Day 086 - Molecular assemblers and nanofactories

Submitted by Sam on 15 August, 2011 - 02:30

The same principles which apply to everyday mechanical engineering can be implemented on the nanometer scale, allowing hypothetical systems to combine atoms and molecules to create atomically precise components that can in turn be joined together to make macroscopic wholes, just as factory production lines today assemble (much less precise) pieces into large, complex objects.

Unlike factories today, machine movements at the nanometer scale are millions of times faster than our current 'human-scale' processes, and will allow hugely complex products – like billion-core laptops – to be assembled in hours or days. These molecular machines will be able to bond virtually any combination of molecules together in any stable pattern, adding a few atoms at a time in a structured three-dimensional layering approach to produce machines and products that are stronger, lighter, more efficient and smaller than anything our traditional manufacturing processes could ever achieve.

The basic components of the nanofactories which will be capable of this universal engineering are molecular assemblers, or fabricators. They will be able to tolerate freezing or boiling, acid or vacuum, and will let us build anything that the physical laws of the universe allow to exist, limited only by our own ability to design. Nanofactories would contain trillions of these molecular assemblers, arranged into an orderly array, each working on a minute fraction of the finished workpiece, a nanoblock, passing the finished pieces along a nanoscale assembly line – made from molecular conveyor belts, molecular pulleys and grabbers – to be joined together by increasingly large assembly stations.

The nanofactories will be built from a highly modular, repetitive and scalable architecture, and will be able to fit onto a tabletop. Once the first nanofactory has been built, it could be programmed to build another nanofactory in a matter of days, and then nanofactories could proliferate exponentially until the world's demand was satisfied. With the correct designs, enough power, and with enough chemical feedstock (the raw materials that the nanofactory uses to synthesize its products), these factories will be able to build anything we can imagine.

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