Re: Submolecular nanotech

Gina Miller (
Mon, 17 May 1999 20:27:39 PDT

>From Engines of creation (K. Eric Drexler)

Will the uncertainty principle of quantum physics make molecular machines unworkable?

This principle states (among other things) that particles can't be pinned down in an exact location for any length of time. It limits what molecular machines can do, just as it limits what anything else can do. Nonetheless, calculations show that the uncertainty principle places few important limits on how well atoms can be held in place, at least for the purposes outlined here. The uncertainty principle makes electron positions quite fuzzy, and in fact this fuzziness determines the very size and structure of atoms. An atom as a whole, however, has a comparatively definite position set by its comparatively massive nucleus. If atoms didn't stay put fairly well, molecules would not exist. One needn't study quantum mechanics to trust these conclusions, because molecular machines in the cell demonstrate that molecular machines work.

Cells replicate. Their machines copy their DNA, which directs their ribosomal machinery to build other machines from simpler molecules. These machines and molecules are held in a fluid-filled bag. Its membrane lets in fuel molecules and parts for more nanomachines, DNA, membrane, and so forth; it lets out spent fuel and scrapped components. A cell replicates by copying the parts inside its membrane bag, sorting them into two clumps, and then pinching the bag in two. Artificial replicators could be built to work in a similar way, but using assemblers instead of ribosomes. In this way, we could build cell-like replicators that are not limited to molecular machinery made from the soft, moist folds of protein molecules.

Some of these replicators will not resemble cells at all, but will instead resemble factories shrunk to cellular size. They will contain nanomachines mounted on a molecular framework and conveyor belts to move parts from machine to machine. Outside, they will have a set of assembler arms for building replicas of themselves, an atom or a section at a time.

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Nanotechnology Industries
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