Nanotechnology debate at Nottingham

I don’t know about anybody else, but I enjoyed yesterday’s nanotechnology debate at Nottingham. The whole thing was filmed, and as soon as it’s been edited and tidied up we’ll get the video put up on the web. Given that everyone will soon have the opportunity to judge for themselves how the thing went, I’ll confine myself here to some general observations. There was a big crowd, mostly graduate students attending the surface science summer school, supplemented by a good fraction of the local nanoscientists. The nature of the audience meant that the debate rapidly got quite technical; I don’t think anyone could say that the molecular manufacturing point of view didn’t get a serious hearing. I must say that I was a little apprehensive, given the rancour that has entered previous debates, but I felt the tone was robust but mutually respectful.

My prize for gnomic aphorism of the evening goes to my fellow-panellist Saul Tendler (bionanotechnologist and pharmacy professor). “If a cat had wheels, who would change its tyres?”

15 thoughts on “Nanotechnology debate at Nottingham”

  1. Hi Richard,

    I was at the meetting yesterday, and it is amazing how things look when you get to see the various protagonists face to face!

    I have to admit to being extremely disappointed at the inability of Dr Hall to answer frankly simple questions regarding Molecular Nanotechnology.

    Basically, Dr Hall just seems to brush to one side all of the multiscale issues which Classical Mechanical Engineering has not have to deal with before! I believe it is now time to talk of the PostDrexlerian Age (You heard it here first folk!)

    However, I have a question. You have said that the Friction estimated bounds in Nanosystems have been shown to be on the low side. Could you please provide some references preferablely reachable via the internet?

    An Amateur Mathematician

  2. Was it you who introduced yourself to me at the beginning? If so, nice to meet you!

    The paper I had in mind when I was talking about friction was this paper by Harrison – “Molecular-dynamics simulations of atomic-scale friction of diamond surfaces” – which does permit a direct comparison with the Drexler estimates. It’s in Phys. Rev. B 46, 9700–9708 (1992); web address is (This needs an institutional subscription).

  3. Phillip, yes, that’s a good idea. I’ll try and see that it happens (though it may not happen very quickly unless we find a volunteer to do the transcription).

  4. Hi Phillip and Richard,

    Although I agree that a transcript of the debate would be a good idea (and is certainly possible from the video footage taken of the event), it’s going to take someone a long time to transcribe ~ 2 hours of debate! However, I’ve recently been invited by the editor of Nanotechnology Perceptions to contribute an article on the debate and my views on molecular manufacturing in general. It may be possible for the debate to be transcribed for publication in Nanotechnology Perceptions . I’ll keep you informed…


    P.S. It’s interesting to note that a recent post on the CRN website states that the Drexler/ Burch nanofactory animation (used by more than one speaker during the debate) “could communicate the potential power of the technology more convincingly than any article or speech” . This claim contrasts rather dramatically with the impact the animation made during the debate.

  5. The editor of Nanotechnology Perceptions has agreed to have the debate transcribed. I’ll keep readers of the Soft Machines blog posted as to progress in publishing the transcript.


    I would prefer to wait until the entire debate is transcribed before offering comments or a summary. Note that due to the format of the debate we did not focus rigidly on the questions listed on the website – discussions tended to build from questions from the audience. Nevertheless, I’m certain that you will find the transcript (and the associated video stream) very interesting and thought-provoking.

    Best wishes,


  6. Hi Richard,

    A short note to let you and the readers of Soft Machines know that the transcript of the Nottingham debate (held back in August last year) has now been published in Nanotechnology Perceptions. The transcript (and a brief intro. piece) are downloadable from the Nottingham Nanoscience group’s website . We’re also “infinitesimally” aproaching the point when we’ll get streaming video of the debate on the website…

    Best wishes,


  7. Hi Mr Moriarty,

    I have been to the above site and cannot find the download!

    An amateur mathematician.

  8. Hi Zelah,

    We’ve recently revamped our website and I guess that one of the problems is that in the piece re. the debate the hypertext linbks aren’t exactly blindingly obvious! The piece reads:

    “A transcript of the entire debate features in the November 2005 issue of Nanotechnology Perceptions and is also available for download here . A variety of thought-provoking technical and societal issues were raised during the well-attended two hour session (which featured as a component of the EPSRC-funded 2005 UK Summer School in Surface Science). An introductory commentary by Philip Moriarty may be downloaded here . Watch this space – we plan to have streaming video footage of the entire debate available soon.”

    Click on the “here”s (either above or in the original article) to download the articles. I hope that this works – let me know if it doesn’t and I’ll have a few words with our web design team!

    Apologies for the confusion.


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