Over the last two weeks, we've been reviewing CRN's list of thirty essential studies that must be performed before we can have an adequate understanding of the potential societal impacts of nanotechnology.
Suggested studies 1 and 2 are concerned with the fundamental theory behind molecular nanotechnology manufacturing, studies 3 through 6 with potential capabilities of molecular manufacturing technologies, and studies 7 through 12 are intended to explore the requirements of developing an effective molecular manufacturing technology.
Studies 13 through 16 deal with product performance and suggest metrics for manufacturing and product capability. These studies should be run for each plausible molecular manufacturing technology. Preliminary answers to all subquestions are for diamondoid systems based on the Phoenix nanofactory design.
Let's look at recommended study #14: "How capable will the products be?"
Subquestion A: What materials will the products be built of?
Preliminary answer: 3D carbon lattice; basically, diamond.
Subquestion B: Does the product functionality include: Digital logic? Analog signal processing? Energy storage, transmission, and transformation? Linear and rotational actuators? Structure, at multiple scales? Kinematics, at multiple scales? Displays? Sensors? Biocompatibility?
Preliminary answers: Digital: yes (see Nanosystems). Analog: probably (physical systems—cams, springs, etc). Energy storage: atomically precise springs can store energy at near-chemical density. Energy transmission: mechanical looks quite efficient. Energy transformation: yes, electrical <-> mechanical with very high efficiency and power density. Actuators: yes, both rotational and solenoid-like. Structure: from nanometer feature size (1 nm^3 = ~176 diamond atoms) (and even individual atoms in certain components, e.g. gear teeth) to macroscale (with convergent assembly). Kinematics: yes, including near-frictionless rotational and linear bearings. Displays: yes, mechanical semaphores, maybe semiconductors also. Sensors: yes, lots. Biocompatibility: looks good so far.
Subquestion C: What will be the efficiency of the various product functionalities?
Preliminary answer: Excellent; see Nanosystems. Nanoscale bearings: 10^-16 W. Logic operations: less than kT per (reversible) gate at 1 GHz.
Subquestion D: How much post-processing does the output need?
Preliminary answer: Probably none. Carbon is a very flexible element and the product can include a variety of structure and appearance. See Nanofactory paper, section 7.
Subquestion E: Can the system produce complete products, or only components?
Preliminary answer: Complete products.
Subquestion F: What components of itself can the system produce ('autoproduction')?
Preliminary answer: All components.
Subquestion G: What new capabilities can the products implement? (Machine-phase chemistry? Plasmonic logic?)
Preliminary answer: Machine-phase chemistry: yes. Molecular electronics: Buckytube transistors have been demonstrated. Optics and plasmonics: seems likely. Building biomolecules (medicine, food): not without additional R&D.
Subquestion H: What subset of desirable products can known design methodologies access?
Preliminary answer: The nanofactory is well-suited for levels of abstraction (similar to software design). A single 'nanoblock' can contain hundreds or thousands of parts, enough to implement general-purpose behavior (motor, computer, etc). The combination of these into systems, 'smart materials', and products appears to encompass most conceivable functionality at all scales above 100 nm. Smaller functions such as molecular manipulation would have to be individually designed, though this may be straightforward for many tasks.
Provisional conclusion: The output of the nanofactory would be fully finished and highly advanced products.
Our initial basic findings (preliminary answers and provisional conclusions) for all thirty studies should be verified as rapidly as possible. Because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting these studies is strongly preferred.
We are actively looking for researchers who have an interest in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.