From Next Big Future:
University of Nottingham physicist Philip Moriarty is one of the few scientists who has been able to do extensive research into molecular mechanosynthesis. In 2004 Moriarty engaged in a debate with Chris Phoenix over the feasibility of molecular manufacturing. In 2008 Moriarty received a grant from the British Government to examine the viability of mechanosynthesis. In this Next Big Future interview with Sander Olson, Moriarty discusses the progress that has been made during the past decade, the challenges of working with diamond, and the prospects for building components out of silicon and diamond.
Question: You began the project for experimental work on molecular mechanosynthesis about five years ago. How is the project going?
Answer: The mechanosynthesis project has actually only been running for about 2.5 years http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/ViewGrant.aspx?GrantRef=EP/G007837/1 now and the initial goal was to explore the possibility of atom-by-atom assembly on diamond surfaces , i.e. to test the viability of Drexler's original vision of making components out of diamond. But as Drexler himself recently pointed out diamond is a very difficult material to work with. As a result, in Nottingham we have a parallel effort focused on silicon, which is much, much easier to work with than diamond. For example, we only very recently achieved atomic resolution using non-contact atomic force microscopy on a hydrogen-passivated diamond surface. Moving beyond imaging to atomic manipulation of the diamond surface is going to be much more challenging than for silicon.