The key development for the 21st century is advanced, atomically precise manufacturing (APM).
This report examines the potential for nanotechnology to enable deeply transformative production technologies that can be developed through a series of advances that build on current nanotechnology research. The report has five sections:
1. Nanotechnology and global challenge
The first section discusses the basics of advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology and explains how current and future solutions can help address global challenges. Key concepts are presented and different kinds of nanotechnology are discussed and compared.
2. The birth of Nanotechnology
The second section discusses the development of nanotechnology, from the first vision fifty years ago, expanding via a scientific approach to atomically precise manufacturing thirty years ago, initial demonstrations of principle twenty years ago, to the last decade of of accelerating success in developing key enabling technologies. The important role
of emerging countries is discussed, with China as a leading example, together with an overview of the contrast between the promise and the results to date.
3. Delivery of transformative nanotechnologies
Here the different aspects of APM that are needed to enable breakthrough advances in productive technologies are discussed. The necessary technology base can be developed through a series of coordinated advances along strategically chosen lines of research.
4. Accelerating progress toward advanced nanotechnologies
This section discusses research initiatives that can enable and support advanced nanotechnology, on paths leading to APM, including integrated cross-disciplinary research and Identification of high-value applications and their requirements.
5. Possible next steps
The final section provides a short summary of the opportunities and the possibilities to address institutional challenges of planning, resource allocation, evaluation, transparency, and collaboration as nanotechnology moves into its next phase of development: nanosystems engineering.
At the nanoscale:
– Scaling laws increase machine operating frequencies by ~10^6
– High operating frequencies increase throughput per mass by ~10^6
– Moving parts rely on uniquely molecular phenomena for lubrication.
– Fixed parts are joined together by molecular interactions.
– Reactive molecules are brought together to direct molecular transformations.
– Thermal fluctuations and other nanoscale phenomena impose design constraints.
– From the nanoscale, assembly of components to make larger components spans tens of stages and a factor of ~10^9 in linear dimensions.
The status of the key technologies
The technologies of biomolecular and chemical synthesis are now capable of fabricating a substantial range of complex, atomically precise structures. The most important of these are compact, polymeric structures (foldamers) and larger molecular scaffolds.
• Synthetic foldamers are now approaching the complexity of protein molecules, and can contain monomeric components with a wider range of functional properties.
• Protein engineering has recently reached the milestone of engineering new catalytic structures modeled on natural enzymes.
• Engineering molecular components that self-assemble to form new, complex crystalline materials has become routine.
• Structural DNA nanotechnology now enables the design and assembly of molecular scaffolds on a scale of millions of atoms and hundreds of nanometers.
• A rapidly developing design toolkit for self-assembly of diverse molecules and materials enables the construction of increasingly complex molecular systems.
Current research opportunities
These and related developments now make a range of experimental advances accessible.
Some short-term goals and potential applications of the resulting technologies include the following:
• Demonstrate robust artificial foldamers that bind and stabilize complementary proteins.
– Enables development of enzymatic catalysts for use in relatively harsh industrial process conditions.
• Demonstrate enzyme-like foldamers that bind and determine the activity of synthetic transition metal catalysts.
– Enables development of highly stable and selective catalysts for the fine chemicals industry.
• Demonstrate self-assembled scaffolding structures that bind diverse components.
– Enables the organization of nanoscale electronic. optoelectronic, and plasmonic components to form nanoscale sensors and electronic circuits.
• Demonstrate self-assembled scaffolds that promote and direct the growth of inorganic nanocrystals.
– Enables production of atomically precise nanostructures with diverse materials and shapes for diverse applications in nanomaterials and nanosystems.
Research opportunities today can open the door to the development of a next-generation technology platform that will, in turn, bring a new range of objectives into reach.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.