The concept of nanotechnology may have been first introduced by the famous physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 when he delivered a lecture titled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The lecture inspired Eric Drexler years later, who then helped popularize the concept.
The Feynman Vision and Its Implications
Feynman looked far beyond the laboratory accomplishments of his day (R. Feynman, 1961). He suggested that miniature manufacturing systems could build yet more manufacturing systems: “I want to build a billion tiny factories, models of each other, which are manufacturing simultaneously, drilling holes, stamping parts, and so on.”Working on a small enough scale, these could build with ultimate precision: “If we go down far enough, all of our devices can be mass produced so that they are absolutely perfect [that is, atomically precise] copies of one another.” He asked, “What would the properties of materials be if we could really arrange the atoms the way we want them?” He suggested that nanomachines could achieve this key objective by building things with atom-by-atom control: “It would be, in principle, possible (I think) for a physicist to synthesize any chemical substance that the chemist writes down. . . . Put the atoms down where the chemist says, and so you make the substance.”
There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom – [zyvex.com]
Now comes the interesting question: How do we make such a tiny mechanism? I leave that to you. However, let me suggest one weird possibility. You know, in the atomic energy plants they have materials and machines that they can’t handle directly because they have become radioactive. To unscrew nuts and put on bolts and so on, they have a set of master and slave hands, so that by operating a set of levers here, you control the “hands” there, and can turn them this way and that so you can handle things quite nicely.
Most of these devices are actually made rather simply, in that there is a particular cable, like a marionette string, that goes directly from the controls to the “hands.” But, of course, things also have been made using servo motors, so that the connection between the one thing and the other is electrical rather than mechanical. When you turn the levers, they turn a servo motor, and it changes the electrical currents in the wires, which repositions a motor at the other end.
Now, I want to build much the same device—a master-slave system which operates electrically. But I want the slaves to be made especially carefully by modern large-scale machinists so that they are one-fourth the scale of the “hands” that you ordinarily maneuver. So you have a scheme by which you can do things at one- quarter scale anyway—the little servo motors with little hands play with little nuts and bolts; they drill little holes; they are four times smaller. Aha! So I manufacture a quarter-size lathe; I manufacture quarter-size tools; and I make, at the one-quarter scale, still another set of hands again relatively one-quarter size! This is one-sixteenth size, from my point of view. And after I finish doing this I wire directly from my large-scale system, through transformers perhaps, to the one-sixteenth-size servo motors. Thus I can now manipulate the one-sixteenth size hands.
Well, you get the principle from there on. It is rather a difficult program, but it is a possibility. You might say that one can go much farther in one step than from one to four. Of course, this has all to be designed very carefully and it is not necessary simply to make it like hands. If you thought of it very carefully, you could probably arrive at a much better system for doing such things.
J Storrs Hall: Feynman Path to Molecular Nanotechnology – [nextbigfuture.com]
Here are links and summaries of the first ten parts of the Feynman path to molecular nanotechnology as conceived and writen by Foresight President J Storrs Hall.
Feynman’s Path to Nanotech (part 7) – [foresight.org]
There are at least two major parts to a project to implement the Feynman Path. The first is essentially to work out a roadmap for the second. In particular,
- Design a scalable, remotely-operated manufacturing and manipulation workstation capable of replicating itself anywhere from its own scale to one-quarter relative scale. As noted before, the design is allowed to take advantage of any “vitamins” or other inputs available at the scales they are needed.
- Implement the architecture at macroscale to test, debug and verify the design. This would be a physical implentation, probably in plastic or similar materials, at desktop scale, and would include operator controls that would not have to be replicated.
- Identify phase changes and potential roadblocks in the scaling pathway and determine scaling steps. Verify scalability of the architecture through these points in simulation. Example: electromagnetic to electrostatic motors. It would be perfectly legitimate to use externally supplied coils above a certain scale if they were available, and shift to electrostatic actuation, which would involve only conducting plates, below that scale, and never require the system to be able to wind coils.
- Identify the smallest scale, using best available fabrication and assembly technology, at which the target architecture can currently be built.
- Write up a detailed, actionable roadmap to the desired fabrication and manipulation techniques at the nanoscale.
The Early History of Nanotechnology – [cnx.org]
Nanotechnology is an essentially modern scientific field that is constantly evolving as commercial and academic interest continues to increase and as new research is presented to the scientific community. The field’s simplest roots can be traced, albeit arguably, to 1959 but its primary development occurred in both the eighties and the early nineties. In addition to specific scientific achievements such as the invention of the STM, this early history is most importantly reflected in the initial vision of molecular manufacturing as it is outlined in three important works. Overall, an understanding of development and the criticism of this vision is integral for comprehending the realities and potential of nanotechnology today.