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Current Results of Our Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings   

bulletTimeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies
bulletStudy #1     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #1

Overview of all studies: Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of thirty essential studies is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies is urged. 

CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.

Study #1 Is mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
  Molecular manufacturing is based on the idea of using physical manipulation to cause reliable chemical reactions, building components for products (including manufacturing systems) from precise molecular fragments. Although several flavors of this have been demonstrated (including the ribosome), there is still skepticism in some circles as to whether a self-contained manufacturing technology can be based on this.
Subquestion Is there anything wrong with the basic theory of using programmably controlled nanoscale actuators and mechanics to do chemistry?
Preliminary answer To the best of our knowledge, there is nothing wrong with the theory, and it has been demonstrated in certain cases: semi-programmable nanoscale ribosomes do positional chemistry. Nanoscale actuators and mechanical devices exist in a variety of forms and designs. Sub-angstrom-scale precision adequate to do reliable chemistry may be achieved by any of several mechanisms. The question is what families of chemistry are possible. Quite a few have been proposed.
Subquestion Can engineered biomolecules (e.g. DNA) do solution chemistry to synthesize more biomolecules with low error rates?
Preliminary answer It may be possible to 'cap' and 'uncap' the end of a growing DNA strand with an enzyme-like molecular system, programmable or controllable by any of several signals. By washing chemicals through in sequence, multiple strands of DNA could be grown with different programmed patterns. Note this is only one of several ways to build DNA with desired sequences.
Subquestion Can diamond robotics do scanning-probe vacuum chemistry to build diamond with low error rates? Even at room temperature?
Preliminary answer Scanning probe microscopes have already done several kinds of covalent chemistry, with and without electric currents. Basic theory says that a stiff low-energy covalent surface should not reconstruct or deform easily, even if one or two reactive atoms are brought near it; those atoms can then be applied to a chosen spot on the surface and perform a predictable reaction.
  It has not been difficult to find deposition reactions that, in simulation, can be used to build diamond. These reactions or similar ones will probably work in practice.
  According to Drexler's analysis in Nanosystems, achieving the necessary precision for diamond synthesis at room temperature appears to require an overall stiffness between workpiece and probe of 10 N/m. This assumes that the required precision is on the order of a bond length, 1.5 Angstrom. Diamond nanoscale components can probably satisfy this requirement for room-temperature diamond mechanosynthesis.
  Freitas and Merkle have studied a dimer deposition reaction on the (110) diamond face. They found that for this particular tool tip and reaction, positional accuracy of 0.1 angstrom was required to distinguish between configurations. If this is the case in general, it may affect the temperature at which the synthesis can be carried out reliably. Note, however, that low temperatures are good because they improve the efficiency of computation.
Subquestion What other chemical methods will allow molecular machines to build molecular machine parts (e.g. turning benzene rings into graphene)?
Preliminary answer This is an open-ended question. One possibility, as mentioned in the question, is using organic chemistry to create graphite-like (graphene or fullerene) shapes and components. The bigger question is: what simple, programmable, high-reliability, high-throughput, autoproductive methods are waiting to be invented?
Subquestion Will there be substantial difficulty in automating and scaling up fabrication chemistry or subsequent assembly of parts?
Preliminary answer This depends on many factors: whether the actuation method can easily be controlled in parallel, whether the chemistry is reliable enough to proceed without error checking, whether the parts will be easy to grip and manipulate, whether the parts will stick easily when assembled correctly (and not before), and for scale-up, whether control and actuation can be implemented in suitable nanoscale technology. Architecture-level designs and calculations have been done for diamondoid mechanosynthesis systems*, and they appear to scale quite well to tabletop systems making integrated decimeter-scale products and fabricating their own mass in a few hours.
  * See Drexler, Nanosystems; Phoenix, "Design of a Primitive Nanofactory"; Freitas and Merkle, "Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines" (this has a new design for a basic mechanosynthetic fabricator).
Conclusion Any of several types of mechanically guided chemistry appear to be viable technologies for inexpensive, high-volume molecular manufacturing of complex, high-performance products.
Other studies 2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
What is the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
4. What is the performance and potential of biological programmable manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
What applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
8. What will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
9. What will be required to develop biological programmable manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
What is the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
29. What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
Studies should begin immediately. The situation is extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared. The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin immediately.

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