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« Manufacturing Upheaval | Main | Watching the Watchers »

March 30, 2004


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michael vassar

I spoke with Aruna and another Russian named Julia. It's definitely MNT, but neither of them think Russia has any scientific vitality. All of the better scientists are old and drunk or have gone abroad. Inadequate funding. Repressive. They are very very skeptical.


Before 1949 we all were very very sceptical..

Chris Phoenix, CRN

OK, now I'm scared. I just did a Google search for "China Russia military". Look at this report from the US government's "US-China Economic and Security Review Commission".

It seems Russia is getting funding and specs for military development from both China and India. And they're developing fairly advanced weaponry at surprising speeds. (A radar jammer appears to be targeted specifically at US systems, a bomb might be designed for Taiwan's defenses, and a jet engine is a drop-in replacement for Chinese fighters.)

So much for funding. As for scientists, I've said before that in the US the old scientists are likely to be obstructionist anyway, and the postdocs (not just in the US!) are more than competent to do MNT. As for Sputnik, Kate, I think you'll enjoy this blog entry.

And the article talks of an arms race between Russia and its current partners.

If Russia is working on MNT, then China must be assumed to know about it, and they could be collaborating. This would lead to an extremely dangerous situation: MNT developed almost simultaneously, in a military context, by two countries that don't trust each other.

Here's a quote from near the top of the report:

"First, China is able to acknowledge areas of Russian excellence over its own, and then employ the Russian military-technical complex to build new capabilities much faster than if it relied on indigenous firms. Second, by employing Russian firms to build in some cases new generations of technology, China is also enabling Russia to market new weapons which can pose possible threats to other U.S. interests while providing profits which these same Russian firms can use to remain competitive with U.S. technology.

For Russia the strategic gamble it is taking is that it can develop the next generation of military technology before China can master the current generation, and thus, remain dependent on Russia for cutting edge military technologies. To an increasing degree Russia is also taking this gamble with India. Many Russians are confident they can remain well ahead of China and India. But some Russian sources at MAKS indicate that China in some cases may be able to master new technologies faster than previously expected, and thus, pose a commercial in addition to a possible military threat."

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Oh yeah, don't forget to check out what Russia has already built...

Fixation, displacement and activation of atoms, polymerization, deposition, etching in technological chamber and flexible microreactors

Efficient seismic and acoustic isolation

Accuracy of positioning control - 1A

Step displacement of sample along X,Y axes - 10 mm

High-speed and wide scanning at range up to 30x30 u and detailed investigation at region less than 1x1 nm


If I were going to specify a system for building the final proto-assembler, it might look quite a lot like this. The bit about one-angstrom control combined with displacement and activation of atoms really sounds promising/ominous. And don't forget the gas inlet/outlet system; one proposal I heard years ago for building nanosystems involved deposition from gas on surfaces patterned by scanning probe.

And this is the same group that's sponsoring the student MNT competitions. Give some really bright students a few of these to play with...

This is the home stretch, folks. We probably have just a few years left to try to head off China and Russia (and the US?) from a full-blown nanotech war. How many years? I don't know... but there's a good chance the American president elected this fall will still be in office when it happens.



I saw the website at www.nanotech.ru. The nanomanipulation instrument is quite interesting. The price (around US$30K) is unbeatable. The other AFM instrument is selling for around US$6K. If these work as advertised, I am definitely interested in selling them in Asia as well as the U.S.

I have sent email to them inquiring about this possibility. Does anyone here know anything about these tools or these people?

The Russians do good engineering work, but have some very flaky ideas going around their science community (like Lysenkoism and torsion fields).

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Only $30K for the manipulator and $6K for the AFM? I missed that. That's more than unbeatable--that's revolutionary.

If MNT required a lot of science, I'd sleep easier. But it's mainly engineering at this point. Some invention, to be sure, but the inventions are all easily testable.

Can someone find and post the terms and purpose of the student contest?


Andreas Lund

How much is Zyvex telling us about their MNT progress? Anyone who knows?

It is said that they have the best equipment for developing MNT in the US (right?). Have they put their ten-year plan on hold why they are getting revenue by selling different nanotech equipment? And if so, is that because they have little money? Or is their main objective, a fabricator, still alive and kicking at full speed while shipping nanotech equipment in parallel?

Another thing about the ten-year plan: Was the plan made in '97 when the company was started? Was their intention to have a fabricator in 2007 then?

MNT-interested guy from Sweden! :)

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I believe Jim Von Ehr still thinks MNT is viable, but found it a bit harder than he expected; he's also not eager to join the nanobot wars, but would rather remain politically acceptable. So he's taking it a step at a time, and not talking loudly about his plans beyond the next step. The steps are tools to make tools to make tools, and each step is a multi-year project.

I don't know about their equipment.

General point: as the cost and difficulty fall, the number of potential players increases radically. So I think it's increasingly likely that someone other than Zyvex will do it first. Zyvex has picked their approach, and has to stick with it. With so many possible approaches, it's likely that they haven't picked the best one, and the chance that someone else will find and pursue a better approach is growing rapidly.


Mike Treder, CRN

At a recent nano conference I attended, Jim said publicly that his company currently has a ten-year plan to develop a crude molecular assembler. But Zyvex also wants to make money in the meantime, so they are designing, building and selling some of the most advanced nano instruments in the world.

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