Nadrian Seeman Shares $1M Nanotech Prize

Congratulations to Ned Seeman, who is sharing the $1 million Kavli Prize in nanoscience with IBM’s Don Eigler, who was behind the team that made the IBM logo in atoms. Seeman was awarded the prize for the discovery of structural DNA nanotechnology, in 1979 according to the Kavli website. Seeman has given presentations on DNA nanotechnology at the Foresight Institute conferences and at last year’s Singularity Summit, and recently made a major breakthrough in nanotechnology with a nanoscale assembly line.

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Seeman at a Center for Responsible Nanotechnology conference in Tuscon in 2007. He was skeptical about the idea of achieving molecular manufacturing within the next couple decades.

Will macroscale molecular manufacturing be achieved by a structural DNA route, the “Tattoo Needle” architecture, the foldamer route, the

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New Paper: Optimal Tooltip Trajectories in a Hydrogen Abstraction Tool Recharge Reaction Sequence for Positionally Controlled Diamond Mechanosynthesis

Robert Freitas alerts me to a new mechanosynthesis paper published by the Nanofactory Collaboration group in the Journal of Computational and Theoretical Nanoscience. Here’s some info:

Denis Tarasov, Natalia Akberova, Ekaterina Izotova, Diana Alisheva, Maksim Astafiev, Robert A. Freitas Jr., “Optimal Tooltip Trajectories in a Hydrogen Abstraction Tool Recharge Reaction Sequence for Positionally Controlled Diamond Mechanosynthesis,” J. Comput. Theor. Nanosci. 7(February 2010):325-353 [29 pages]

It is our first published paper with our Russian collaborators and is now available online. This paper represents the first extensive DMS (Diamond Mechno-Synthesis) tooltip trajectory analysis, examining a wide range of viable multiple degrees-of-freedom tooltip motions in 3D space that could be employed to recharge the hydrogen abstraction tool, a key reaction set in DMS.


The use of precisely applied mechanical forces to induce site-specific chemical transformations is called positional mechanosynthesis, and diamond is an important early target for achieving mechanosynthesis experimentally. A key step in diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS) employs an ethynyl-based hydrogen abstraction tool (HAbst) for the site-specific mechanical dehydrogenation …

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Dangers of Molecular Nanotechnology, Again

Over at IEET, Jamais Cascio and Mike Treder essentially argue that the future will be slow/boring, or rather, seem slow and boring because people will get used to advances as quickly as they occur. I heartily disagree. There are at least three probable events which could make the future seem traumatic, broken, out-of-control, and not slow by anyone’s standards. These three events include 1) a Third World War or atmospheric EMP detonation event, 2) an MNT revolution with accompanying arms races, and 3) superintelligence. In response to Jamais’ post, I commented:

I disagree. I don’t think that Jamais understands how abrupt an MNT revolution could be once the first nanofactory is built, or how abrupt a hard takeoff could be once a human-equivalent artificial intelligence is created.

Read Nanosystems, then “Design of a Primitive Nanofactory”, and look where nanotechnology is today.

For AI, you can do simple math that shows once an AI …

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Nature: “A proximity-based programmable DNA nanoscale assembly line”

io9 has coverage of Nadrian Seeman’s latest work in nanotechnology: the first nanoscale assembly line! This is big news. If you were at Singularity Summit 2009 back in October and listening very carefully, you might have heard Seeman mention this device seven months in advance of its formal announcement! Now that’s foresight.

The full Nature article describing the device is here.

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Survey: Hiding Risks Can Hurt Public Support for Nanotechnology

Here’s an interesting news item from Eurekalert:

A new national survey on public attitudes toward medical applications and physical enhancements that rely on nanotechnology shows that support for the technology increases when the public is informed of the technology’s risks as well as its benefits – at least among those people who have heard of nanotechnology. The survey, which was conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and Arizona State University (ASU), also found that discussing risks decreased support among those people who had never previously heard of nanotechnology – but not by much.

“The survey suggests that researchers, industries and policymakers should not be afraid to display the risks as well as the benefits of nanotechnology,” says Dr. Michael Cobb, an associate professor of political science at NC State who conducted the survey. “We found that when people know something about nanotechnologies for human enhancement, they are more supportive of it when they are presented with balanced information about its risks and benefits.”

The survey was conducted by Cobb in collaboration with …

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Atomistic Small Bearing: Dynamics Performed in NanoEngineer-1, Visualized in Blender

From Machine Phase. This is a movie of the atomistic bearing described by Eric Drexler in Nanosystems. Remember to read Drexler’s article or watch this video to understand, “the rotation-induced speed of the shaft surface is substantially lower than the (apparent) vibrational speeds of the atoms”. The thermal vibrations in the bearing actually take place much faster than the shaft motion. What you see in the video is only maybe 1/1000 of the actual thermal vibration motions. Because these sorts of videos have a limited frame rate, we get a “strobe light effect” where we only selectively see the vibration. If the video were portraying the thermal vibration on a timescale where you could actually see each part of the action, then the actual shaft surface would be moving at a glacial pace. The upshot of all of that is that the friction and heating in this device would not be nearly as high as it appears at a …

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Diamond Trees (Tropostats): A Molecular Manufacturing Based System for Compositional Atmospheric Homeostasis

Robert Freitas has a new idea for a product that could be built using molecular manufacturing — diamond trees designed to sequester carbon dioxide. The concept is fleshed out in technical detail at a paper now available at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing website. Let’s bring up that abstract!

The future technology of molecular manufacturing will enable long-term sequestration of atmospheric carbon in solid diamond products, along with sequestration of lesser masses of numerous air pollutants, yielding pristine air worldwide ~30 years after implementation. A global population of 143 x 109 20-kg “diamond trees” or tropostats, generating 28.6 TW of thermally non-polluting solar power and covering ~0.1% of the planetary surface, can create and actively maintain compositional atmospheric homeostasis as a key step toward achieving comprehensive human control of Earth’s climate.

On the topic of MNT, I also wonder what it will take for the skeptics to become convinced that the technology is plausible. Positional atomic placement has already been demonstrated, including at room temperature. Will complex rotating 3D nanosystems convince them? I doubt those …

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Our Friend Gadolinium

Brian Wang directs our attention to one important part of Rob Freitas’ radionuclide page:

The mass of the alpha-particle is ~7000 times greater than that of an electron, so the velocity and hence the range of a-particles in matter is considerably less than for beta-particles of equal energy. Consequently the optimum radionuclide for medical nanorobots is predominantly an alpha emitter.

Among all gamma-free alpha-only emitters with t1/2 > 106 sec, the highest volumetric power density is available using Gd148 (gadolinium) which a-decays directly to Sm144 (samarium), a stable rare-earth isotope. A solid sphere of pure Gd148 (~7900 kg/m3) of radius r = 95 microns surrounded by a 5-micron thick platinum shield (total device radius R = 100 microns) and a thin polished silver coating of emissivity er = 0.02 suspended in vacuo would initially maintain a constant temperature T2 (far from a surface held at T1 = 310 K)

75-year half-life, initially generating 17 microwatts of thermal power which can be converted to 8 microwatts of …

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Radioisotopic Food Nanobots: Freitas Response

I recently wrote to Rob Freitas about his radioisotope-powered food nanorobot idea that, if it works, could allow people to eat at severely reduced levels for as long as a century or more. As far as I can tell, food would still be needed due to cell loss from shedding skin cells and the like, but this would likely be relatively little. As Roko pointed out, the gadolinium-powered nanobots could reconstitute ATP from waste products like urea. The gadolinium would just provide the energy for running the chemical reactions needed to produce fresh ATP.

Here is the email I wrote to Rob Freitas:

Hi Robert, I saw an idea of yours posted at the World Future Society, and blogged it. Me and my readers weren’t clear on some of the details, and a few google searches turned up nothing. All of us would appreciate if you would weigh in on the thread and answer our burning questions.

Thanks, and I’m always impressed by all the ideas you come up …

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WFS Update: Robert Freitas on How Nuclear-Powered Nanobots Will Allow Us to Forgo Eating a Square Meal for a Century

Wow, this surprised me. This is the sort of thing that I would write off as nonsense on first glance if it weren’t from Robert Freitas, who is legendary for the rigor of his calculations. Here’s the bit, from a World Future Society update:

The Issue: Hunger

The number of people on the brink of starvation will likely reach 1.02 billion — or one-sixth of the global population– in 2009, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the United States, 36.2 million adults and children struggled with hunger at some point during 2007.

The Future: The earth’s population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people in the next four decades, most of these people will be born in the countries that are least able to grow food. Research indicates that these trends could be offset by improved global education among the world’s developing populations. Population declines sharply in countries where almost all women can read and where GDP is high. As many as 2/3 of the earth’s inhabitants will …

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New(-ish) ScienceBlogs Blog Focusing on AI?

2009 saw a lot of mainstreaming of “transhumanist” ideas, foci, and emphases. As I recently pointed out, Foreign Policy magazine gave this phenomenon a nod by including two transhumanists on their list of 100 global thinkers.

I am particularly interested in any possible mainstreaming of AGI and Friendly AI ideas, for obvious reasons. These ideas are not mainstreaming as fast as “wow-tech” like life-extension or cybernetics, so watching for it is even more challenging and interesting. That’s why this ad on the ScienceBlogs network caught my eye:

It links to Collective Imagination, a relatively new blog on the ScienceBlogs network with an about page that doesn’t mention AI at all. But, click the ad and you go to their front page, which currently is all about AI. On November 19th, their head blogger, Greg Laden, bought into the IBM “cat brain” deliberately deceptive news item, but then did …

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