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« Best Nanotech in Fiction | Main | C-R-Newsletter #48 »

December 29, 2006

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jim moore

Just a note about what Richard Jones is up to, this is a project this community could help out with.

EPSRC SANDPIT - SOFTWARE CONTROL OF MATTER AT THE ATOMIC OR MOLECULAR SCALE

What is a Sandpit?
A sandpit is a residential interactive workshop over 5 days involving 20-30 participants, a director and a number of independent stakeholders. An essential element of a sandpit is a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants taking part to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing particular research challenges.

A sand-pit is an intensive discussion forum where free-thinking is encouraged to delve deep into the problems on the agenda in order to uncover innovative solutions. The sand-pit is led by the Director, whose role will be to define the topic and facilitate discussions at the sand-pit. This sand-pit will be led by Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield. Working with the Director and participants will be a team of professional facilitators who will also help steer participants through the process.

The Challenge

Can we design and construct a device or scheme that can arrange atoms or molecules according to an arbitrary, user-defined blueprint?

This is at the heart of the idea of the software control of matter – the creation, perhaps, of a “matter compiler” which will interpret software instructions to output a macroscopic product in which every atom is precisely placed. Progress towards this goal would significantly open up the range of available functional materials, permitting meta-materials with interesting electronic, optoelectronic, optical and magnetic properties.

One route to this goal might be to take inspiration from 3-d rapid prototyping devices, and conceive of some kind of pick-and-place mechanism operating at the atomic or molecular level, perhaps based on scanning probe techniques. On the other hand, the field of DNA nanotechnology gives us examples of complex structures built by self-assembly, in which the program to guide the construction is implicit within the structure of the building blocks themselves. This problem, then, goes beyond surface chemistry and the physics of self-assembly to some fundamental questions in computer science.

All readers are invited to comment on the thoughts they might have through the comment facility on the Ideas Factory blog

jim moore

Just a note about what Richard Jones is up to, this is a project this community could help out with.

EPSRC SANDPIT - SOFTWARE CONTROL OF MATTER AT THE ATOMIC OR MOLECULAR SCALE

What is a Sandpit?
A sandpit is a residential interactive workshop over 5 days involving 20-30 participants, a director and a number of independent stakeholders. An essential element of a sandpit is a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants taking part to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing particular research challenges.

A sand-pit is an intensive discussion forum where free-thinking is encouraged to delve deep into the problems on the agenda in order to uncover innovative solutions. The sand-pit is led by the Director, whose role will be to define the topic and facilitate discussions at the sand-pit. This sand-pit will be led by Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield. Working with the Director and participants will be a team of professional facilitators who will also help steer participants through the process.

The Challenge

Can we design and construct a device or scheme that can arrange atoms or molecules according to an arbitrary, user-defined blueprint?

This is at the heart of the idea of the software control of matter – the creation, perhaps, of a “matter compiler” which will interpret software instructions to output a macroscopic product in which every atom is precisely placed. Progress towards this goal would significantly open up the range of available functional materials, permitting meta-materials with interesting electronic, optoelectronic, optical and magnetic properties.

One route to this goal might be to take inspiration from 3-d rapid prototyping devices, and conceive of some kind of pick-and-place mechanism operating at the atomic or molecular level, perhaps based on scanning probe techniques. On the other hand, the field of DNA nanotechnology gives us examples of complex structures built by self-assembly, in which the program to guide the construction is implicit within the structure of the building blocks themselves. This problem, then, goes beyond surface chemistry and the physics of self-assembly to some fundamental questions in computer science.

All readers are invited to comment on the thoughts they might have through the comment facility on the Ideas Factory blog

Philip Moriarty

Hi, Jim.

Thanks for posting this info. about the Ideas Factory sandpit. I'm sure that the participants in the sandpit would be interested in receiving comments from those who regularly read/ contribute to the CRN blog. For anyone interested in putting forward thoughts, comments and criticisms on the challenge at the core of the Ideas Factory scheme, the blog is at ideasfactory.wordpress.com

My very best wishes for 2007.

Philip

John B

The animation is a bit disingenious, IMO.

For instance, it doesn't show dehydrogination of the diamondoid surface, meaning that there's potentially lots of dangling bonds on the surface - something I'd last seen as breaking an assumption to many of the computer sims of such tech done thus far, that the surfaces would be fully passivated except at the work site.

Either you pull hydrogen off the work surface, with concomitant tooltip repair/recharge, or you don't. This animation doesn't, at least from my understanding of what they're showing.

Has there been a breakthrough in finding ways to handle diamondoid surfaces with dangling bonds? Or am I missing something here?

-John

Chris Phoenix, CRN

The animation doesn't pretend to show every mechanosynthetic step. But the surface may in fact be dehydrogenated/unpassivated; Freitas's simulation work has been on unpassivated surfaces. It remains to be seen which technique will be more convenient. Passivating will take more time but should reduce reconstruction problems.

John B

Chris -

The animation doesn't cover itself with caveats along the lines you suggest. It simply says it happens - or will happen. This IMO is giving free ammo to those that dispute mechanochemistry.

While the sim work on unpassivated surfaces by Freitas is a great start - how do you explain (about 2/3rds through, the section where a '...programmable machine lifts and places small blocks to make larger blocks') a device that physically 'grabs' the unpassivated surfaces that 'bind on contact' according the audio track?

This appears to be done with blocks made from hundreds to thousands of atoms, so scales are still at the atomic bond length order of magnitude.

You can't 'slide' the block down into place the way the animation seems to show (at least, as I understand it.) If you do, you're going to be creating bonds as the top row of atoms making up the blocks previously placed bind with the atoms in the bottom layer of the block being placed, followed by those bonds being broken (heat/vibration and crystalline structure degredation), the second layer of previously placed block atoms then binding with the bottom of the block being placed, etc.

Am I missing something here?

-John

Chris Phoenix, CRN

John, you're thinking carefully and correctly... and too much for what this animation is. Keep going, and you'll notice that the block supply can't work as shown in the final stage--the belt is emptied by a single pair of lifters, but goes past many lifters. Et cetera. The animation is not perfect.

But it can't possibly be perfect. It is not an animation of a factory. It is an animation of an architecture for a factory. For me, the question isn't whether everything can happen exactly as shown. The question is whether the architecture can be incrementally adjusted and refined to a point where it will work.

This adjustment can't be done by the average viewer. To that extent, the picture shown is incorrect. But I see it more as incomplete than as false.

To your points:

In the final assembly stage, the blocks are placed corner-first. In the intermediate stage, they should also be placed corner-first.

A block can have lots of dangling bonds for a strong joint to adjacent blocks, and also have a few passivated areas for pickup by temporary manipulators. Or it might bond strongly to the manipulator, but with just a few bonds, and pull apart cleanly.

Chris

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