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Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life 1st Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Jones argues that a wholly different approach will have to be adopted -- an approach suited to the peculiar physics of the nanoscale, where fluctuations and Brownian motion dominate, where surfaces are sticky, and where even quantum field theory (in the Casimir effect) conspires to frustrate the Drexlerian machinist.
Rather than try to work around the physics of the nanoscale, Jones proposes that we use it to our advantage -- just as biological soft "nanotechnology" does. Brownian motion and adhesion energy, for instance, make self-assembly possible. Just as proteins spontaneously fold to their native conformations and just as lipid membranes spontaneously assemble and fold into liposomes, we can design molecules to spontaneously achieve useful three dimensional conformations. We can imitate proteins by coupling conformational changes to molecular recognition and environmental changes, the principle which makes a host of protein activities -- signaling, sensing, catalysis -- possible. While traditional Carnot heat engines fail on the nanoscale, we are now beginning to understand the principles of isothermal molecular motors, such as those used for intracellular transport.Read more ›
An advantage is that the author, Jones, is not a biologist but a physist, and his approack deals with the physical phenomina of brownian motion (shaking by thermally excited molicules), surface effects like van der Walls forces and viscosity, and the ways these forces can be taken advantage of rather than fought by unconventional machine components like shape changing molicules for valves and isothermal motors at this scale.
Jones and colleagues are themselves involved with development of nanoscale motors using these techniques and the book also covers the equally weird information processing and transduction devices which are likely to be most useful at this size range, again emphysizing similarities to biocomponents but by no means suggesting that we limit ourselves to slavishly using or copying them.
Later in the book he does get into the physical limitations of the dimonoid assemblers and such originally proposed by Eric Drexler, but this book is by no means simply a put down of another researcher's ideas or cat fight between them.
As a view of what short and medium term MNT is likely to be like I can not think of a better source. While this text uses little mathematics it does manage to rigorously lay out the underlying physical laws that will limit some types of construction at this size range but also provide some new and almost magic seeming possibilities.
Over-all I would say this book contains les "hype" about nanotechnology than any I have come across, presenting facts instead.
I think it has been shown both theoretically and experimentally that each atom to atom reaction has its own Brownian motion, and then, each atom to a given molecule, and then molecule to molecule has it's own Brownian motion that the nanotool needs to be designed to 'mechanically' combine the two. This more or less makes Drexler's vision impractical. But, perhaps there's a self-organization way and then on a sufficiently large scale, we can bring in mechanical combining(like the micron level!) It's not like Eric Drexler hadn't ever heard of these things; but, clearly, he underestimated them.
One possible way to make Drexler's atomically precise nanotechnology is by making things very cold. But, one can't imagine constructing things on a very large scale by first having everything at absolute zero temperatures.Read more ›