Today and tomorrow, we're reporting on presentations at an important conference on Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap. Chris Phoenix is providing live blog coverage for us...
I'm here at the Productive Nanosystems conference, to hear where some very smart and high-powered thinkers expect that atomically precise nanotechnology and nano-building-nano will go over the next few decades. The big question I have is: How much will the roadmap focus on nanoscale technologies that fall short of molecular manufacturing, and how much will it provide concrete endorsement and information about molecular manufacturing?
The first speaker is Alex Kawczak, VP, Nanotechnology & BioProducts, Battelle. Battelle is the manager or co-manager of seven national labs, and brings a lot of technical weight and gravitas to the Roadmap collaboration. Alex, starting off the conference, will show what the Roadmap is really about: more nanoscale tech, or something really innovative in the way of nano-building-nano.
He starts by talking about nano being a revolution... the roadmap is "a recommitment to atomic precision" as the guiding vision of nanotech. Guiding vision is to engage nanotech to improve the human condition. He mentions technical people who have contributed to the roadmap, Eric Drexler of course, Jeff Soreff at IBM, Damian Allis at Syracuse University, and also Stephanie Corchnoy at Synchrona.
Next a review of Battelle's history that I won't try to summarize.
A review of the goals of US, Korean, and Taiwanese nanotech initiatives. They all want to improve nanoscale tech with a focus on commercialization. US NNI has invested $6.5 billion over the past 5 years - most in basic research. "An opportunity exists for the U.S. to be a leader in the research and applied development of atomically precise technologies and atomically precise manufacturing (APM)." In other words, this is how the US can distinguish ourselves from the global crowd.
He cites Feynman: atomic precision, "maneuvering things atom by atom." There are several Atomically Precise things in the Roadmap: Manufacturing, Atomically Precise Productive Nanosystems (APPN), Atomically Precise Technologies. Now he's talking about the nanotech market as a whole ($1 trillion by 2015), most of which is not atomically precise. He says atomic precision can improve nanotech.
Atomically Precise Structures are a definite arrangement of atoms. Self-assembled DNA, engineered proteins, nanotube segments, etc. But atomically precise technology will increase scale and complexity.
Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM) lets you build atomically precise structures under programmable control.
Atomically Precise Productive Nanosystems are functional nanosystems that implement APM. This is nano-building-nano - the high-impact stuff.
So this sounds like the roadmap defines a spectrum of AP technologies, working from self-assembly of engineered AP structures, up to nano building nano.
Two strategies in the roadmap: 1) Develop AP technologies for energy; 2) Develop AP technologies for medicine. Hm, no emphasis on productive nanosystems in that slide.
They're hoping that the Roadmap will help a broad range of industries to develop nano capabilities. They want to develop a broad technology base for APT, apply this to develop APM, APPNs, and spinoff APT applications. They want to "treat atomic precision as an essential criterion for research." So the roadmap encompasses self-assembly as well as APPN.
A few very dense slides of years-in-future. 10-25 years in the future, they want solid-building APPNs (not just polymer) with small-molecule inputs. 15-30 years, scalable APPN-array systems. Product: "Systems at the level of complexity of 2007 macroscale products." That's a pretty significant goal!
He re-states that the US is well positioned to lead this technology, and that "APM products will have Broad and Growing Applications that will lead to Productive Nanosystems of the future."
Question from audience: Does roadmap explicitly lead to macro-scale? Answer from Drexler: Roadmap takes today's technology forward, so it's a long road, but it does say a bit about that long-range objective.
Question: (Inaudible, something about funding): Answer: Alex: NNI has done a very good job of establishing nanotech centers within national labs, so we believe that e.g. energy initiative, a DOE program manager focused on APM that would work with e.g. DOE nat'l labs, to create the foundation for APM within established national labs, we said that's necessary. There's been a lot of solid research done, tremendous organization of capabilities, best in world, so we're well-positioned.
Question: Why focus on energy and healthcare? Alex from Energy [research] infrastructure is there, it's a matter of national security, we expect that APM will help energy goals arrive much faster. Also in health, we think there's groundwork that could benefit from APM. We were pragmatic. We looked for where that $6.5B could be leveraged for greatest societal benefit; also, these two areas are already receiving funding.
Question: Different mfg techniques for different applications? Answer (various people): Energy will mostly (except for catalysis) need high-volume manufacturing. The roadmap recommends hybrid manufacturing technology approaches at several points.
So it sounds like the Roadmap does talk, at least some, about molecular manufacturing, which they call APPN. This could be a very interesting conference. And it looks like the Roadmap does explicitly endorse molecular manufacturing.
Post-talk comment from Jim Von Ehr (today's moderator): Comparison to semiconductor roadmap: That was developed after they'd been going for a while. Our roadmap is developed in advance, so it's a bit speculative; you'll be amazed at how many different things were pulled together.