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Machine learning may improve molecular design for nanotechnology

At various points along the path toward productive nanosystems for molecular manufacturing it would be useful to be able to calculate the properties and reactions of assemblies of atoms of various sizes. Within the domain of non-relativistic quantum mechanics, such information is supplied by the Schrödinger equation, but this can only be solved analytically for the hydrogen atom and ions with only one electron. For larger atoms and molecules, numerical solutions require compromises between computational feasibility and accuracy. Recent work from researchers at Argonne National Laboratory suggests that machine learning can be an efficient alternative to numerical computations. A hat tip to KurzweilAI.net for pointing to this New Scientist article by Lisa Grossman “Molecules from scratch without the fiendish physics“:

A SUITE of artificial intelligence algorithms may become the ultimate chemistry set. Software can now quickly predict a property of molecules from their theoretical structure. Similar advances should allow chemists to design new molecules on computers instead of by lengthy trial-and-error.

Our physical understanding of the macroscopic world is so good that everything from bridges to aircraft can be designed and tested on a computer. There’s no need to make every possible design to figure out which ones work. Microscopic molecules are a different story. “Basically, we are still doing chemistry like Thomas Edison,” says Anatole von Lilienfeld of Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

The chief enemy of computer-aided chemical design is the Schrödinger equation. In theory, this mathematical beast can be solved to give the probability that electrons in an atom or molecule will be in certain positions, giving rise to chemical and physical properties.

But because the equation increases in complexity as more electrons and protons are introduced, exact solutions only exist for the simplest systems: the hydrogen atom, composed of one electron and one proton, and the hydrogen molecule, which has two electrons and two protons. …

The researchers developed a machine learning model to calculate the atomisation energy—the energy of all the bonds holding a molecule together and applied it to a database of 7165 small organic molecules of known structure and atomization energy and containing up to seven atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur, plus the number of hydrogen atoms necessary to saturate the bonds. These molecules had atomization energies ranging from 800 to 2000 kcal/mol. The model was trained on a subset of 1000 compounds and then used to calculate the energies of the remaining molecules in the database. The results showed a mean error of only 9.9 kcal/mol, comparable to the accuracy of methods based upon the Schrödinger equation, but the computations were done in milliseconds rather than hours. The authors suggest that extensions of their approach might permit rational molecule design or molecular dynamics calculations of systems of atoms undergoing chemical reactions.

The research was published in Physical Review Letters [abstract]. A free full text preprint is available.

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Foresight Presents: An Intimate Evening w/Sonia Arrison, Author of 100+

Sonia Arrison, author of 100 PLUS: How the Coming Age of Longevity will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith

Join us for an intellectually stimulating evening with best-selling author and tech analyst Sonia Arrison! Dinner and drinks will be served h’orderve/tapas-style at 7pm; Sonia will present at 8pm, with personalized, small-group Q&A on the future of technology to follow.

Wednesday March 21, 2012 at Ristorante Don Giovanni, 235 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

This is a limited-audience event; to RSVP, please Paypal $40 to foresight@foresight.org at http://www.paypal.com/

SONIA ARRISON is a bestselling author and technology analyst who has studied the impact of new technologies on society for more than a decade. Her book, 100 PLUS: How the Coming Age of Longevity will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith, is a national bestseller and has been featured in top media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, MSNBC, Bloomberg News, Fox News, and the Today Show.

As a founder, academic advisor, and trustee of Singularity University, she is focused on exponentially growing technologies and their impact on society. She is also a Senior Fellow at the California-based Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI) and a columnist for TechNewsWorld. She is author of three books and numerous PRI studies and was also the host of a radio show called “digital dialogue” on the Voice America network.

What are reviewers saying about 100+?

NEW SCIENTIST
“Brilliant …. The chapters devoted to advances in regenerative medicine and the search for interventions that slow ageing are exhilarating. Growing new limbs, copying internal organs like a Xerox machine, exponential increases in computing power, better eyes and ears—I could read stories like this endlessly. We need such vision to help carry the science forward, and some of the most exciting advances in the scientific study of ageing are forthcoming. Arrison paints a realistic picture of the science driving the next longevity revolution, and makes the case that, if we play our cards right, humanity will reap huge dividends for the effort. In that way, this book is the most comprehensive treatment of the socioeconomic consequences of life extension that I’ve seen …. [T]he costs and benefits of life extension and, more importantly, health extension, are subjects in desperate need of open dialogue, and Arrison begins this process with elegance and style.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Ms. Arrison entertainingly chronicles efforts to conquer aging and death from antiquity to today. Food, sex, exercise and alchemy have all been employed to keep the grim reaper at bay. But technology offers the most plausible route, she says, noting that biology and computing are drawing ever closer together with the sequencing of the human genome …. [Her] sunny outlook is infectious.”

SINGULARITY HUB
“Easy to read, and easy to understand, 100+ walks you through the incredible achievements in regenerative medicine we’ve already seen, projects them forward, and discusses the changes in environment, economy, family, and religion that will follow…. Arrison states her case strongly enough to convince almost anyone, and in a style that will be as accessible to your techno-phobic Uncle Walter as it is to your computer loving self.”

Remember, space is limited! To RSVP, Paypal $40 to foresight@foresight.org at http://www.paypal.com/

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Roadmap to an abundant future #1 on Amazon and BarnesAndNoble

A new optimistic look at the future Abundance: The future is better than you think co-authored by Foresight Advisor Peter Diamandis and science writer Steven Kotler has hit #1 on both Amazon and BarnesAndNoble this morning (Monday, Feb. 20, 2012). From the book’s web site:

Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closing—fast. In Abundance, space entrepreneur turned innovation pioneer Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler document how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and many other exponentially growing technologies will enable us to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have in the previous two hundred years. We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp. …

Providing abundance is humanity’s grandest challenge—this is a book about how we rise to meet it.

A preview of Chapter 1 and other information is available on the Abundance web site. Kudos to Diamandis and Kotler for showing why the future is brighter than it appears, and laying out a roadmap to get there.
—James Lewis

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Nanotechnology, DNA sequencing, and personalized medicine

DNA through a nanopore in graphene

Credit: Lab of Jene Golovchenko, Harvard University


Artist’s conception of a nanopore drilled into a layer of graphene to speed up DNA sequencing.

One of the greatest promises of near-term nanotechnoloogy is cheaper DNA sequencing to speed the development of personalized medicine. There are not only genetic differences between different patients, but also genetic differences between, for example, different cancers of the same organ diagnosed in different patients, or even from different locations in the same patient, that can greatly affect the success of a therapy. Nanopore sensors are among the promising new third-generation DNA sequencing technologies being developed to make inexpensive whole genome sequencing a reality. A review of the potential of this emerging nanotechnology was published recently in Nature Nanotechnology [abstract]. The full text of the review “Nanopore sensors for nucleic acid analysis” has been made available by the authors for down-loading. Nanopores and other third generation sequencing technologies sequence single molecules of DNA in real time. Single molecules of DNA are pulled through a nanopore of some type and changes in the ionic current, dependent on whether an A, G, C, or T nucleotide is passing through the pore, are recorded. The review discusses the different types of nanopore that have been tried, both biological and solid-state, and the challenges encountered, such as reducing the speed at which the DNA molecule transits the nanopore, and improving sensitivity.

Research done by scientists at Harvard and MIT and published in Nature [abstract, free authors’ manuscript deposited in PubMedCentral] showed that a graphene sheet one or two atomic layers thick could form an electrode separating two liquid reservoirs so that current from ions passing through a nanopore in the graphene sheet could be measured, and the current blockade seen when DNA molecules passed through the pore indicated it should be possible to resolve individual nucleotides with an insulating membrane this thin. From a Harvard Gazette article by Michael Rutter “Graphene may help speed up DNA sequencing“:

… By drilling a tiny pore just a few nanometers in diameter, called a nanopore, in the graphene membrane, the researchers were able to measure exchange of ions through the pore and demonstrate that a long DNA molecule can be pulled through the graphene nanopore just as a thread is pulled through the eye of a needle.

“By measuring the flow of ions passing through a nanopore drilled in graphene we have demonstrated that the thickness of graphene immersed in liquid is less then 1 nm thick, or many times thinner than the very thin membrane which separates a single animal or human cell from its surrounding environment,” says lead author Slaven Garaj, a physics research associate at Harvard. “This makes graphene the thinnest membrane able to separate two liquid compartments from each other. The thickness of the membrane was determined by its interaction with water molecules and ions.” …

“Although the membrane prevents ions and water from flowing through it, the graphene membrane can attract different ions and other chemicals to its two atomically close surfaces. This affects graphene’s electrical conductivity and could be used for chemical sensing,” says co-author Jene Golovchenko, the Rumford Professor of Physics and Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard, whose pioneering work started the field of artificial nanopores in solid-state membranes. “I believe the atomic thickness of the graphene makes it a novel electrical device that will offer new insights into the physics of surface processes and lead to a wide range of practical application, including chemical sensing and detection of single molecules.” …

When the researchers added long DNA chains in the liquid, they were electrically pulled one by one through the graphene nanopore. As the DNA molecule threaded the nanopore, it blocked the flow of ions, resulting in a characteristic electrical signal that reflects the size and conformation of the DNA molecule. …

As a DNA chain passes through the nanopore, the nucleobases, which are the letters of the genetic code, can be identified. But a nanopore in graphene is the first nanopore short enough to distinguish between two closely neighboring nucleobases.…

More recently another group at Harvard has integrated nanowire field-effect transistors with a solid-state nanopore to achieve rapid, sensitive detection of the very small currents created as DNA molecules zip through the nanopore. From a Harvard Gazette story by Peter Reuell “Reading life’s building blocks“:

Scientists are one step closer to a revolution in DNA sequencing, following the development in a Harvard lab of a tiny device designed to read the minute electrical changes produced when DNA strands are passed through tiny holes — called nanopores — in an electrically charged membrane.

As described in Nature Nanotechnology [abstract, free full text provided by authors] on Dec. 11, a research team led by Charles Lieber, the Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry [and also winner of the 2001 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology-Experimental], have succeeded for the first time in creating an integrated nanopore detector, a development that opens the door to the creation of devices that could use arrays of millions of the microscopic holes to sequence DNA quickly and cheaply.

First described more than 15 years ago, nanopore sequencing measures subtle electrical current changes produced as the four base molecules that make up DNA pass through the pore. By reading those changes, researchers can effectively sequence DNA.

But reading those subtle changes in current is far from easy. A series of challenges — from how to record the tiny changes in current to how to scale up the sequencing process — meant the process has never been possible on a large scale. Lieber and his team, however, believe they have found a unified solution to most of those problems.

“Until we developed our detector, there was no way to locally measure the changes in current,” Lieber said. “Our method is ideal because it is extremely localized. We can use all the existing work that has been done on nanopores, but with a local detector we’re one step closer to completely revolutionizing sequencing.”

The detector developed by Lieber and his team grew out of earlier work on nanowires. Using the ultra-thin wires as a nanoscale transistor, they are able to measure the changes in current more locally and accurately than ever before.

“The nanowire transistor measures the electrical potential change at the pore and effectively amplifies the signal,” Lieber said. “In addition to a larger signal, that allows us to read things much more quickly. That’s important because DNA is so large [that] the throughput for any sequencing method needs to be high. In principle, this detector can work at gigahertz frequencies.”

The highly localized measurement also opens the door to parallel sequencing, which uses arrays of millions of pores to speed the sequencing process dramatically.

In addition to the potential for greatly improving the speed of sequencing, the new detector holds the promise of dramatically reducing the cost of DNA sequencing, said Ping Xie, an associate of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and co-author of the paper describing the research. …

“Right now, we are limited in our ability to perform DNA sequencing,” Xie said. “Current sequencing technology is where computers were in the ’50s and ’60s. It requires a lot of equipment and is very expensive. But just 50 years later, computers are everywhere, even in greeting cards. Our detector opens the door to doing a blood draw and immediately knowing what a patient is infected with, and very quickly making treatment decisions.”

Rapid, inexpensive DNA sequencing and other nanotechnology-based innovations in drug-delivery and tissue regeneration may transform health care in the coming decade.
—James Lewis

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Atomically-precise positioning of a single atom transistor-VIDEO

A team led by Michelle Y. Simmons, who spoke on “Atomic-scale device fabrication in silicon” at the 2007 Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap conference, which introduced the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, has succeeded in the atomically precise placement of a transistor consisting of a single atom of phosphorous between source and drain electrodes and gate electrodes all made from phosphorous wires only a few atoms wide. A YouTube video illustrating this working transistor of a single atom of phosphorous placed with atomic precision on a silicon crystal includes an STM image that shows the single phosphorous atom placed several tens of rows of silicon atoms from source and drain electrodes of phosphorous that appear to be about 10 rows of atoms wide. To manufacture the phosphorous transistor and electrodes, a scanning tunneling microscope was used to remove precisely determined hydrogen atoms from the passivating layer covering a silicon crystal to form a mask that was then used to apply phosphorous atoms to the vacancies created. An overlay of silicon atoms then preserved these phosphorous nanostructures. The accomplishment is described in a NY Times article by John Markoff, which describes both the place of this work in the progression of Moore’s Law and its potential for a new generation of quantum computers: “Physicists Create a Working Transistor From a Single Atom“:

Australian and American physicists have built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal.

The group of physicists, based at the University of New South Wales and Purdue University, said they had laid the groundwork for a futuristic quantum computer that might one day function in a nanoscale world and would be orders of magnitude smaller and quicker than today’s silicon-based machines. …

“Their approach is extremely powerful,” said Andreas Heinrich, an I.B.M. physicist. “This is at least a 10-year effort to make very tiny electrical wires and combine them with the placement of a phosphorous atom exactly where they want them.”

He said the research was a significant step toward making a functioning quantum computing system. However, whether quantum computing will ever be harnessed for useful tasks remains uncertain, and the researchers also noted that their work demonstrated the fundamental limits that today’s computers would be able to shrink to.

“It shows that Moore’s Law can be scaled toward atomic scales in silicon,” said Gerhard Klimeck, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, referring to the rate at which computing gets faster and cheaper. “The technologies for classical computing can survive to the atomic scale.”

The results were published in Nature Nanotechnology [abstract]. At least for the moment (February 19, 2012), the full text is available without charge. Also available in the same issue is a commentary by Gabriel P. Lansbergen “Nanoelectronics: Transistors arrive at the atomic limit“, which gives additional background and details on this accomplishment.

… Single-atom transistors represent the ultimate limit in solid-state device miniaturization, but they are also interesting for another reason. Deterministically positioned single-dopant atoms in silicon, electrically addressable by metallic leads, are at the heart of a number of promising proposals for quantum-information-processing devices3. The long coherence and relaxation times associated with single dopants make them very attractive candidates for quantum-device architectures.

The atom-by-atom fabrication technique developed by Simmons and co-workers therefore fulfills a long-standing need for a method that is capable of atomic-scale device fabrication in silicon. And although the technique is not directly applicable on an industrial scale, it does bring the development of truly atomistic electronics — and the possibilities they offer — into the experimental realm.

This latest accomplishment from Prof. Simmons and her collaborators follows swiftly on their recent demonstration published just last month in Science [abstract], that Ohms law holds for nanowire only four phosphorous atoms wide. From the Purdue University news service “Down to the wire for silicon: Researchers create a wire 4 atoms wide, 1 atom tall“:

The smallest wires ever developed in silicon – just one atom tall and four atoms wide – have been shown by a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Melbourne University and Purdue University to have the same current-carrying capability as copper wires.

Experiments and atom-by-atom supercomputer models of the wires have found that the wires maintain a low capacity for resistance despite being more than 20 times thinner than conventional copper wires in microprocessors.

The discovery, which was published in this week’s journal Science, has several implications, including:

  • For engineers it could provide a roadmap to future nanoscale computational devices where atomic sizes are at the end of Moore’s law. The theory shows that a single dense row of phosphorus atoms embedded in silicon will be the ultimate limit of downscaling.
  • For computer scientists, it places donor-atom based silicon quantum computing closer to realization.
  • And for physicists, the results show that Ohm’s Law, which demonstrates the relationship between electrical current, resistance and voltage, continues to apply all the way down to an atomic-scale wire.

Although the path from this laboratory demonstration to a practical technology is not yet clear, as emphasized above by the researchers themselves and commentators, the progress at Zyvex Labs (and elsewhere) that we cited in Oct. 2010 in this basic technology of using an STM for atomically precise lithography holds hope that a convergence of manufacturing technology and demonstrated prototypes will not be too distant.
—James Lewis

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Current nanotechnology too cool to ignore

For something a little different from our usual fare, the superhydrophobic spray-on coating illustrated in this YouTube video is too cool to ignore: Ross Nanotechnology’s NeverWet superhydrophobic spray-on coating. A white tennis shoe protected with their fabric coating remained spotless as heavy chocolate syrup poured on the shoe raced away. The video caption says consumer products will be available in early 2012, but the NeverWet web site seems focused on industrial partnerships for various applications, like anti-icing and anti-corrosion coatings. As someone too clumsy to avoid stains and too lazy to clean them, I could grow to like a fabric spray. Their anti-bacterial coatings could be especially useful in minimizing the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
—James Lewis

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Graphene heterostructures may lead to graphene-based computer chips

drawing of vertical graphene heterostructure

Tunnelling transistor

Tunnelling transistor based on vertical graphene heterostructures. Tunnelling current between two graphene layers can be controlled by gating.

Credit: University of Manchester. L. Britnell et al. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1218461

Combining atomically thin graphene with layers of atomically thin insulators appears to open the door to using graphene in computer chips. A hat tip to KurzweilAI.net for reprinting this University of Manchester news release “Graphene electronics moves into a third dimension“:

Wonder material graphene has been touted as the next silicon, with one major problem—it is too conductive to be used in computer chips. Now scientists from The University of Manchester have given its prospects a new lifeline.

In a paper published this week in Science [abstract], a Manchester team lead by Nobel laureates Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov has literally opened a third dimension in graphene research. Their research shows a transistor that may prove the missing link for graphene to become the next silicon.

Graphene—one atomic plane of carbon—is a remarkable material with endless unique properties, from electronic to chemical and from optical to mechanical.

One of many potential applications of graphene is its use as the basic material for computer chips instead of silicon. This potential has alerted the attention of major chip manufactures, including IBM, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Intel. Individual transistors with very high frequencies (up to 300 GHz) have already been demonstrated by several groups worldwide.

Unfortunately, those transistors cannot be packed densely in a computer chip because they leak too much current, even in the most insulating state of graphene. This electric current would cause chips to melt within a fraction of a second. …

The University of Manchester scientists now suggest using graphene not laterally (in plane)—as all the previous studies did—but in the vertical direction. They used graphene as an electrode from which electrons tunnelled through a dielectric into another metal. This is called a tunnelling diode.

Then they exploited a truly unique feature of graphene—that an external voltage can strongly change the energy of tunnelling electrons. As a result they got a new type of a device—vertical field-effect tunnelling transistor in which graphene is a critical ingredient.

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko, who spearheaded the experimental effort, said: “We have proved a conceptually new approach to graphene electronics. Our transistors already work pretty well. I believe they can be improved much further, scaled down to nanometre sizes and work at sub-THz frequencies.” …

The Manchester team made the transistors by combining graphene together with atomic planes of boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide. The transistors were assembled layer by layer in a desired sequence, like a layer cake but on an atomic scale.

Such layer-cake superstructures do not exist in nature. It is an entirely new concept introduced in the report by the Manchester researchers. The atomic-scale assembly offers many new degrees of functionality, without some of which the tunnelling transistor would be impossible.

“The demonstrated transistor is important but the concept of atomic layer assembly is probably even more important,” explains Professor Geim.

Professor Novoselov added: “Tunnelling transistor is just one example of the inexhaustible collection of layered structures and novel devices which can now be created by such assembly.

“It really offers endless opportunities both for fundamental physics and for applications. Other possible examples include light emission diodes, photovoltaic devices, and so on.”

Graphene is one area of nanotechnology that is generating both increased scientific rewards and increased application potential as work continues. It provides an example of the opportunities that can be opened by an apparently serendipitous discovery. It is also an indication of the rich rewards that are to be found from approaching atomic precision in the control of the structure of matter.
—James Lewis

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DNA motor navigates network of DNA tracks

The structural DNA path toward productive nanosystems has achieved another step forward with the demonstration that a DNA origami scaffolding can be used to program a DNA motor to navigate a network of tracks. A hat tip to PhysOrg.com for reprinting this news release from Kyoto University “DNA Motor Programmed to Navigate a Network of Tracks“:

Kyoto, Japan — Expanding on previous work with engines traveling on straight tracks, a team of researchers at Kyoto University and the University of Oxford have successfully used DNA building blocks to construct a motor capable of navigating a programmable network of tracks with multiple switches. The findings, published in the January 22 online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology [abstract], are expected to lead to further developments in the field of nanoengineering.

The research utilizes the technology of DNA origami, where strands of DNA molecules are sequenced in a way that will cause them to self-assemble into desired 2D and even 3D structures. In this latest effort, the scientists built a network of tracks and switches atop DNA origami tiles, which made it possible for motor molecules to travel along these rail systems.

“We have demonstrated that it is not only possible to build nanoscale devices that function autonomously,” explained Dr. Masayuki Endo of Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), “but that we can cause such devices to produce predictable outputs based on different, controllable starting conditions.”

The team, including lead author Dr. Shelley Wickham at Oxford, expects that the work may lead to the development of even more complex systems, such as programmable molecular assembly lines and sophisticated sensors.

“We are really still at an early stage in designing DNA origami-based engineering systems,” elaborated iCeMS Prof. Hiroshi Sugiyama. “The promise is great, but at the same time there are still many technical hurdles to overcome in order to improve the quality of the output. This is just the beginning for this new and exciting field.”

Courtesy Sugiyama Lab, Kyoto University iCeMS

Courtesy Sugiyama Lab, Kyoto University iCeMS

A depiction of a DNA origami tile with a built-in network of tracks. The DNA engine or motor, in red, can be programmed to navigate a series of junctions to reach one of four desired end points.

Perhaps the next step is to have multiple addressable DNA motors bring different components together to be joined?
—James Lewis

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Will 3D printers lead toward nanofactories?

The coming era of atomically precise manufacturing will provide digital control of the structure of matter for a very wide range of possible products and will make possible personal manufacturing of most products. Steps toward digital control of the structure of matter and personal manufacturing, although on a scale much less precise than atomic and for a much more limited range of products, are to be seen with today’s rapidly developing 3D-printing technology. Rival technologies were on display a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. From BBC News “CES 2012: 3D printer makers’ rival visions of future” by Leo Kelion:

With a whir and a click the job is done. In the space of 20 minutes a plastic bottle opener has been constructed by the Replicator – a 3D printing machine capable of making objects up to the size of a loaf of bread.

The device is made by the New York start-up Makerbot Industries and was launched this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The newly-created bottle opener feels warm to the touch and has to be prised away from its base.

It has been created by using extrusion technology – a process in which a spindle of plastic thread is unravelled, melted and fed through a print head which draws the object layer by layer – in this case at a rate of 40mm per second. …

Objects can be created on a computer using free online software such as TinkerCAD or Google Sketchup, before being transferred to the Replicator on a SD memory card.

Alternatively other people’s designs can be downloaded from Makerbot’s community website Thingiverse. …

Take a walk to the other side of the convention centre and you will find another plastic printer maker with another new product, but a very different way of thinking.

3D Systems is a North Carolina-based veteran of the business.

“We invented 3D printers,” its Israeli-born chief executive Abe Reichental says.

“For 25 years we have taken the classic journey of taking expensive, complex technology and bringing it down in price.

“We have about 1,000 workers worldwide. We are a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. We have almost as many patents as employees.”

The firm is at CES to publicise the launch of Cube, its first consumer-focused product.

The $1,299 device is smaller than Makerbot’s but looks more user-friendly, utilising cartridges rather than spools of plastic thread.

It also boasts its own app store. The launch library includes software to customise belt buckles, a program to turn your voice into a bracelet design, and perhaps most excitingly software from developer Geomagic for Microsoft’s Kinect sensor that allows the peripheral to replicate the user’s face. …

Philippe Van Nedervelde, Foresight’s Executive Director-Europe, contributes his thoughts on the significance of current developments in 3D printers,

Check out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLgZL0OAJhg
http://cubify.com/
http://fabbaloo.com/blog/2012/1/6/secret-cubify-project-to-be-unveiled.html

The era of Personal 3D Printing for consumers [has officially started], it seems. And what with its existing track record of excellence plus the slew of key 3D printing companies it has been buying up the company 3D Systems is well poised to become the IBM, Apple, or HP of this new space. (25 years from now, someone should kick me if I do not buy any shares now.)

My sense is that this launch is a close analog to the start-of-an-era-marking launch of the first PC by IBM on August 12, 1981. In some ways, a possibly even closer analog may be the launch of the original Mac on January 24, 1984.

Very interesting times ahead!…

~ Philippe ~

Perhaps Philippe is not exaggerating the significance of this emerging personal manufacturing technology. Personal manufacturing of plastic consumer items may accelerate developing productive nanosystems to make possible personal manufacturing of complex atomically precise consumer products.
—James Lewis

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Panel recommends research to manage health and environmental risks of nanomaterials

Foresight’s principal focus has been the development of advanced nanotechnology for atomically precise manufacturing, but the incremental development and application of current nanotechnology is also a major interest. Meeting the challenges of incremental nanotechnology development and application includes adequately addressing any potential environmental, health, and safety issues (see Foresight’s “Nanoparticle safetypolicy brief.). We therefore note with pleasure that an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences has recommended that the potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials should be studied further and that they will revisit the issue in 18 months, when it is to be hoped that the necessary research will be moving forward. From “With Prevalence of Nanomaterials Rising, Panel Urges Review of Risks” by Cornelia Dean:

… Nanoscale forms of substances like silver, carbon, zinc and aluminum have many useful properties. Nano zinc oxide sunscreen goes on smoothly, for example, and nano carbon is lighter and stronger than its everyday or “bulk” form. But researchers say these products and others can also be ingested, inhaled or possibly absorbed through the skin. And they can seep into the environment during manufacturing or disposal.

Nanomaterials are engineered on the scale of a billionth of a meter, perhaps one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair, or less. Not enough is known about the effects, if any, that nanomaterials have on human health and the environment, according to a report issued by the academy’s expert panel. The report says that “critical gaps” in understanding have been identified but “have not been addressed with needed research.”

And because the nanotechnology market is expanding — it represented $225 billion in product sales in 2009 and is expected to grow rapidly in the next decade — “today’s exposure scenarios may not resemble those of the future,” the report says.

The panel called for a four-part research effort focusing on identifying sources of nanomaterial releases, processes that affect exposure and hazards, nanomaterial interactions at subcellular to ecosystem-wide levels and ways to accelerate research progress. …

A free PDF of the report A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials is available.
—James Lewis

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