A chat with Eric Drexler

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2011

Not over coffee and cakes, sadly, but you take what you can get in this crazy world, AMIRITEZ?

So when I got the chance to email Eric Drexler – yup, the nanotech guy – with some follow-up questions responding to his inaugural lecture at Oxford Martin College last month, I jumped in with both feet… and you can see the results over H+ Magazine, who very kindly ran the piece despite a bout of rather unprofessional behaviour on my part, for which I publicly extend further apologies. (No big story, beyond yours truly acting like a precious and short-tempered dick. Who’d have thought, eh?)

So, yeah – been a bit quiet here of late, hasn’t it? That’s rather unavoidable, as my workload at the moment is every shade of insane, but things should settle down a bit in the next few months. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t find some interesting people to take the mic every now and again; if you think you should be one of them, use the form on the contact page to let me know why!

Stay well, folks…


Self-assembling nanotech that moves and reshapes itself on demand…

Paul Raven @ 24-06-2010

is no longer science fiction [via @dresdencodak]. Early days yet, natch (and the focus here is on medical applications), but the proof-of-concept work is getting done.


New nanoparticle self-assembly routes “more like nature”

Paul Raven @ 27-10-2009

Here’s the latest on new techniques in nanoparticle self-assembly as discovered by researchers from the US Department of Energy:

“We’ve demonstrated a simple yet versatile approach to precisely controlling the spatial distribution of readily available nanoparticles over multiple length scales, ranging from the nano to the macro,” says Ting Xu, a polymer scientist who led this project and who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California, Berkeley’s Departments of Materials Sciences and Engineering, and Chemistry. “Our technique can be used on a wide variety of nanoparticle and should open new routes to the fabrication of nanoparticle-based devices including highly efficient systems for the generation and storage of solar energy.”

Well, that’s the sales pitch out of the way. The thing that caught my eye about this particular piece, though, was this paragraph:

“Bring together the right basic components — nanoparticles, polymers and small molecules — stimulate the mix with a combination of heat, light or some other factors, and these components will assemble into sophisticated structures or patterns,” says Xu. “It is not dissimilar from how nature does it.

Now, think back to that video of DNA and RNA synthesising proteins like tiny little machinesas we get closer and closer to mastering matter at an atomic level, will the line between “life” and “machines” become increasingly meaningless?


Quantum motor with just two atoms

Tom James @ 19-09-2009

Quantum-motorResearchers at the University of Augsburg in Germany have developed a blueprint for a kind of quantum electric motor that uses just two atoms:

Their motor consists of one neutral atom and one charged atom trapped in a ring-shaped optical lattice. The atoms jump from one site in the lattice to the next as they travel round the ring. Placing this ring in an alternating magnetic field creates the conditions necessary to keep the charged atom moving round the the ring.

As with many elements of quantum physics it is difficult to imagine precisely what you could do with such a miniscule motor, but for the time being the researchers are seeking to attach the motor to a nanonoscopic resonator, thus making the resonator vibrate.

In the meantime we are left speculating as to what peculiar corners of which unexpected futures devices such as this could find a use and a narrative.

[via Slashdot, from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]


Nanotechnologically self-repairing circuits

Tom James @ 11-09-2009

selfheal_x220Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a means by which nanotube-filled capsules could repair electronic circuits when they are damaged:

Capsules, filled with conductive nanotubes, that rip open under mechanical stress could be placed on circuit boards in failure-prone areas. When stress causes a crack in the circuit, some of the capsules would also rupture and release nanotubes to bridge the break.

“Many times when a device fails, it’s because a circuit or capacitor burns out,” says Bielawski. “This is critical in situations where you can’t repair it — in satellites or submarines.” To address the problem, engineers currently build redundancy into a system. Self-healing circuits could make devices for remote applications more lightweight, more efficient, and cheaper, says Bielawski.

Consumer electricals have become increasingly cheap and disposable over the past few years. If this technology is adopted widely and improved could it lead to electricals that continue to function well for many decades? It seems unlikely that companies would choose to lose built-in obsolesence as a marketing tool, but if technologies increase in durability and strictly hardware-based improvements tail off (i.e. it becomes more economical to achieve improvements in performance through software tweaks, instead of relying on Moore’s Law) could it be that we find ourselves with the same mobile-phone/$multi-purpose_personal_electronic_widget for many years, which continually repairs and rebuilds itself when damaged?

[from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]


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