Nanotech and sticky fingers

  • Thread starter donkeyhide
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hi all. i'm new here and am doing some research on nanotechnology. i was hoping i could learn some more here about the 'sticky fingers' problem as it relates to molecular assemblers. my central question is: will molecular assembler bots ever be possible?

i've scanned some articles about the smalley-drexler debate. from what i understand, smalley's position is that molecular assembler bots will never be a possibility because once you start talking about manipulating individual atoms, you have to ask how you'll 'let go.' the fingers of the arm would stick to the atom being moved and there'd be no way to break the bond.

drexler claims that his ideas for assemblers never depended upon manipulator arms at all. i don't full get what he's talking about, but it looks to me as if drexler speaks about moving molecules, not atoms, in an assembly-line fashion, using a factory device that's a bit bigger than nano-scale. he mentions snapping the bonds using a 90 degree rotation of the 'dispenser' or whatever, when it's time to let go of the molecule.

if i'm understanding this correctly, then where did the idea for assembler bots begin in the first place? are they just a bit of hype that's lodged in the popular imagination?

i've also seen some talk about using enzymes to grow tailor-made materials. i'd like to know anything you have to say about that. but what i'm really interested in is the possibility of nanoconstructor bots. molecular assembler bots. i need to know the fact from the fiction. i know that such bots, if they are even possible, are decades away. i know that they remain in the realm of sci-fi. but that's okay. i'm just trying to determine if there's something fundamentally wrong with the idea.



Science Advisor
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I don't necessarily want to wade into the sticky fingers debate (though I think this is chiefly a problem for chemists, not for mechanical engineers). But I did want to point out that this comment:

i've also seen some talk about using enzymes to grow tailor-made materials.
nicely dovetails with the work of last year's Nobel Prize winner Frances Arnold, who works on directed evolution of enzymes to perform non-natural reactions. Her work has principally focused on non-natural organic synthesis of commercially interesting compounds (e.g., using enzymes to introduce silyl groups enantioselectively), but there is also an increasing push to fund research into biologically derived functional materials (like semiconductor nanocrystals).

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