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molecular nanotechnology

Saturday 18 November 2006

Molecular nanotechnology (MNT) is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials.

Based on Richard Feynman’s vision of miniature factories using nanomachines to build complex products (including additional nanomachines), this advanced form of nanotechnology (or molecular manufacturing) would make use of positionally-controlled mechanosynthesis guided by molecular machine systems.

MNT would involve combining physical principles demonstrated by chemistry, other nanotechnologies, and the molecular machinery of life with the systems engineering principles found in modern macroscale factories.

The desire in molecular nanotechnology would be to balance molecular reactions in positionally-controlled locations and orientations to obtain desired chemical reactions, and then to build systems by further assembling the products of these reactions.

A roadmap for the development of MNT is an objective of a broadly based technology project led by Battelle (the manager of several U.S. National Laboratories) and the Foresight Institute.

The roadmap was originally scheduled for completion by late 2006, but was released in January 2008.

The Nanofactory Collaboration is a more focused ongoing effort involving 23 researchers from 10 organizations and 4 countries that is developing a practical research agenda specifically aimed at positionally-controlled diamond mechanosynthesis and diamondoid nanofactory development.

In August 2005, a task force consisting of 50+ international experts from various fields was organized by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology to study the societal implications of molecular nanotechnology.

Smart materials and nanosensors

One proposed application of MNT is so-called "smart materials". This term refers to any sort of material designed and engineered at the nanometer scale for a specific task. It encompasses a wide variety of possible commercial applications.

One example would be materials designed to respond differently to various molecules; such a capability could lead, for example, to artificial drugs which would recognize and render inert specific viruses.

Another is the idea of self-healing structures, which would repair small tears in a surface naturally in the same way as self-sealing tires or human skin.

A MNT nanosensor would resemble a smart material, involving a small component within a larger machine that would react to its environment and change in some fundamental, intentional way.

A very simple example: a photosensor might passively measure the incident light and discharge its absorbed energy as electricity when the light passes above or below a specified threshold, sending a signal to a larger machine.

Such a sensor would supposedly cost less and use less power than a conventional sensor, and yet function usefully in all the same applications — for example, turning on parking lot lights when it gets dark.

While smart materials and nanosensors both exemplify useful applications of MNT, they pale in comparison with the complexity of the technology most popularly associated with the term: the replicating nanorobot.

See also

- smart materials
- nanosensors
- replicating nanorobots
- medical nanorobots
- utility fog
- phase-array optics


- Herrmann H, Bar H, Kreplak L, Strelkov SV, Aebi U. Intermediate filaments: from cell architecture to nanomechanics. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2007 Jul;8(7):562-73. PMID: 17551517

- Condon A. Designed DNA molecules: principles and applications of molecular nanotechnology. Nat Rev Genet. 2006 Jul;7(7):565-75. PMID: 16770339