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Hubert's Interesting Nanoassembler 46

SEWilco writes: "In the Nando/AP article announcing the winner of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, I noticed that he's built a machine which is assembling a few thousand atoms of almost any material into various shapes. The pictures show 2D shapes, but he mentions 3D as a goal." Congratulations to Brian Hubert -- what a cool device.
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Hubert's Interesting Nanoassembler

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  • by Fervent ( 178271 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @11:38PM (#422660)
    Ten bucks says someone figures out a way to draw nanoporn in the next five years.
  • You're on.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    inks, and organics have all been successfully deposited with resolutions up to 1 million dots per inch (dpi)

    This can't be right because my local CompUSA salesperson was formal: the inkjet printer I bought there had the highest resolution of all.

  • by NatePWIII ( 126267 ) <> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @11:58PM (#422663) Homepage
    While I was working at IBM's Almaden Center this sort of thing was getting lots of attention. Arranging atoms on copper plates to be exact. Take a look at: []

    Nathaniel P. Wilkerson
    Domain Names for $13
  • by Tim ( 686 ) <timr AT alumni DOT washington DOT edu> on Sunday February 18, 2001 @12:03AM (#422664) Homepage
    Didja read the press release about Mr. Hubert?

    Apparently, Mr. Hubert is a brilliant engineer, a brilliant computer scientist, a brilliant concert pianist, and a brilliant inventor. Oh yeah, and a brilliant architect too. I bet he even cleans the floors in the mathematics wing at MIT, and lives in southie with his brilliant med student girlfriend...

    I know these press releases are designed to talk people up, but MIT's have to be the worst of all. Yeah, Mr. Hubert's a smart guy. No matter how smart he is, he's probably only brilliant at one of the above. There just isn't enough time in the day to be brilliant at everything.

  • Or better yet take a look at this link: []

    Nathaniel P. Wilkerson
    Domain Names for $13
  • Being able to nanoassemble stuff in 2D is nothing new. 3D is a "goal", which means it's a long way from anything useful. (And I know high school students that can write better articles than the AP reporters.)
  • I was thinking about nanotech some time ago and it occurred to me that control cirtiuts are a larger technical problem than the moving parts because:

    1: Power supply may not easily scale down. 2: THe electronics currently cannot scale down in this way, and it will require fundamentally different technology (i.e. vacuum tube -> Solid state -> ??) to make work. Anyway, I think that it will be many years before we find what we are looking for here.

  • No, I think I prefer a good old bash-assembler, don't you think? :)
  • "as is arrogance"

    Have these dexter spudboys learn some humility and I may begin to show some respect for their brilliant wankery. it's the unrestrained braniacs of the world that have given us nukes and filthy mfctring methods. what is needed, here as in everywhere, is some bloody fucking wisdom, some basic human sympathy...
  • by bug_hunter ( 32923 ) on Sunday February 18, 2001 @12:52AM (#422670)
    I write the entire government secret files that I stole onto the back of a 5 cent piece. Use it to pay for a pencil that my contact is selling.

    The FBI going to be able to electro-microscope everything? I think not. Yet I think nano-printers will be a bit percuiliar and expensive for your local crime syndicate so this is in the realms of cross nation spying.

    Oh I suppose this technology could be used for powers of good but that's not really as interesting.
  • I don't know how much freedom students have with equipment but considering it's a male student, And it can allready draw 2d pictures I wouldn't doubt that he has allready drawn some type on porn just to show the guys in the lab he could.
  • This is a nanoporn version of that famous picture, greatly magnified:

  • All your bash are belong to us!
  • All your base, are belong to us?
  • Some humilty to who? I mean humility means respect as you say... Should it be to the one sided ramblings of a paranoid irrational nut like yourself? Or to the reality itself and the nature of limited resources, chaotic processes, and wear and tear?

    Now I'd like for you to apologize to Mr. Hubert, but feel free to tell Edward Teller to fuck off.

    You don't have the decency to take everyone on a case by case basis.

    Now, then what are you afraid of?

    Tiny little robots making you watch more football?

    You could go a long way to learn about you fear so much.

    Oh and enjoy the roof over your head. Someone had to figure out yo stand under a board laid over two pillars some thousands of years ago.
  • I've about had it with paranoid illiterate morons talking about arrogance when ever someone dares to lift a finger to do something.
  • All your base are belong to, us?
  • If I remember my reading of Drexler [] correctly, this puts us about five to ten years ahead of his most optimistic projections for when molecular nanotechnology based assemblers should be emerging. Yes, there's a way to go yet before this becomes a useable technology rather than a lab curiosity, but it's still earth-shaking in its implications.

    If you haven't read the book linked to above (or one like it), go read it now. Otherwise you're not going to understand what happens to us over the next decade.

    (As a bonus question, students may want to prepare a paper on how open source methodologies can be used to circumvent the Grey Goop problem, in place of the top-down regulation that Drexler seems to be advocating :)

  • "Now, then what are you afraid of?"

    nukes and filthy mfctring methods.

    I may be approaching luddite territory here, but your 'football-watching' dig certainly betrays the arrogance that I mentioned. and, to a lesser extent, your winblows email address betrays your elitism. This shoddy mental wardrobe of yours could one day cause someone harm. And you are probably ready to rationalize away any responsibility for it, aren't you? using devices such as indirectly claiming credit for the roof over my head...

    I just want to urge people to think before they act! I have nothing bad to say about the accomplishments of Mr. Hubert. For all I know, he's a wonderful fellow. but the point is, there is not enough wisdom in our map-cap pursuit of knowledge. it's time to excersize our collective power of reflection and proceed with a modicum of caution. Thank you.
  • Things change, stuff gets cheaper. In the 50s and 60s you local crime syndicate would not have owned a computer, unless they stole one. in 40 years, this technology will be really cheap.
  • "Yet I think nano-printers will be a bit percuiliar and expensive for your local crime syndicate so this is in the realms of cross nation spying."

    Funny thing is that many crime syndicates (mostly the international drug cartels) have far more money to spend on this sort of thing than most if not all governments. If you havn't seen Traffik, do. Not just because it is a great film, but because it makes some great points to make about the reality of these organistaions. They are very professional, well organised, and exceptionally well funded, and they don't have tax payers to look after. The international drugs trade is valued in the hundreds if not thousands of billions of dollers, most of which is the hugh markup taken at every stage.

  • Last year I wrote a paper on "Open Sourcing Nanotechnology Research and Development: Issues and Opportunities []" which was included in the poster session at the Molecular Nanotechnology Conference last November. The paper includes a section on how open source approaches could help improve safety. A draft of the paper was discussed on Slashdot last October as Open Source Nanotechnology []

  • by BryanBruns ( 83253 ) on Sunday February 18, 2001 @04:45AM (#422683) Homepage

    As the AC notes above, this may be nanoscale assembly, but it is not the molecular engineering with precise placement of individual atoms that Drexler talks about.

    BTW if you look at Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation [] cited above you'll see that he actually argues not for top-down regulation but for a synthesis of strategies [] to deal with dangers from nanotech.

    If you are interested in issues related to molecular nanotechnology, come on over and join us at []. Among other things we're currently having a discussion about regulation and nanotech [].

  • Mr. Hubert replied, "I would have been pleased to interact with the late Jerome Lemelson."

    Did anyone check to see if this guy is human?
  • it's the unrestrained braniacs of the world that have given us nukes and filthy mfctring methods.

    He said as he typed at his computer. It took an unrestricted Braniac, Steve Wozniac to come up with the first personal computer, not unlike the one you use to post this drivel. Another Unrestricted braniac Linus Torvalds, probably came up with the operating system youre using. An unrestricted Braniac, Thomas Edison, came up with the light bulb thats lighting your room, the basis for the cds you listen to, and the movies that you watch in the theatre. Science can be used for good or evil. Nuclear bombs can be used to blow things up, or they can be used as a threat that kept peace in europe for over 50 years, a real accomplishment if you look at the history. Technology is not evil, the people who come up with technology are not evil, How we decide to use the technology is what is evil or not. I can use a computer to run Seti at home and search for life on other planets, or i can use it to write a virus that causes billions in damage. Its not the computers fault that its used either way, its my fault. Technology gives us power, and with power comes responsibility. Maybe you should start taking some instead of whining and playing the victim

  • Wonderful, in 40 years anyone can write MIT on a microscopic bit of nothing.

    The technology will become really cheap only if a lot people want to buy it.

    Erik Z
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday February 18, 2001 @08:51AM (#422687) Homepage
    Don't get too excited. Those aren't single atoms. Compare Hubert's work [] with the 1990 result of IBM spelled out with xenon atoms []. They look similar, but the dots in "IBM" are single atoms. The dots in Hubert's work are a few hundred atoms. Look at the scale on his images. He's drawing lines around 0.1 micron wide, which is almost reachable with current photolithography techniques used in IC fabrication. His real advance is that his system can handle a broad range of materials.

    STMs are so neat. It's one of those ideas you look at and think "no way could that work". It's just several piezoelectric actuators, like those in cheap high-pitched buzzers, glued together at right angles, with a pointed needle on the end. The business end is brought close to a surface until there's some leakage current across the gap, and then it's raster-scanned in 2D while servoing the height to keep the leakage current constant. The height servo value is the output. It's simple, small, and cheap, compared to, say, an electron microscope. A STM could have been built with 1950s technology, but nobody thought to try it. It just didn't seem reasonable that you could sense individual atoms with a pointed needle moved around by a mechanical actuator.

  • The whole point of nanotechnology isn't just that things are really small, but that the systems come to be governed by the weird laws of quantum mechanics instead of classical mechanics. I'm by no means an expert in QM, but one application I've heard is a quantum computer, where bits are not stored as 1s and 0s, but as a waveform of possible outcomes. As this waveform collapses under observation, incredibly complex calculations can be made, such as solving for factors of large numbers in a short period of time, which could crack nearly any encryption scheme out there. The quantum computers would also be orders of magnitude faster than what we have now.
  • Man, 12 hours later and still nobody gets my stupid joke. What if I'd said Inventor Makes "Very Little" Progress -- would that help? Get it? Nanotech? HAHAHA


    Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.-- Cool Hand Luke
  • Good points but I have to think of Feynman's thought experiment (in the 1950s I think) about building a small robot that you use to make a smaller one and then use that one to make one still smaller until you are down to the atom scale. This technology, if it could go 3-d could let us build a not-quite-nanoassembler that would have the spatial control and resolution needed to make a true nano assembler. The fact that it can handle diverse materials is what makes this possible. The IBM work, as I recall was pretty much limited to a very few noble gasses on a Gold plate at like 4 kelvin.


  • This is almost exactly the same thing as what Dr. Chad Mirkin has been doing for the past 2-3 years at Northwestern University. Already published in Science magazine:

    D. Piner, J. Zhu, F. Xu, and S. Hong, C. A. Mirkin, "Dip-Pen Nanolithography", Science, 1999, 283, 661-63.

    Go here [] for their web page. The are able to write the word 'NU' 50% smaller than what Mr. Hubert was able to accomplish. In addition, they are also trying to do this in parallel, using individually addressable AFM probes.

    BTW: the probe tips that was used, can simply be bought here []. It's a very established technology dating back more than a decade ago. It is also quite irresponsible that the MSNBC story here [] and Mr. Hubert's web site gave absolutely NO credit to the work by Northwestern. I guess to the media and the un-knowning public, an invention from MIT sounds a lot sexier than one done by Northwestern. By the way, I'm someone doing research in Micromachining, but I'm not affliated with Northwestern University. In case someone want's to flame me.

  • I would someday like to be able to create Lego pieces from scratch.
  • The winblowsstart address is a resut of the fact that god damned OS crashes while my mother is trying to type her emails.

    "Nukes" and "mfcturing" methods.

    Please argue where it's relevant not on just any random tech story.

    Manufacturing methods are completely miscellaneous.

    I just want to urge people to think before they act!

    What's to think about? How is inventing a tiny robot different than building an AIBO?
  • ...who had that dumb idea.

    Even if you build a self-replicating machine, and even if you make it small, you cannot make it replicate itself smaller and repeat the process ad infitum. The square-cube law will stop you even before your assembly processes break down.

  • From the MPEGs it's easy to see that he's using the ThermoMicroscopes Explorer [] AFM for this work, as it has a very distinguished shape.

    Also, he mentions using ordinary cantilevers and tips, which are totally ubiquitous these days --- you can even buy them [] on the web (this is the above manufacturer's retail outlet for the Explorer's cantilever supplies).

    But this leaves me with a big question. I think this is great work for an MIT postgrad, and a very nicely presented set of results, but if he's using ordinary equipment and ordinary AFM techniques, then what is there new in this work?
  • If you really want to write amatuer erotica there are plenty of newsgroups for it. Or why not start your own site using the Slashcode for such stuff (starting a website costs about $.95 these days) and maybe you'll get visitors that actually are at your site looking for such stuff rather than geeks looking for techie stuff. If your going to post such stuff on Slashdot find a good anti-porn censorship discussion to attach it to and include some cyber babes (Aya from Parasite Eve and Quistis, Rinoa, and Selphie from FF8 strike my fancy). ;>
  • I wonder if it's 2nd or 3rd level ... mmm, too much D&D ...
  • Be more specific.
  • You're reading something into my post that I never implied, namely, that the nth generation robot is identical to but scaled down from the n-1th. This isn't what I (or Feynman) meant. The idea is that the micro-assembly process might enable us to produce something that is better at nano-assembly that something like an STM or AFM.

    You use tool generation n-1 to create tool generation n and so forth. Note that if something like this isn't possible then we can give up on nano-tech right now since all our efforts, whether with human hands, micro-lithography or whatever ultimately reduce to this process of using iterated generations of smaller and more precise tools to create still smaller and more precise ones.


  • If you were in that press release, I'm sure you'd like to be described as brilliant at everything too.

    And another mit guy totally misses the point.

  • Better hope they don't go in for quantum porn; the last thing any decent citizen wants to see is a naked singularity
  • Except that it's quite possible that a tool to do nano-assembly well will be bigger than one that could do micro-assembly well.

    To make a simple analogy: For magnifying a few times, we can easily use a pair of glasses, or a single lens. For magnifying a few hundred times, a trivial, but larger, microscope bought in a toy store could do. To see things at the atomic level, you'll likely use a relatively large and bulky electron microscope or similar.

    This isn't just because it's convenient for us, but because the task gets more complex: It is harder to work with something that is so small that environmental changes that is irellevant for normal-sized operations can have a huge impact.

    Things that would stay still because of it's sheer mass normally, would in the world of nano-tech be small enough that someone stomping hard nearby could screw up everything. Compensating for whats in effect a working environment that is relatively speaking a lot harsher will be a large part of dealing with minituriasation.

  • With regards to contractions, lots of people don't use them when they talk, even though they'd likely do so when writing - I'm one of them.

    And I'm even more likely to not use contractions when talking about something where I want to make sure that someone is getting everything I'm saying, like in an interview situation. In that case, it would be the interviewers discretion whether to represent it accurately, or to contract where suitable.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that people that doesn't speak English as their first language often are taught English without contractions first, and then learn to use them, and often will be less at home with using contractions than a kid growing up with English with contractions from the outset.

  • slashdot is the ultimate excuse to procrastinate and now i'm even posting:

    the latest thing i've seen by some friends at mit is pretty cool. i cant remmeber the link, nor do i give a shit about or understand the workings of the technology, but it currently allows ah fuck nevermind i foudn the link

    now if this shit was color, or used in watches as it is now, well students at MIT have produced a good new thing havent' they?

    and it was during their summer school too. accidents happen.
  • Bzzt. Uh no. Sorry. You want to talk about the nature of power state your case or quit trolling.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen