...and the nano world will beat a tiny path to your door...
One of the gating factors for development of molecular manufacturing is the fine instrumentation needed to "see" and understand the state of materials at the atomic level. (The most significant gating factor, by the way, is conceptual, not financial or technical. Once it has been decided to commit the necessary time, money, and brains, no other insurmountable obstacles are known.)
A big — well, actually, angstrom-size — step forward in precise instrumentation has just been announced. FEI Company says they have a microscope that resolves at the sub-angstrom scale for the first time. They are currently working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to continue improving the instrument's abilities.
The project's goal is to make direct observations and analysis of individual atoms at 0.5-angstrom resolution — a key dimension for atomic level research since it is one-third the diameter of a carbon atom. . .
"Currently, high-resolution microscopy is performed at resolutions between 1 and 2 angstroms, but at resolutions below 1 angstrom materials exhibit different properties and behaviors which researchers and scientists need to observe in order to correctly characterize materials," said an FEI spokesperson.
A new microscope of such high quality could be quite useful in accomplishing the tiny manipulations necessary to create the first fabricator. It will be interesting to see how this fits into the "Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems" being created by Battelle and the Foresight Nanotech Institute.