WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2005 -- Today’s presentations before the National Research Council committee studying advanced nanotechnology concluded with a trio of panelists describing their research and offering their assessment of the current state of the artin advanced nanotechnology. Their presentations were too technical to describe in detail here. The presenters were:
- David Forrest, president of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing.
- Carlo Montemagno, professor of biomedical engineering at UCLA.
- Christian Schafmeister, assistant professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
The rest of the day was spent in a rambling discussion that included the committee, the panelists, and even the unofficial observers around the room. Instead of recounting the entire inconclusive and unorganized conversation, here are a few choice quotations from the afternoon:
Carlo Montemagno: “I've been offered to have a lab set up for me, with a staff and 10,000 square feet, all set up with the wave of a hand, no problem, many, many times - in China.”
Neil Jacobstein (from the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing): “The criticisms [of the NNI made by supporters of molecular manufacturing] weren't made in order to get funding.... The criticisms were made because we're interested in shifting the priorities of the NNI toward molecular machine systems.... There's no issue about a conspiracy or anything like that - it's just that we thought that the priorities were on the low-hanging fruit ... and there was a great deal of skepticism” from NNI about the more long-term, high-risk, revolutionary interpretation of nanotech."
Eric Drexler: “What’s on my wish list: ... A clear endorsement of the idea that molecular machine systems that make things ... with atomic precision is a natural and important goal for the development of nanoscale technologies ... with the focus of that endorsement being the recognition that we can look at biology, and beyond.... It would be good to have more minds, more critical thought, more innovation, applied in those directions.”
Maynard Holliday (committee member, Evolution Robotics): “Maybe we do need some kind of DARPA-like area in the NNI” to fund high-risk projects.
Thomas S. Hartwick (committee member, consultant): “I’ve been through a couple of [technology] revolutions ... so I’m very impressed with how technology goes ... I believe people should dream big dreams.... [But] it drives me crazy when computations are made without taking into account ... all the problems that go along with manufacturing.... So please, as the field matures, don’t decouple computation from the reality of that world.”
Kathleen M. Rest (committee member, Union of Concerned Scientists): “We still haven’t really talked about is molecular manufacturing desirable. ... I think it’s going to be important to us to look at the kind of societal needs ... that we could possibly address” with nanotechnology. “Because, after all, we’re talking about using public funds for investment” so the research should be directed “at least in the back of our heads” toward “some public good.”
And as a bonus, here’s one more quote -- an audio clip from Eric Drexler’s presentation in the morning, in which he responds to criticism that molecular manufacturing seems to promise too much, that it will have too broad a range of applications. The clip is about one minute long, and you can hear it in the following formats: MP3, Real Audio, Windows Audio, or Quicktime.