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Any human activity, incomprehensible to the majority, immediately becomes overgrown with myths. Naturally, this also affected nanotechnology - the main modern scientific and technological project. Everyone has heard about this, but few people imagine the essence of the direction.
Most believe that nanotechnology is the manipulation of atoms and the assembly of micro-objects from them. But this is the main myth. Myths are born from lack of knowledge or lack of information, another option is to deliberately plant delusions in order to attract attention, and therefore investment.
In the case of the nanotechnology project, the myths even helped kick-start the process. However, delusions have a surprising quality - when they are born, they continue to live their lives.
Real nanotechnology is so contrary to myths that it creates confusion in people's heads, their rejection and even denial of the existence of this direction in general. Therefore, we will consider the main myths about nanotechnology.
The founder and ideologist of nanotechnology is Richard Feynman. This myth is perhaps the most harmless. It arose in 1992 during a speech by one of the prophets of nanotechnology, Eric Drexler, before the Senate Commission. For the project to be perceived and promoted, the lecturer referred to the statements of Richard Feynman, an expert in the field of particle physics and quantum field theory. The fact is that the scientist was a Nobel laureate and was an unshakable authority in the eyes of politicians. However, Feynman died in 1988 and could not refute this statement. Most likely, he would have just laughed, since he was a famous joker. The famous speech of the scientist, during which the legendary phrase was uttered: "The principles of physics we know do not prohibit the creation of objects" atom by atom "was generally taken by colleagues as one big joke. However, the idea that the manipulation of atoms is possible sounded. creatively developed this idea, which formed the basis of the main myths of the industry.
Nanotechnology is waste-free. It would seem that creating an object atom by atom, there can be no waste. However, this thinking is inherent in people who look at the manipulation of atoms only in pictures. There are no smoking pipes or drains. It would seem that to drag an atom over a distance of nanometers and almost no energy is required. The question of where the atom will come from for assembly at all is almost indecent. Most people have little idea of the technology of production, but atoms do not lie in a warehouse waiting for their turn? When we consume manufactured goods, we do not focus on their connection with such a harmful chemical industry. It is she who consumes oil, gas, ores for her needs. But for nanotechnology, in the opinion of many, all this is not required - only individual atoms are needed. However, this is just an idyll, atoms themselves exist only in a vacuum, with the exception of inert gases. In other cases, they interact and form new chemical compounds - this is the nature of things. In addition, any technology requires appropriate tools, with the help of which production will be carried out. Force microscopes and tunnel microscopes, sterile laboratories in general, boggle the imagination as objects from the future. However, all this, like the walls, the roof and the foundation will be assembled in the usual way, and not from waste-free atoms. One day, humanity may create a waste-free and environmentally friendly production, but it will be created using a different technique and on different principles.
The existence of nanomachines. Initially, it was about a different technique. Obviously, to design at the nanoscale it is necessary to have an appropriate manipulator. It would seem that it is possible to proportionally reduce their size by organizing miniature factories that would drill and stamp parts. However, this approach is straightforward. At the micro level, it still works, which consists of microelectromechanical devices used in cars, printers, air conditioners, sensors and indicators. If you look at them under a microscope, you can find the usual shafts and gears, pistons, valves and mirrors. However, nanoobjects have properties that are different from macro and microobjects. You can't. For example, proportionally reduce the size of transistors from the current 45 nm to 10, since they will not be able to work - electrons will begin to tunnel through the insulator layer. And the connecting wires cannot be as thick as an atom, the current will not be conducted through them. Such a structure will either disintegrate due to thermal movement, or gather in a heap, breaking electrical contact. Similarly, with the mechanical properties of objects. With a decrease in their size, the ratio of area to volume increases, and friction increases. As a result, nanoobjects begin to literally stick to each other or to other surfaces that seem flat due to their smallness. If you need to walk on a vertical wall, but this can be useful, but if the device needs to slide or walk, then the opposite is true. It takes too much energy to move. Even the nano-pendulum will stop immediately - the air itself will become a significant obstacle for it. Nanoobjects have high windage, even a particle of 1 micron in size feels the force of impacts of small molecules, what can we say about elements of 10 nm, which weigh less than a million times and the ratio of weight to area is 100 times less? However, in the media, there are constantly descriptions of nano-copies of nuts, gears and other mechanical parts, from which it is supposed to create operating machines. These projects cannot be taken seriously. Physicists are realizing that creating nanomechanical or electromechanical devices requires different principles than macro and even micro analogs. And nature will help in this, which over billions of years of evolution has created a great variety of molecular machines. It takes decades to figure out how they work, how they can be adapted to fit your needs, and even improved. The most famous example of a natural molecular motor is the flagellar motor of bacteria. Biological machines also provide muscle contraction, nutrient transport, and ion transport across cell membranes. Moreover, such molecular machines have high efficiency - almost 100%. They are very economical, since only about 1% of the cell's energy is spent on the operation of the electric motors that ensure the movement of the cell. Therefore, scientists come to the conclusion that the most realistic way to create nanodevices is the collaboration of physicists and biologists.
The existence of nanorobots. Let's say that you have created a sketch of a nanodevice. But how to collect it, or better in several copies? Following Feynman's logic, you can create tiny machines and miniature manipulators that would assemble finished products. However, they must be managed by a person, there must be some kind of equipment or program for control. In addition, all processes must be observed, for example with a microscope. An alternative idea was put forward by Eric Drexler in his 1986 fantasy book Machines of Creation. The author, who grew up on the works of Azimov, proposed using mechanical machines with a size of 100-200 nm - nanorobots for the production of nanodevices. At the same time, it was no longer a question of punching or drilling, robots had to assemble a device immediately from atoms, they were called assemblers. However, even here the approach remained mechanical. The assembler's manipulators were supposed to be several tens of nanometers long, an engine for moving the robot and an autonomous energy source should be implemented. So it turns out that the nanorobot itself must consist of many small parts, each of which is 100-200 atoms in size. The most important unit of the nanorobot was the on-board computer, which determined which molecule or atom should be captured and where to put it. However, the linear dimensions of such a computer should not have exceeded 40-50 nm, whereas today's technology can create only one transistor of this size. Then Drexler addressed the book to the distant future, at that time scientists had not even confirmed the possibility of manipulating individual atoms. This happened later, when a tunnel microscope was created, controlled by a powerful computer with billions of transistors. However, the dream of nanorobots was so tempting that the discovery only added credibility to it. Not only the author himself believed in the project, but also journalists, senators and the public. And only scientists lucidly explained that such an idea is unrealizable in principle. The simplest explanation is that the manipulator that has captured the atom will connect to it forever, as a chemical interaction will take place. Is it possible to disagree on this with the Nobel laureate in chemistry Richard Smalley? However, the idea of nanorobots continues to live to this day, becoming more complex and acquiring new applications.
The existence of medical nanorobots. This myth is very popular lately - millions of nanorobots should be prowling around the human body, diagnosing changes, repairing the smallest breakdowns with the help of nanoscalpels, scraping off plaques with nanoscopes, while reporting somewhere on the work done. However, where are the guarantees that the message will not be received not only by the doctor, but also by someone else? Disclosure of private information is evident. Will robots then become spies? Moreover, the belief in nanospies is strong. Surprisingly, much of what is presented in this plan has already been created. There are invasive diagnostic systems that report changes in the body. Medicines have also been created that act only on certain cells; there are also systems for cleaning blood vessels from plaques and building up bone tissue. And in terms of espionage, there are great successes - clearing memories, "smart" dust and invisible tracking systems. Only such systems of the future have nothing to do with Drexler nanorobots, except for their size. Such achievements will become possible through the joint work of physicists, chemists and biologists working in the field of synthetic science and nanotechnology.
The presence of a physical method for the synthesis of substances. Once upon a time, Richard Feynman unwittingly betrayed an old dream of physicists, said that physical synthesis is possible in the manipulation of atoms. Like, chemists will turn to physicists with orders for the synthesis of a target molecule with specific properties. However, chemists are not interested in the synthesis of a molecule; they work with a substance, its production and transformation. A molecule is not just a group of atoms arranged in a certain order, they are also connected by chemical bonds. After all, a liquid in which there is one oxygen for two hydrogen atoms will not necessarily be water. Perhaps it is just a mixture of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. Let's say you managed to put together a bunch of eight atoms - two carbon and six hydrogen. For a physicist, this compound is C2H6, and a chemist will indicate at least two more possibilities of combining atoms. And how can such a molecule be assembled? Move two carbon atoms first, or add a hydrogen atom to the carbon? Scientists know how to manipulate atoms, but so far only heavy and unreactive. Complex structures have been created from atoms of gold, iron, xenon. But how to work with light and active atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen is unclear. Thus, the assembly of proteins and nucleic acids is not as simple a matter as many are trying to imagine. There is one more nuance that limits the prospects for physical synthesis. Chemists get a substance in which there are a huge number of molecules. There are billions of billions of them in a milliliter of water. How long will it take to assemble such a cube atomic. Now work on an atomic force or a tunneling microscope is akin to art, one cannot do without a special high-quality education - after all, all manipulations must be done manually, evaluating intermediate results. The process can be compared to laying a brick. Even if you mechanize such work and be able to stack a million atoms per second, then it will take two billion years to reproduce a 1 cm3 cube of water! That is why millions of factories will not solve the problem of synthesis, just as a million nanorobots scurrying around inside a person will not solve his problems. We just don't have enough life to wait for the results of their labor. That is why Richard Smalley publicly called on Drexler to remove the mention of "creation machines" from his speeches, so as not to mislead the public. However, the idea of obtaining such a substance and materials should not be immediately abandoned. First of all, it is not atoms that can be manipulated, but much larger blocks, for example, carbon nanotubes. In this case, the problem of light and active atoms will disappear, and the productivity will immediately increase by several orders of magnitude. Thus, today scientists in laboratories are already receiving the simplest and single copies of nanodevices. In addition, one can come up with such situations when the introduction of an atom, or simply an impact from the outside, initiates the process of self-organization or transformations in the environment. As a result, highly accurate surface scanning and repeated exposure can help create extended objects with a regular nanostructure. And this method can create unique sample templates for further cloning. Nature knows how to create multiple identical clones of molecules and organisms. Many have heard of the polymerase reaction, when a single piece of DNA extracted from biological material is artificially multiplied by chemical means. But why not create similar machines to clone other molecules? The well-known principles of chemistry do not prohibit doing this, the reproduction of molecules is quite real and corresponds to the laws of nature.
Possibility of "gray mucus" appearance. In his works, Drexler introduced two types of devices into the concept. The first are parsers, their functions are reversed to collectors. Such mechanisms were supposed to study the structure of a new object, preserving its atomic structure in the memory of the nanocomputer. Such a device would be a dream of chemists - after all, until now science cannot see all the atoms, for example, in a protein. An accurate determination of the structure of a molecule is possible only if it is included in the composition of a crystal, together with millions of similar ones. Then, using the expensive method of X-ray structural analysis, you can determine the position of all atoms in space. The second type was the creators, or replicators. Their main task was to be the continuous production of both collectors and replicators of their own kind, that is, in fact, the reproduction of nanorobots. Drexler suggested that replicators must be much more complex mechanisms than simple assemblers and consist of hundreds of millions of atoms. If the duration of replication is measured in minutes, then, following a geometric progression, more than trillion new creators will be recreated per day, who will produce new collectors. This myth says that it is possible that a situation may arise when the system will only switch to a mode of unrestrained cloning, and all the activity of replicators will be aimed only at increasing its own population. It will look like a kind of riot of nanomachines.It would seem that for their own construction nanorobots only need atoms that can be obtained from the environment, so everything around them will fall into the tenacious manipulators of the dismantlers, as a result all matter on the planet, and with it, we will turn into "gray slime" - a cluster of nanorobots. The myth of the end of the world is not new, no wonder it has reappeared with this new technology. Fantasies about gray goo are directly related to nanotechnology, this scenario is very fond of filmmakers, only reinforcing the general misconception. However, such a course of events is impossible. Even if you still believe in the possibility of assembling something essential from atoms, think about this. First of all, Drexler replicators won't have the complexity to create their own kind. Even 100 million atoms are not enough to create an assembly-controlling computer, or even memory. Even if we assume that 1 atom will carry 1 bit of information, then the total amount of memory will be 12.5 megabytes, which is too small for this activity. In addition, replicators will not be able to receive the raw materials they need. After all, their elemental composition is noticeably different from that which is part of the environment, including biomass. It takes a lot of time and energy to find, deliver and extract the necessary elements, and this determines the rate of reproduction. In macro dimensions, such an assembly will be similar to the creation of a machine tool from elements that still need to be found, mined and delivered from different planets of the solar system. Therefore, the lack of resources and puts a limit to the unrestrained spread of populations of any other creatures, even much more perfect and adapted than nanorobots.
By 2015, the market for nanotechnology will amount to trillions of dollars. The reason for this myth was the National Science Foundation (NSF) report in 2001 that the nanotechnology market would be worth a trillion dollars by 2015. Later, this statement was even more overestimated, the record estimate today is the figure of $ 3 trillion. However, such flashy numbers are more like tabloid headlines than serious market research. Today, experts cannot even clearly define what nanotechnology is. So, microelectronics is already on its way to becoming nanoelectronics, because the structure of electronic circuits has already crossed the 100 nm barrier. Accordingly, the number of companies producing "nanoproducts" will grow rapidly. True, they will have very familiar names - Toshiba, GE, Nokia, Bayer, Kraft, etc. Their products could be classified as evolutionary nanotechnology. But to accurately assess the market for revolutionary nanotechnology, which plans to assemble devices atom by atom, is difficult to assess, and accordingly there can be no intelligible estimates. Moreover, marketing research does not estimate the value of a real nanotechnological process, product or material. Only the total cost of products is calculated, which include nanotechnology. This is a subtle difference and results in billions of dollars in reporting. Thus, the estimate of Lux Research estimates the net market for nanomaterials by 2010 at $ 3.6 billion, while the entire volume of the nanotechnology market is estimated at $ 1.5 trillion! That is, in fact, it is not the nanotechnology market that is assessed, but the market for products containing nanoparticles. The same NSF claimed that more than 200 million people would be employed in the nanoindustry, these figures sounded in reports and in grant applications. However, 8-10 years after the report, it turned out that the nanotechnology industry practically does not exist, despite the large number of research groups in different fields.