We received a press release today from the University of Pittsburgh. Very cool stuff:
Molecules promising as nanoscale parts for atomically precise machines
Christian Schafmeister, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. . .was awarded the 2005 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for experimental work [that] will enable, for the first time, the quick manufacture of sturdy, predictable nanostructures.
Schafmeister has designed 14 small molecules, each of which is about half a nanometer across and includes two removable molecular caps. Controlled chemical reactions strategically strip away the caps, causing the molecules to link together in predictable ways with pairs of stiff bonds -- similar to Lego blocks. He has snapped together 3.6-nanometer rods and 1.8-nanometer crescents, and has developed software that can aid in the construction of a wide variety of shapes.
With this method of nanofabrication, which he calls "a completely new field," Schafmeister is using his blocks to craft hinged molecular traps that attract specific molecules, snap shut, and light up, serving as perfect chemical sensors -- just one of an almost infinite number of possible uses. Molecules with customized cavities could serve as catalysts or biomedical agents. Because the molecules are large enough to have interesting functions and rigid, designed shapes, they hold great promise as nanoscale parts for future atomically precise nanoscale machines.
"We're developing a new programming language for matter," said Schafmeister, "and we're writing, 'Hello, world.'"
Within the last two weeks, we've had three reports about enabling technologies that may lead to molecular manufacturing. Two of them are "bottom up" approaches -- this one, and the "nanocar" at Rice University -- and the other is "top down." And note that two are from the same place: the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of NanoScience and Engineering. Keep your eye on those folks.