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Sander Olson Interviews

Deepak Srivistava


Question 1: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, what is your current position at NASA?

I am a senior scientist and technical lead of computational nanotechnology investigations at NASA Ames Research Center. The other information about my background and research area is available at:

Question 2: How much of the current space shuttle's weight is electronics? How much space, weight, and energy could be saved by using molecular electronics?

Molecular electronics may not directly account for much weight reduction per se, but for low power consumption consideration and multifunctionality consideration, ME may have a significant role to play in space shuttle or space-based applications. The effect of multifunctionality and greater efficiency on space and weight savings could be nonlinear and needs to be considered in detail.

Question 3: What about questions of reliability? Would molecular electronics be able to meet the exceedingly rigorous standards of manned spacecraft, such as the need to operate under extremes of temperature and radiation?

In general, molecular electronics may not be specifically suitable for harsh standards for space-based applications, but there are materials and proposals which could take care of some of these issues.

Question 4: How much effort is NASA putting in to nanotechnology R&D? How much effort is NASA putting into researching carbon nanotubes?

In the first NNI funding, NASA's share was $20 million. Out of that, there are programs within NASA, at universities, and setting up new infrastructure for nanotechnology-based research.

Question 5: How much longer do you believe that Moore's Law will continue?

My guess would be as good as anyone else. In the traditional Si based top-down technologies it is expected to last for another 10-12 years.

Question 6: What about the mechanical aspects of carbon nanotubes. In theory, couldn't one imbed carbon nanotubes in a titanium alloy to create an ideal aerospace material? Do you believe these diamondoid materials could actually have 50 times the strength/weight ratios of steel?

Yes, pure nanotube based materials have been projected to have the above strength/weight ratio in the ideal case. In reality, there will degradation in the ideal scenario due to defects and interface effects. Additionally it is not yet known what will be the end product of nanotube plus metal composite. This needs to be investigated before such projections are made for real materials.

Question 7: Some electrical engineers have proposed hybrid silicon chips with molecular memory elements. What is your estimated timeframe for the development of molecular electronics?

Their claim is that with in few years they will have prototypes of the simple hybrid molecular memory chips.

Question 8: Do you believe in the concept of Drexlerian nanotechnology, of molecular assemblers?

For me it's not a question of belief, it's a question of what are the intermediate steps or enabling technologies which can be worked upon now, and are their intermediate benefits if we pursue molecular nanotechnology. The answer is yes, and that is why we are doing it.

Question 9: Writers such as Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec argue that we will within the next couple of decades have intelligent, cognizant machines. Do you agree?

Intelligent, human centered, biomimetic systems are being explored for robotics and computing applications, in that sense one could say that cognizant machines maybe possible. The time frame and the form in which it will happen is a matter of speculation.

Question 10: What is your opinion of Drexlerian 'rod logic'? Do you believe that it is the most likely candidate to succeed silicon based computing?

Rod logic is one of the many possible approaches that need to be investigated. The big hurdle will be the switching time scales involved in the rod logic.

Question 11: What are your future plans?

To continue to pursue some of my projects in molecular electronics, quantum computers, and nanophase composite materials.

This interview was conducted by Sander Olson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of CRN.


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