Nanotechnology: Atom and Positional Control

Topics: Atom, Molecule, Chemical reaction Pages: 8 (2917 words) Published: June 3, 2001
Nanotechnology is an anticipated manufacturing technology giving thorough, inexpensive control of the structure of matter. The term has sometimes been used to refer to any technique able to work at a submicron scale Molecular manufacturing will enable the construction of giga-ops computers smaller than a cubic micron; cell repair machines; personal manufacturing and recycling appliances; and much more. Nanotechnology

Broadly speaking, the central thesis of nanotechnology is that almost any chemically stable structure that can be specified can in fact be built. This possibility was first advanced by Richard Feynman in 1959 when he said: "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom." (Feynman won the 1965 Nobel prize in physics). This concept is receiving increasing attention in the research community. There have been three international conferences directly on molecular nanotechnology as well as a broad range of conferences on related subjects. Science said "The ability to design and manufacture devices that are only tens or hundreds of atoms across promises rich rewards in electronics, catalysis, and materials. The scientific rewards should be just as great, as researchers approach an ultimate level of control - assembling matter one atom at a time." "Within the decade, Foster or some other scientist is likely to learn how to piece together atoms and molecules one at a time using the STM ." (Referring to John Foster of IBM Almaden labs, who spelled "IBM" by pushing xenon atoms around with a scanning tunnelling microscope.) Eigler and Schweizer at IBM reported on ".the use of the STM at low temperatures (4K) to position individual xenon atoms on a single- crystal nickel surface with atomic precision. This capacity has allowed us to fabricate rudimentary structures of our own design, atom by atom. The processes we describe are in principle applicable to molecules also". Drexler has proposed the assembler, a device having a submicroscopic robotic arm under computer control. It will be capable of holding and positioning reactive compounds in order to control the precise location at which chemical reactions take place. This general approach should allow the construction of large atomically precise objects by a sequence of precisely controlled chemical reactions, building objects molecule by molecule. If designed to do so, assemblers will be able to build copies of themselves, that is, to replicate. Because they will be able to copy themselves, assemblers will be inexpensive. We can see this by recalling that many other products of molecular machines--firewood, hay, potatoes--cost very little. By working in large teams, assemblers and more specialized nanomachines will be able to build objects cheaply. By ensuring that each atom is properly placed, they will manufacture products of high quality and reliability. Left-over molecules would be subject to this strict control as well, making the manufacturing process extremely clean. The plausibility of this approach can be illustrated by the ribosome. Ribosomes manufacture all the proteins used in all living things on this planet. A typical ribosome is relatively small (a few thousand cubic nanometers) and is capable of building almost any protein by stringing together amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in a precise linear sequence. To do this, the ribosome has a means of grasping a specific amino acid (more precisely, it has a means of selectively grasping a specific transfer RNA, which in turn is chemically bonded by a specific enzyme to a specific amino acid), of grasping the growing polypeptide, and of causing the specific amino acid to react with and be added to the end of the polypeptide.The instructions that the ribosome follows in building a protein are provided by mRNA (messenger RNA). This is a polymer formed from the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil. A...
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