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Foresight Update 35

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Sixth Foresight Conference Showcases Rapid Progress

The Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology drew over 300 attendees to Santa Clara, California, Nov. 13-15, 1998, to get the latest results in molecular nanotechnology from 44 speakers and 43 posters. Only one year had elapsed since the previous conference, and the progress reported was striking.

Five major advances in the race to the atomically precise control of matter were announced. From nanostructured materials to biological motors, these advances are on the pathway to fully developed molecular manufacturing, molecular computing and electronics.

Bucky Horns: Sumio Iijima of NEC Corporation, Japan, announced the ability to grow this new class of carbon nanostructures, the next step beyond buckyballs and buckytubes.

Biopowered Nanomotor: Carlo Montemagno of Cornell University announced success in building biological-motor powered mechanical devices. All the tools are now in place to make this happen within a living cell.

Nanomanipulator: MinFeng Yu of Washington University generated excitement by showing the first-ever movies of interactive 3D manipulation of carbon nanotubes, obtained with scientists at Zyvex LLC with a new research device designed and built in collaboration between Zyvex and the Novel Carbon Materials Lab at WU.

Nanotube Transistor: Cees Dekker of Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, presented work on buckytubes as a new kind of molecular quantum wire and a field effect nanotube transistor, called TubeFET.

Single-Molecule Tape Measure: Mark Akeson of University of California, Santa Cruz, announced the use of a molecular pore able to electrically "read" long molecules at high speed, even differentiating among RNA bases in groups as small as thirty. Next goal: rapidly read DNA base-by-base.

Illustrations and movies of some discoveries are available at

Keynoted by Nobel Prizewinning physicist Steven Chu of Stanford, the three-day meeting brought together representatives from nanoscale projects throughout academia, national laboratories, Fortune 500 companies, and nanotechnology startups drawn from seventeen countries across four continents.

In opening the Conference, Co-chair Al Globus observed that the two most notable developments of the past year have been:

  • there has been an enormous flood of results in nanoscale science and technology appearing in the scientific literature
  • major US funding agencies, like NSF, DoD, NASA, and NIST, have discovered nanotechnology.

In summing up the Conference, Co-chair Deepak Srivastava concluded that all of the results presented on materials, properties, and techniques to control and make new materials came down to the fact that molecular nanotechnology is now an accepted goal; the focus of discussion now is: How do we get there?

Srivastava, Globus
Conference Chairs, Deepak Srivastava (left) and Al Globus (right) enjoy the successful conference.

In the longer term, nanotechnology is expected to bring atomic precision to fields ranging from medicine to manufacturing, curing most diseases and eliminating chemical pollution. Also anticipated are superstrong, superlight materials for aerospace and ultrasmall processors for information technology.

Both the trade and technical media have covered Nanotechnology advances presented at the Conference. The December 7th issue of Business Week, page 101, under "Developments to watch" has a one-column piece on "The cell of a new machine" discussing the Conference presentation of Dr. Montemagno "Constructing Biological Motor Powered Nanomechanical Devices". The January 1, 1999 issue of Science contains a news focus article "Nanotechnology: borrowing from biology to power the petite" that also describes Dr. Montemagno's presentation along with that of Dr. Vogel ("Guiding Molecular Shuttles by Nanoscale Surface Topologies ") on harnessing biological motor molecules to power nanodevices. An article in the Nov. 23, 1998, issue of Chemical and Engineering News ("Nanotube forced into a jerky form of dance") and an article in the Nov. 27, 1998, issue of Science ("AFMs wield parts for nanoconstruction") both describe the Conference presentation of Mr. Yu "Manipulation of Carbon nanotubes using Scanning Probe Microscopes". [Subscriptions are required to access C&EN and Science Web sites]

Foresight Update 35 - Table of Contents


1998 Feynman Prize Winners

The winners of the 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology were announced on Friday, November 13, at the Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology. As was done last year, the prize was divided into one prize for experimental work and one prize for theoretical work. Each prize was in the amount of $5,000, and was awarded to the researchers whose recent work has most advanced the development of molecular nanotechnology.

In presenting the awards, IMM Chairman Neil Jacobstein noted that incentive prizes and awards have played a pivotal role in the advance of science and technology. Likewise, the Feynman Prizes are expected to play a pivotal role in the development of molecular nanotechnology, a technology that will be crucial for our future.

The 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, Theoretical, went to Ralph Merkle (Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) and Stephen Walch (ELORET at NASA Ames Research Center) for their computational modeling of molecular tools for atomically-precise chemical reactions.

Merkle, Walch, Jacobstein
Neil Jacobstein (right) congratulates proud Feynman Prize winners (left) Ralph Merkle and Stephen Walch (center)

This year's experimental Feynman Prize was awarded to M. Reza Ghadiri of Scripps Research Institute for groundbreaking work in constructing molecular structures through the use of self-organization, the same forces used to assemble the molecular machine systems found in nature.

Ghadiri, Jacobstein
M. Reza Ghadiri (left) gladly accepts his Feynman Prize award in experimental nanotechnology from IMM Chairman, Neil Jacobstein.

For more information on the prize-winning research, see

The 1998 Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award

The Foresight Institute Distinguished Student award provides a $1500 grant to the college graduate or undergraduate student whose work is deemed most notable in advancing the development and understanding of nanotechnology. The award was presented on November 13 at the 1998 Foresight Institute Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology. John Michelsen of Zyvex LLC, winner of the first 1996 Distinguished Student Award, selected the winner, with consultation from the Foresight Board of Directors.

This year's award went to Fotis Nifiatis for his work on metal-mediated self-assembly of large arrays and tapes. Nifiatis, originally from Greece, is now at Hunter College, CUNY. The work of Nifiatis and his coworkers was featured in the cover article from the June 8, 1998, issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

Von Ehr, Nifiatis
Jim Von Ehr (left), president of Zyvex, enjoys a moment with Fotis Nifiatis, winner of the Distinguished Student Award in Nanotechnology.

Foresight Update 35 - Table of Contents


Inside Foresight

by Chris Peterson

Chris PetersonThe just-completed Foresight conference illustrates both how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

From the articles in this issue, you'll see that technical progress is right on track, and it's breathtakingly fast to those of us trying to monitor it. Interest in nanotechnology is intense. Use of "nano" terms is everywhere -- it's a buzzword. Even the US federal research funding agencies are getting into the act in a big way. From the words they use, and the future applications they cite, it's clear that the Foresight message has reached the research community -- partially.

Among leading researchers, most now see that nanotechnology is coming, and that it's going to be very important. They also understand that the big payoff comes from molecular nanotechnology, rather than from the collection of miscellaneous work often thrown together under the "nanotechnologies" umbrella term. Inexplicably, even achievements in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) still show up under the term nanotechnology, though that confusion is fading.

But we still have some educating to do, and one powerful way to do it is with the terminology we use. As our message gets more precise, so do our terms. From "nanotechnology" to "molecular nanotechnology" to "molecular manufacturing," we've continued to refine our terms as the memetic educational task evolved.

A Useful Term: Let's Try it

Now it's time to start focusing on a yet-more-precise term - molecular machine systems. Why this phrase?

  • "Molecular" is needed to emphasize the key goal of getting each atom into a specified, designed location - not handling atoms in large, disorganized clumps
  • "Machine" is needed to get across the idea of accomplishing a mechanical change, a movement of atoms, rather than just pushing electrons around, valuable as that often is. As Foresight chairman Eric Drexler pointed out in his talk at the conference, machines can make electronics, but electronics can't make machines. So let's focus on the machines; we need them and the electronics researchers will not deliver them.
  • "Systems" is needed because scientists tend to study rather than build. And when they come up with a molecular part that might be useful - a strut, say - they tend to stop dead in their tracks and exult, without doing the hard work of figuring out much of anything about the supposedly useful system. As a result, we get a collection of random unrelated parts. Time to bring some design and organization into this haphazard effort.

What happens when we leave one word out? We get "machine systems," "molecular machines," and "molecular systems" - all interesting but not sufficient to reach our goal of complete control of the structure of matter. Not enough to, say, end chemical pollution, as we could with working molecular nanotechnology.

Join us in this ongoing task of educating researchers, the public, and policymakers about our goals: try using the term "molecular machine systems" and see how it works for you. Then, let us know, so we can continue to evolve our memetic strategy.

Openness as "Dynamic Vision"

For an example of applied memetic strategy in action, join me at the Dynamic Visions conference if you can, this February 12-15 in San Jose. Eric Raymond of Open Source software fame, Virginia Postrel of Reason, I and many others will be speaking on the rapid rate of change now in progress, and how to not merely tolerate it but benefit from it. Visit the conference website at If we're very lucky, there may be a webcast as well.

Meanwhile, you can watch Eric Drexler's talk on "The New Future" from the Cato/Forbes ASAP meeting on November 21; see It got great reviews from Foresight members in the audience; I think you'll enjoy it too.

$40,000 Challenge Grant

Until the end of January, every new dollar you donate to Foresight will be matched one-to-one by a Challenge Grant. Take advantage of this to make your donations do twice the work for nanotechnology. Visit to check our progress and help us reach the goal.

When You Buy Anything from, They Donate to Us

You can trigger to donate to us every time you buy any book, music CD, or video they sell. To make this happen, go to Amazon via this URL:

That's it for now - when you next see Foresight Update, we'll be well into 1999, with the millennium fast approaching. The next century means many things to many people, from Y2K concerns to ethnic warfare. Foresight will keep its focus on our charter: preparing for nanotechnology, and for other powerful technologies on the horizon.

--Christine Peterson

Foresight Update 35 - Table of Contents


"Group Genius" Weekend

Foresight for the Next 30 Years

Sr. Associate Gathering: May 21-23, 1999

The meeting is off the record; no media writeups please


Foresight's 1st Brainstorming-Planning-Actionfest & NanoSchmoozathon. How many revolutions can you cope with? Here's what's coming -- nanotechnology, radical life extension, cryptomoney, targeted info/bio/warfare, hardware with far more MIPS than we have, and opening the long-promised space frontier. Most of us will try to live through these changes. We invite you to trade ideas with some allies -- individuals who can examine these prospects without undergoing mental shutdown.


200 of the most forward-looking minds on the planet -- leaders and visionaries in emerging technologies, freedom, and dynamic change.


May 21 evening through May 23, 1999


Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, the eye of the technological hurricane, and not in some boring hotel, but a unique group-augmentation environment: KnOwhere Palo Alto


Not podium-based talking heads. We're using a highly-evolved process for group genius -- the DesignShop, a group-achievement process so powerful, so seductive, that it lured two key Foresight leaders away to write a book about it.


For your organization, your career, your family, and your personal future. For the human species, the space frontier, freedom, and the biosphere. For moral support in looking fearlessly ahead at a world very different from what we know today. And, for fun! (But not for the media -- it's off the record.)

Check out:

Confirmed participants include:

Gregory Benford, physicist, author Deep Time, and science fiction
Stewart Brand, founder, Whole Earth Catalog, the WELL; author, How Buildings Learn
Eric Drexler, nanotechnologist; author, Engines of Creation, Nanosystems
Esther Dyson, founder, Release 1.0, PC Forum; author, Release 2.0
Doug Engelbart, hypertext pioneer, mouse inventor, all-round visionary
Dan Gillmor, technology and business columnist, San Jose Mercury News
John Gilmore, cofounder, Cygnus Support; Electronic Frontier Foundation
Joanne Jacobs, member, editorial board, San Jose Mercury News
Kevin Kelly, executive editor, Wired; author, Out of Control
Ray Kurzweil, pioneer in reading machines, speech recognition
Jaron Lanier, virtual reality pioneer, musician
Doug Lenat, AI pioneer; founder CYC project, Cycorp
Ralph Merkle, nanotechnologist; co-inventor, public key cryptography
Marvin Minsky, AI researcher; author, The Society of Mind
Max More, president, Extropy Institute
Tim O'Reilly, president, O'Reilly & Associates; board member, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Bob Poole, founder and president, Reason Foundation
Peter Schwartz, Chairman, Global Business Network; author, The Art of the Long View
Frederick Turner, poet, philosopher, author, Natural Classicism, The Culture of Hope
Vernor Vinge, visionary fiction author, assoc. prof. SDSU
Roy Walford, Gerontologist; Biospheran; author, Maximum Life Span
Pierluigi Zappacosta, cofounder and former Chairman, Logitech

The Senior Associates Program

The Senior Associates Program has been established to provide steady support for the research projects of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and for the education and communication projects of Foresight Institute, enabling long-term planning and commitments, and providing seed money for new efforts.

To contribute, obtain a donation form on the Foresight Institute web site at or Institute for Molecular Manufacturing web site at, call 650-917-1122, fax 650-917-1123, or email

The Foresight Institute and Institute for Molecular Manufacturing are exempt from federal income taxes as educational and scientific organization under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. They are classified as a public charities which are not private foundations entitled to receive tax-deductible contributions under Section 170 (c) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code and related statutes.

Senior Associates meet during the November Conference

Peterson, McLaughlin, Seidler
Foresight Executive Director, Chris Peterson (left) explains the benefits of becoming a Senior Associate to Thomas McLaughlin (center) with Conference Planner, Marcia Seidler (right).
Hibbert, Pandya, Soreff
Senior Associates, Chris Hibbert (left) and Ravi Pandya (center) chat with IMM Recent Progress reporter Jeff Soreff (right).
Drexler, Forrest, Krummenacker, Freitas
From left: Senior Associates: Drexler, Forrest, Krummenacker and Freitas enjoy schmoozing at the Senior Associate reception in November.

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From Foresight Update 35, originally published 30 January 1999.


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