Software Control Of Matter

Part I

As this goes to Press, there will be some very weary folks in a damp mansion outside of Southampton on the South coast of England. It will be Day V of a process called a Sandpit, best described here [L] .

The purpose of this exercise was to bring together a group of minds on the topic of ‘Software Control of Matter’ at the EPSRC [L] ‘IDEAS FACTORY’ [L].

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The first thing one might ask is – How is it this process is being mentioned on a Blog that is about Chrystal Meth? – Well, apart form the much publicized medical possibilities of Nanotechnology, the reality is this topic has enough ‘Jazz’ and moreover enough potential to foster a development movement with the community, capture the interest and minds of the lost ones and involve them, not in the same old topics which tended to chase them away in the first place, but to a whole new area ripe for exploring.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I Say – LET’S PLAY !!!

Part II

So herein lies the challenge. Three projects emerged from the caffeine fortified bowels of the Ideas Factory Sandpit. A pathway to many possibilities is each.

1] – Software-Controlled Assembly of Oligomers

ABSTRACT – ‘We propose to create a molecular machine that will build new materials under software control. The output of the machine will be chains of building blocks linked by covalent bonds. The machine is modular and is designed to accept many different building blocks, from small molecules to nanoparticles, with a wide range of physical and chemical properties. In order to drive its development we will concentrate on using it to create two target products: a molecular wire, capable of transporting energy and electrical charge, and a catalyst. Software control starts with specification by the end-user of a sequence of building blocks. The target sequence is encoded in an instruction tape which can be read by the machine: the tape is itself a molecule, a synthetic DNA oligomer. The target sequence of building blocks is automatically converted into a control sequence of DNA bases, and the tape is produced by commercial solid-phase synthesis. The job of the machine is to read the instruction tape and to form the bonds between building blocks in the specified sequence. Every component of this molecular factory is itself a molecule: our ambition is to develop the system to the point where it could be distributed to end users as chemicals in plastic vials.’
What’s an Oligomer you ask? – Look it up [Try Here]

2] – Directed Reconfigurable Nanomachines

ABSTRACT – We propose a scheme to revolutionise the synthesis of nanodevices, nanomachines, and, ultimately, functional materials via the positional assembly of molecules and nanoscale building blocks. Computer-directed actuators will be used to drive (with sub-nanometre to sub-Angstrom precision) the elements of a nanosystem along pre-defined and entirely deterministic trajectories, thereby achieving structures not accessible by mimicing natural assembly strategies alone. Linkages and bonding between the building blocks will also be initiated, modulated, and – in some cases – terminated by direct computer control. Our proposal rests on the parallel development of novel surface-bound, reconfigurable nanoscale building blocks (molecules, functionalised clusters, nanoparticles) and a prototype computer-controlled matter manipulator best described as a nanoscale conveyor belt. We focus on the generation of two major and immensely challenging functionalities for positionally-assembled nanomachines: switchable energy transduction and conformationally-driven motion. Our archetypal system comprises the following units: an energy harvester, a switchable/gateable link, and an optical or mechanical output. By arranging, configuring, and triggering these fundamental units our long-term goal is no less than the fabrication of an autonomous, abiotic nanomachine.
Autonomous, Abiotic Nanomachine?? – Look it Up [Try Here]

3] – The Matter Compiler

ABSTRACT – An ambition to assemble molecules and materials under atomically precise control demands a big leap forward in control engineering and computer science. Is it possible to anticipate the properties and needs of a ‘nano-assembler’? If so, there is a need for a high level instruction language and a computer compiler that translates commands in this language into instructions for the ‘nano-assembler’. This development will require a breakthrough in understanding of chemical synthesis that must embrace the radically new ‘pick and place’ assembly method which is now possible in scanning probe microscopy (SPM). The Matter Compiler project is thus both an exercise in foresight, to anticipate developments in this area, and a prototype implementation for the engineering control and computer science aspects of directed molecular assembly. It has as inputs data from SPM experiments of collaborators, energy landscapes for ‘pick and place’ reactions and the vast knowledge base of classical synthetic chemistry, including methodologies such as retrosynthesis. This will be supplemented by reaction schemes for ‘pick and place’ reactions deduced from first principles quantum chemistry calculations and the technology of object oriented databases and inference engines.

Okay, so this is getting closer to Star Trek, but what are Object Oriented Databases and Inference Engines? – Look it Up [Try Here & Here]


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