Building Nano Intuition

by Chris Stones

Imagine 15th century Italy.

Somewhere a guy named da Vinci is hacking away at some artwork. He draws up some
amazingly skilled designs for devices that can't be made. But that doesn't
stop his imagination.

My question is where is that sort of guy today?
Where is the guy that is building those devices that you can't
quite make yet but we 'know' would work? Who is artfully crafting designs
for wondrous imaginary nano-like things?


I've had my eye on the nano scale for a long time. However, I've spent only a marginal
amount of time reading up on the theory of nanomechanical devices courtesy of
Eric Drexler's hard work and insight in the book Nanosystems. Published in '92 the
book is a bit old by now but I have a feeling it's still very relevant.

The NanoTech Industry is still a largely hypothetical one. But it makes
its exciting progress in various hops and skips from lab to lab. Each one shouting out
their incremental achievements in the land of the nano. My step one should be figuring
out what is possible from experiment today and
then find out how things "feel" at the nano scale.

And that is exactly what I set out to do.

One day I realized that I was going to have to build my nano intuition in order to
stay relevant in the coming decades. At least, it's driven by fear about as much
as it is driven by curiosity and excitement. I didn't want to spend thousands of hours
building robotic construction systems only to find out that they are all obsolete before
the dust settles.

Gotta think small to think big.

Who knows, seeing as this is still a largely simulated field I
suppose I have time. Perhaps, playing with these atomic toys will pave the way
to my own new and interesting inventions. And if nothing else they are sure to be
pretty learning experiments. So...

Why not build atomic art?

I felt a thrill as I began to re-imagine my former creations
on the atomic scale. I thought about the maze program simulating mazes
with walls merely a dozen or so atoms thick. Synthesizing
the software to synthesize the macro molecular model piques my curiosity
in a way traditional brush and paint would never do.

The fantastic part is that I can justify my wasting time as a learning process
and I'm all about justifying how I spend my time.

Recently, I ran my first honest-to-god simulations using a piece of
software called Nano-Engineer 1. It's written in a programing language I
can relate to and you can bet I'll be modifying it as my insight and
creative ambitions grow.

For now though, I tried to simulate the worlds smallest water glass with real
water in it.

...It failed.
But I learned my first lesson about nano tech.

Lesson 1: Things are wiggly.

On the scale of quantum mechanical effects and thermal noise the world
is a very bumpy and dis-sorted place. The idea here is to rebuild
the way one thinks of the world in order to re-imagine novel ways
to accomplish classical tasks.

I have a few thoughts about all this tucked away on pieces of scratch paper.
The idle daydreams of a novice explorer looking to chart a course somewhere
down there. The map looks like it will contain many formidable challenges.
The most interesting of which I perceive to be the problem of writing software
compilers that can build devices from the nano on up. And then find a way to
bootstrap the whole process via structual DNA nanotechnology.

I'll get packin.

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