surely the technology inside of this baby [] qualifies as Nano(TM) technology.

    • I think you answered that for your self they are called "Micro"chips for a reason
      • by aniefer ( 910494 )
        Microchips may have been at the micro scale when they were first invented, but they've certainly moved down into the nano-scale in the years since then.
        • by jebrew ( 1101907 )
          AMD is fabbing on the 45 nano meter process...or the 4.5 micrometer process if you will. Super small, but not nano yet. I think there are fabs getting down to the 25nm process, but that's still only micro.
    • we already have nanotechnology - it is called molecular biology
  • I'm looking forward to JavaNE. :)

  • In short, 5 to 10 years.

    • Re:5 to 10 years. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tsa ( 15680 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @11:43AM (#28335957) Homepage

      Just around the corner! No, really!

      And while I'm at it: many things that are now called 'nanotechnology' were formerly called chemistry or submicrometer fabrication. 'Nano' has become way overhyped and a way to get more money for research proposals.

      • Re:5 to 10 years. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:01PM (#28336237)

        Just around the corner! No, really!

        I think the problem with nanotechnology is that people make the assumption that it has to be a miniature self aware all purpose robot.

        Where really we already have nanotechnology being used in the real world today.

        I think we should call it "nanorobotics" instead of nanotechnology to make it more clear to people.

        That said, they do have nanobots out there in the research phase which are very promising for chemical delivery for tumors at this point so we are going to see something in 5 to 10 years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by krou ( 1027572 )
      That's pretty optimistic. If you RTFA, they're estimating 20-30 years.
  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @11:42AM (#28335947)

    "Mites, like viruses, can infect or inoculate people."

    At birth you will be infected with government approved nanomites to help regulate your body. I'm betting there will be a built in kill switch in case you become disruptive to the common good.

    • I know a guy in Hong Kong who can deactivate nanotech kill switches.

      • by agrif ( 960591 )
        I think Dr. X is at the house of the venerable and inscrutable colonel right now though.
    • At birth you will be infected with government approved nanomites to help regulate your body. I'm betting there will be a built in kill switch in case you become disruptive to the common good.

      Until someone stages a coup by hacking the "kill switch" of the entire executive and legislative branches.

  • Ah.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by sentientbeing ( 688713 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @11:43AM (#28335953)
    Ahh... Nanotechnology.

    The next big thing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Nanotechnology is the artificial intelligence of today. Back in the 1970s, we were all promised that real artificial intelligence would someday exist and we'd all have all-in-one robot maids running around doing our dishes and vacuuming our floors and answering the phone, the door, etc. Lots of things, like natural language processing get called AI, but real AI? A real, self-aware robot with a mind? Forget it. A computer is a billion switches. Even if we turned it into a googolplex switches, it's sti

      • Re:Ah.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by somersault ( 912633 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:33PM (#28336671) Homepage Journal

        A computer is a billion switches. Even if we turned it into a googolplex switches, it's still nothing more than a googolplex switches.

        Our brains are nothing but billions upon billions of neurons, synapses, etc. forming complex interconnections.. yes, any first generation intelligent AI would have to be created by humans, but if we exactly modelled a human brain in software and trained it like any other child (it would probably need the aid of a prosthetic or virtual body to be able to learn), what would really make the resulting AI different from ourselves if it reacted as we do? I know it's a big if, and that there probably isn't much point in creating an AI that has human flaws - but there is nothing in life to indicate that we are anything other than purely physical constructs. Otherwise, why bother with having bodies in the first place - unless perhaps our bodies are as to the soul as cars and aeroplanes are to humans?

        • Our brains are nothing but billions upon billions of neurons, synapses, etc. forming complex interconnections..

          No, they aren't. []\

          This may be true if we were robots but we are not, well some of us arenâ(TM)t anyway. Seriously though, the notion that our brain is like a computer is far from the truth. Yes the early computer models were based on what was known about the brain at the time but even if you combined the power of all the computers in the world they would never match the capacity of just one human brain.

          • No, they aren't. \

            NONE of that contradicts what he said.

          • I'm quite aware that current computer architectures share basically nothing in common with our brain architecture. I studied Psychology for 2 years at University level (which obviously covered topics including intelligence, learning and neurobiology), and I took AI courses as part of my 3rd and 4th years of Computer Science.

            I'm just pointing out that in fact our brains are physical constructs, just as computers are.

            We have a long way to go before making truly intelligent (in a general sense) and/or sentient

      • A computer is a billion switches.

        And a brain is a hundred billion somewhat more complex (but the basic mechanism is fairly well-understood) switches. What's your point?

  • weren't the replicators from stargate and not from star trek? don't mind me if I'm wrong, I've just memorized every single stargate episode...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Emb3rz ( 1210286 )
      Star Trek had replicators too, but they were stationary units that 'replicated' various physical objects/materials that a crew member might need. They were commonly seen in the dining areas where one could order whatever form of food or drink the computer had stored the recipes for. It would convert pure energy into matter of the right specification. After a person was done with their utensils and/or dishes they would put them in a special spot to be reclaimed into energy later.
      • iirc the replicators in Star Trek were based on teleporters. they would take the waste organic materials that have been stored in the ship and recycle them into anything that there was the pattern in the system for. Basically taking the disorganized waste matter and reorganizing it into food and other stuff that would eventually become waste and then reorganized

        Replicators []

    • I can't speak to stargate, but I do know that replicators are in star trek. They first showed up in The Next Generation, which began in 1987.

      In the show, they were usually used to make food, but could also be used to make anything anyone could dream up (they had some excuse re: why they couldn't just replicate starships, I forget what it was). They could also disassembled the dishes and scraps when someone was done, too.

      I believe they were supposed to work by using transporter-like technology to assemble, a

    • I believe that in Stargate it would be Replicators, an alien race (hence the capitalization just like Vulcans not vulcans). Star Trek had replicators that produced all kinds of things on command (most frequently food stuff). However, Star Trek replicators were based on transporter technology so they were not in any way related to nanotech.
    • by Grr ( 15821 )
      The replicators from star trek are machines that produce items from raw matter. Much like the matter compilers from Neal Stephenson's diamond age they would probably operate using nanotechnology.
      The replicators from stargate seem to be self replicating robots. Not sure what they have to do with nanotechnology. You probably know better than me since I never managed to watch a whole episode.
      • Replicators in Stargate were little spider robots that were like a combination of Lego and the T-1000 that consumed metal and turned it into more Blocks that formed more spider robots and so on.
        They then 'evolved' into humanoids that were just the T-1000 (impervious to bullets, remorphed themselves if deformed etc)

        • by joaommp ( 685612 )

          actually, no. Those "spider robots" were actually based on nano technology. And the humanoid replicators built by them were based on smaller nano units. And in stargate atlantis, you can see another replicator race also based in nanotechnology. They don't have any "spider robots" as you called them, but were fully nanite based.

          • Replicators []

            "the most commonly encountered shape is a small "bug" with four limbs and "wings" on its back. The bug can upgrade itself into a larger "queen" to facilitate replication."

            They were very similar to spiders. so yes, they were originally spider robots.

  • by Bender_ ( 179208 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @11:47AM (#28335999) Journal

    This [] is a cross section of the pmos transistors in one of Intels 45nm high-k metal gate CPUs. As you can see there are many layers with a horizontal and lateral extend far below 10 nm. In fact the thinnest layers are in the order of 1-2nm - The gate stack itself consists of a multilayer stack of SiO2/HfO2/TiN, where each of the layers is only 1-3 nm thick.

    How is this not nanotechnology?

    Most of the known bottom up approaches that are hyped and studied at universities, such as nanoparticles and nanowires, lead to significantly larger structures.

    Top down beat bottom up years ago. Sorry guys, it's a nice phd topic but the industry is already there.

    • Also we use bacteria and viruses to do our bidding. "Nanotech" is just another buzz word to get people hyped up.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:21PM (#28336531) Journal
      On the other hand, the goo growing in your bathroom sink, notably without the benefit of a 10+billion dollar fab and cleanroom conditions, is pumping out structures that small more or less continually. Top down is, indeed, beating bottom up in the limited realm of what we know how to do; but bottom up has been kicking ass everywhere else since not so long after the planet cooled a bit.

      Bottom-up assembly is certainly a long-term basic research type project(unless you count the sort of temperature and composition control tricks that metallurgists have been using to produce desired crystal structures for centuries, among other things); but it is ultimately a very desirable skill to pick up. As long as we have to fab them top down, nanotech materials are going to be confined to niche applications(Sure, semiconductors are common; but compared to concrete and steel?)
    • by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:35PM (#28336697)

      True, we are already building electronic components at nanometer scales. But when people talk about nanotechnology, they are usually thinking of mechanical devices built from nanometer scale components, or larger structures which exhibit new properties based on manufactured, nanometer scale features.

      The industry for these applications has hardly even begun.

    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:41PM (#28336771)
      The achievements of the lithography industry are absolutely stunning. And if you want to call them a branch of nanotechnology, that's fine too.

      But they have not achieved the holy grail of nanotechnology, and the tricks of lithography never will. The holy grail is atomic-level precision; not just in restricted circumstances (e.g. single atomic layers under some constraints), but in the general case. As in, you draw in some CAD program an arbitrary (within physical law) device wherein each atom is specified... and then you get it built. Lithography cannot do this. Synthetic chemistry can do this for a subset of chemical compounds, but can't tackle the general case and certainly can't currently make arbitrary nano-devices with atomic-level precision. You're right that bottom-up approaches like self-assembly [] also can't currently do this (they are more of a way to assembly precise sub-units into larger assemblies).

      This final "true" nanotechnology (Drexler now calls it "molecular nanotechnology []" to differentiate it) won't be easy, and may very well require a delicate combination of everything we've learned from of top-down techniques (e.g. lithography) and bottom-up techniques (e.g. synthetic chemistry, self-assembly). Or maybe it require radically new thinking. The point is we don't yet know, so to say that "top down beat bottom up years ago" really misses the point: molecular nanotechnology has not yet been acheived.

      In the meantime, our current tricks all have their uses (lithography is great for, e.g. making microchips... whereas self-assembly is great for making, e.g. coatings for pharmaceuticals and fuel-cell membranes).
      • by Bender_ ( 179208 )

        Generally agreed. But I'd like to point out the semiconductor manufacturing uses several "nanotechnology" methods besides lithography. For example the high-k deposition employs an atomic layer deposition process (ALD), that allows precise control of film thicknesses down to tenths of a monolayer. This is achieved by surface limited reactions, very similar to many techniques within the realm of "self-assembly" or bottom-up.

        Having an "assembler" on the atomic level would of course be a long time goal. However

      • by renoX ( 11677 )

        >molecular nanotechnology has not yet been acheived

        I disagree with this point: the ("hand"-made) IBM logo with atoms see [] is one of the first 'nanotechnology' object.

        Of course it's a very crude one (only a few dozens of atoms whereas ordinary object are composed of a humongous number of atoms, remember Avogadro's constant: 6*10^23 atoms for *twelve grams* of C12) but it was still done with atomic-level precision, it's also a reminder of the *huge*

    • by hajus ( 990255 )

      This is not nanotechnology because nanotech is based on the concept of replacable parts. Every carbon atom is replacable by any other carbon atom. Every lithium atom, with all it's electrochemical properties is replacable by any other lithium atom. Atoms are treated as parts of an assembly. When you make machines that are just small or in the nanometer range without using atoms are replacable parts, you're not using nanotechnology.

    • by Suicyco ( 88284 )

      Huh, yeah, top down is the king. Err, wait, aren't grey whales some of the largest nanomachines on the planet? From a single fertilized egg? Converting other creatures into itself?

      Nah, must be impossible. There's no way ribosomes are nearly as complex as a transistor, or nearly as useful. Its all about chopping large hunks of matter into tiny bits.

      "Real" nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate matter at that scale. How is the matter in a CPU manipulated to build the CPU? It isn't. Its chopped away from

  • that, unlike all other fields of technological innovation, when one speaks of vaporware, one might actually be talking about some sort of useful hardware that literally is a vapor

    so nanotechnology has at least that going for it

    • So what do we call it when a nanotech company announces that are going to release some amazing new vaporware soon, but they have no proof and no demo yet? Vacuumware? Dukenukemware?

  • I can't wait for that fantastic grey goo I'm always hearing about!

    Bring it on, Mr. Ellison!

  • Star Trek has the "cool" sci-fi thing, whereas a lot of people rip Star Gate, but I think the nano-tech future given by the likes of the Replicators are where this nano stuff is headed.

    The single greatest shortcoming in human science is its failure to understand outcomes of complex, dynamic systems, and here we are going to make exactly that.

    Doesn't get any dumber than that!

    • Why do people who like Sci-fi not watch any of the classics any more?
      I enjoyed Stargate and I enjoyed Star trek.

      Why do people who've never seen Star Trek assume that the summary is wrong? Are we REALLY that disillusioned by the editors or is this just classic /. troll behaviour?

      • I find it difficult to believe there would be people posting here, of all sites, who have never seen Star Trek. Go back to 4chan where you belong.
      • Why do people who've never seen Star Trek assume that the summary is wrong? Are we REALLY that disillusioned by the editors or is this just classic /. troll behaviour?

        You need to check your pattern buffers!

        Replicators in Star Trek had absolutely nothing to do with nano technology. Replicated things did not self assemble from molecular machines as much as they were broadcast into existence via a huge energy to matter transmitter.

        My real point though, was that everyone is building stuff for the future because

  • All this... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:05PM (#28336297) Homepage Journal

    All this and they still can't make a coffee pot that can brew an entire 12 cup pot in under 60 seconds without burning the coffee.

    Seriously can we get some important technology invented to make our lives easier.

    For instance can I get a roomba retrofitted to water my lawn for me? For under $200 bucks?

    How about some color changing siding that doesn't bust every time a golf-ball sized piece of hail hits it for less then cement siding.

    Self cleaning ceiling fan blades would be nice too...

    Self milking cows?

    A dog poop scooper that gets under the poop without ripping up the grass...

    Yeah! super hard mini-rods. That will make my toast toast faster....


    Where is my poorly done art-deco nuclear powered car that conspicuously blows up after being abandoned for over 200 years and subsequently shot. Oddly this car will also smoke and burst into flames before blowing up... What the hell is burning in it? After 200 years there isn't going to be any upolhstry left....

    Where was I? Who the hell are you people and how did you get on my series of tubes!?!?

    Deborah where are my pills?!

    • I'm not sure who or what you are parodying, but I like it.

      • The car is a reference to Fallout 3. When you shoot the 200+ year old nuclear powered car it starts on fire (it's all metal, what exactly is burning?!) then explodes into a mini-nuke.

        • by chaim79 ( 898507 )

          Well, from a theoretical standpoint it could be the metal itself burning (oxidized metal heated by a run-away nuclear reaction? Think thermite)

          • I could see magnesium but I would expect more of a sparkler like effect rather then wafting flames.

    • Self milking cows?

      I know you are being humorous, but they featured a self milking cow turnstyle on "Dirty Jobs". Cows would walk on this slowly turning merry go round and a robot would attach milking devices to them and they would ride around to the other side of the room where it would let them off when they are finished.

      Apparently the cows liked it and pretty much knew what to do to get on and off the platform.

      Mike still had to clean the poo which no one had built a robot to clean up.

  • What's next after nano materials? [] Radical shifts in government and society. Comments welcome.
  • Feynman's "Plenty of Room at the Bottom []" drew specific distinctions between chemistry and nanotechnology. The embarrassing lack of advancement in nanotechnology has been filled in by redefining it to include chemistry.
  • If you define nanotech as technology of scale closer to a nanometer than a micrometer, ie less than 30 nm, then we are one chip fabrication generation away from it at the moment.

    As was pointed out above, the thickness of some semiconductor layers already is down in the couple of nm range, the 30nm I refer to is the length and width of features.

    • Semiconductor processes are still top-down. They still rely on etching, generate lots of waste, and not all atoms are accounted for. When they're built in precise arrangements using molecular building blocks from the bottom up, that will be proper 'Drexlerian' nanotech.
  • Whatever things people may like to call "nanotechnology," there is really only one important distinction. Can we assemble atoms in any desired configuration? That is what is commonly termed molecular nanotechnology, and it is what most people originally meant.

    Once this and fusion are out of the way, life will start to get very interesting; the foundation of our economic systems will become irrelevant as scarcity will cease to be a useful concept.

  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @02:17PM (#28338047)

    The goals they're putting out for nanotechnology are generally real and reasonable (more efficient energy conversion, more targeted drug delivery, better chemical sensors, integration of biological and electronic systems). What is unreasonable is that they're essentially getting credit in the media (and in form of investments) for work which they have not done.

    None of these guys has worked in a nanotechnology lab. None of these guys has tried to build something starting from atoms. I'm doing both. I work at an Ivy League University in a leading lab for some of the technologies prominently mentioned in that article, but I barely have funding just for this summer. The guy who invented the DNA origami work they're so excited about was recently fired by his University (did not get tenure). A little more support, both in the media and by the companies funding the Forsight Institute, would be really, really welcomed by those of us actually doing the work.

    The MIT Media lab is great, but they're not known in the field for being experts on nanotechnology. Not mentioned is the world's best collection of nanotechnology researchers, which happens to also be at MIT, in the physics and engineering departments. If you're at MIT and you want to have a future in nanotechnology, forget the Media Lab, and find one of the professors working with Gene and Mildred Dresselhaus.

    • by InfoVore ( 98438 )

      "None of these guys has worked in a nanotechnology lab. None of these guys has tried to build something starting from atoms. "

      I call shenanigans. Every one of these guys has substantial nanotech street cred going back 20 years or more. Every single one of them has "worked in a nanotech lab". Most of them FOUNDED the discipline of Molecular Nanotechnology.

      Drexler did the first substantial theoretical work on precision mechanosynthesis of molecules, the limits and restrictions on carbon-carbon mechanosythesis

      • Sorry, you're wrong. Drexler didn't come up with "nanotechnology." Smalley's Nobel prize winning nanotechnology work was done 6 years before Drexler got his PhD and published his famous book, and neither of them came up with the original definition of nanotechnology (which was not molecular machining). There are plenty of people who got PhDs in "nanotechnology" before Drexler did, but they were all content for the piece of paper to say physics, chemistry or engineering. I don't think they're bad guys, a

        • by InfoVore ( 98438 )

          Again, shenanigans. I never claimed Drexler came up with Nanotechnology. I said he did the first substantial work on machine-phase nanotechnology... something Smalley spent well over a decade trying to discredit. I remember the arguments and counter arguments back in the early 90s. Of course lots of scientists have been working at the nano-level before and since. My point was that for that specific type of proposed nanotechnology (mechanosynthesis, assemblers, dissassemblers, etc) that these guys did the fi

  • Forget nano, my 4 year old processor was created using a 9000 femtometer process!
  • Is it really necessary to prefix "diamond nanorods" with "ultrathin"? Is this to differentiate them from superfat diamond nanorods?
  • An Australian company named Starpharma seems to be well out in front. go here to read what they have in the market and whats about to be released [] I always tell my friends imaging life before plastic then imaging the same changes will occur when nano products are readily available in the market Starpharma already has products in the market and one interesting anti viral gel for herpes, AIDS, HPV, just about to be released Disclaimer: i own shares in the company - SPL

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.