AD Ann Dowling
AD2 Andrew Dunn
AS Anthony Seaton
JR John Ryan
NG Nicole Grobert
NP Nick Pidgeon
RA Raymond Oliver
RC Roland Clift
RQ Rachel Quinn
RS Richard Smalley
RW Roger Whatmore
SA Sara Al-Bader
ST Saul Tendler
M? = unidentified Male speaker
F? = unidentified Female speaker
[IA] = inaudible word or phrase in the recording
JR Okay, hi Rick and thanks for giving us the time to talk to you about nanotechnology. We have a number of areas we'd like to discuss with you, some of them controversial, some of them less so, some of them involving environmental issues and concerns. Maybe I could just begin by asking you about some of the perceived benefits of nanotechnology and one in particular which is close to your heart I know, which is the role of nanotechnology in energy production in solving some of the issues surrounding energy in the world. It's not an issue that we've explored in any great detail so far and I think this would be a really good opportunity to hear what your views are.
RS Okay, well, let me first start out by me giving my definition of what I think nanotechnology is. It might be helpful. I like the simple definition that nanotechnology is the art and science making stuff on the nanometre scale. By that definition nanotechnology has actually been going on for years. By definition block co-polymers, in the polymer industry, or nanotechnology. By my definition pharmaceuticals are nanotechnologies, it's very broad. And so if it's been going on for a long time what is it that's new about this? Well, nothing much aside from our boldness, I can now imagine building bigger and better things, better things than we've done in the past. And there are some very vivid examples of the new sort of nano things that almost define nanotechnology such as the bucky ball and buckytubes and semi-conducting quantum dots and these gold nano-shells are examples of these.
My background is in chemistry, and I think chemistry has really always been about this sort of thing. In any event, to the question of the impact on energy. There's the problem of primary energy generation, the problem of energy transport, the problem of energy transmission and the problem of energy use, and in all three of these areas the revolutions that we are going to need, the miraculous developments we are going to need to ever replace the incredible benefits of oil, are going to require [IA] on the nanometre scale. [IA] Areas that will not require [IA] age. Let's start with primary energy production. The best source of energy that we have in the world is really solar energy but we currently do not have technology to harness those photons cheaply enough to make it anywhere near [IA] cost to handle the bulk of the world's energy supply. Nonetheless I think that it is possible that we will, that it is possible that we will find ways of figuring nanoobjects perhaps in some sort of polymer film that can be produced like newsprint at low cost covering large areas in deserts and on our rooftops where the efficiency of conversion of the photon of light into some sort of useful stored energy can be as efficient as 20% - 30%. It critical that we get somewhere around 20% otherwise the cost of the structure that holds this, [IA] that’s an underlying cost to the energy that's going to be too high. [Stations] that will do that have to be on the nanometre scale, both phenomenon of the photon disappearing and an electron getting excited at some level, or a molecule getting oxidised and reduced, that happens on a nanometre scale. Optimising that process will entail fundamental breakthroughs in nanotechnology. I've got great hopes for that, both in photovoltaics and in photocatalytic [IA] into some chemical product at [IA] we would like it to make isooctane, ethanol would be okay, if worst comes to worst we could take methanol, nice if it took carbon dioxide out of the air while it's doing it.
Anyway it seems to me that in the business of getting photons that hit the earth into the terawatts that we need, there is no answer without nanotechnology. Almost every other primary energy structure, and imagine nanotechnology [IA] hope, for example, precision, [IA] programme for new generations of nuclear fission reactors have much more efficient fuel cycles and there is a great need to learn how to handle reactions where the temperature is higher than the normal reactors. Up towards 1000 degrees, one reason being to be able to enable the production of hydrogen directly from water. [IA] That is producing hydrogen directly rather than going to electricity. That’s a materials problem, all of the pure metals and most of the alloys, what’s left is to structure this material on a nanoscale, as an answer almost certainly it would fall into my category of nanotechnology. It does stuff because of the way it's built on a nanometre scale. On to transmission of energy, storage, I believe one future that makes sense for energy around the world is primarily that electricity is the key carrier of energy, that's the way we transport energy over long distances. If oil, because of our energy prosperity, we've not only left the best primary energy source but we've also left the best way of transporting energy over thousands of miles distance. It's very cheap to put it in a tanker and move it around, there's nothing else, no other way of transporting energy that's that good, so by the middle of the century when oil has long since peaked and it's in our history books is the way we are transporting energy around the planet. The best way to transport energy would be to transport it as energy not as mass. For electricity, there's only two ways to do that. Either you run along a wire or you [metalise] and bounce it back down. The wire is by far the best. I believe it may very well be possible to find a new conductor of electricity that is as good or better than copper. Lighter in weight and can be made in large quantities at low cost that will be the replacement or the wires that [IA]. [IA] I'm talking about a buckytube and what we call the armchair quantum wire.
Very much of the new nano thing so here electrons move down the nano tubes much like a photon moves down a single mode optic fibre. And then the electron hops from tube to tube, again by a quantum phenomena a quantum resonant tunnelling. Making that wire is I believe is a major challenge for ….it might actually be [IA].
Moving onto the use and storage of energy, where everything is nano, so it would be tremendously enabling for example to be able to have local energy storage at your house and at your small business or big business or a group of houses or community where you pull energy off the electrical grid and you store it temporarily to buffer your needs so that you are pulling energy off the grid at night while you are sleeping and you are using it during the day. By relieving the primary power generator to put power on the grid, the responsibility of following your peak loads. Buffer I guess advanced it may happen on the electrical grid that would otherwise leave you without power. Local energy storage, [IA] many a wide variety of ways, one way to do it is you take the electricity and you'd electrolyse water and you make hydrogen and you'd store the hydrogen and you turn it back. Alternatively you may use it to a flow battery to oxidise some agent like vanadium [IA] form and you put it in a tank and then when you want the power you turn the valve around and you move it backward. Or maybe it's a super flywheel or maybe it’s a super conducting magnet that you store in the magnetic field, or, I don't know, some new technologies but maybe it’s a super battery or some combination of those things. Every one of those technologies, in order to get them from where they are right now to a place where they are really acceptable, energy storage in your home for 12 -24 hours at less than a penny per kilowatt hour.
JR Okay thanks, what I'd like to look at now is really the social effects here. The question is who will benefit from this technology? One of the reviews we've heard expressed from some of the people we've been talking to is that this type of technology will benefit the rich countries of the world, the big energy problem that is confronting us is perhaps much more serious in the energy intensive countries, such as the USA, but do you see this as a technology that will really benefit the under developed countries of the world and the developing economies?
RS Yes, in fact I think there's little hope for the developing countries without a revolution in the energy business. Lets for example take the solar cells, if you have a breakthrough in photo voltaics that would produce them at a 10th to a 100th the cost it would make them accessible to people who have not that much money to spend on energy.
JR Is that a technology that you think if you develop it, or it's developed in the USA that it will be made available at affordable cost to the third world? Is that the way it will work in practice?
RS Well, yes. I suppose what you are driving at is the issue of patent rights?
RS That is a central issue that need to be confronted. I think that applies not only to nanotechnology, it's true for all technologies.
RS I mean if you haven’t got the technology then it's relevant to talk about how you would make it available. Right now we do not have the technologies that we need to revolutionise the energy business. I think we ought to go get them.
JR Right, well on that point….
RS I agreed we need to work to find a way to enable the well being of every human being on this planet.
JR You mentioned 'go getting ' the technologies, we don't have them yet, but a number of groups and individuals would argue that the currently available renewable sources, such as wind and sea and so on, should also receive major investment, but it seems that nanotechnology has caught the imagination of the politicians and that's where the investment is going. Is that a fair assessment?
RS I am not arguing that nanotechnology should get all possible funding to the exclusion of everything else, but let's just take wind and sea for example. The biggest problem with wind right now in the state of Texas [IA] can generate capacity that we could use. It gets to be a substantial portion of your entire energy [IA] on the grid [IA] what do you do [handle] 5%, 10% of [IA] starts getting 30%, 40% what is the backup? The answer to this is to find storage technologies. The answer to this is to find long distance transmission technology so you can take power widely from around the continent so you are averaging out the local [IA] 5% and intensity wind, giving yourself a stable based power. Now where's the technology going to come from to do that?
JR Okay, I don't have the answer (laughs). What I'd like to do now is to just go round the table and let others come in on this issue before we, as it were, move on to some of the other issues.
AD Could you put some target numbers on the energy storage and transmission that you've described? What sort of efficiencies would you aim for in terms of domestic storage?
RS I think that the key parameter to look at, all the costs, that when you really implement it broadly and throughout society that the incremental cost on electrical power, pennies per kilowatt hour, don't get down in that round, you are not solving the problem at the level that needs to be solved for the 10 billion people we are going to have on this planet. Right now I don't know what your electrical energy cost is but I can tell you that at my home it's about 10 cents per kilowatt hour. I can afford to buy it at that level. Most people on the planet cant afford 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Under two pennies a kilowatt hour, that has to include everything. All these innovations in transmission and all the innovations of storage and whatever, [IA].
AD So things like the manufacturing costs of wire would have to be very, very cheap at that level [IA].
RS And you know, in the entire life cycle [IA]. From the original feed stocks, into their construction to the environmental impacts of doing it and [IA] all that cost put in, what we need is to enable the prosperity of 10 billion people.
JR Richard, as soon as you mention energy on that sort of global scale, would you hope to have Exxon and Shell and British Petroleum as partners in that sort of thing?
RS Well I doubt that there is any reasonable future plausible future for this planet that does not have inter-world-wide energy corporations being involved. After all this is [IA]….
JR To your knowledge therefore are they actively engaged in advanced nanoscience and technology.
RS Yes, however the magnitude and level of miraculousness of the discoveries that need to be made is such that [IA] that generates them is likely to be a [IA] generation [IA] years or so. From the viewpoint of a corporation.
JR So do you may look at a 20 year or 30 year time scenario?
RS And if you look back with hindsight over the past century, look at the frequency with which [IA] discoveries were made such as the invention of the laser for example, or a high [IA] magnitude of the discoveries that we are going to have to make to enable what I call the new oil, so solar and wind and nuclear [IA] and so forth that transform this [IA] 20 years, if we really got serious about it, for major resources it may not be enough. Not be quick enough to do it. So to ask individual corporations Exxon, all of these, [IA] humanity goes [IA] asking a lot. Operation needs to [IA] primarily to it's shareholders. So if discovery goes on and the corporation of Exxon takes 20 years [IA] extraordinarily unlikely that that corporate entity [IA] is the prime beneficiary of those discoveries. We are talking about such fundamental discoveries here.
RS Such impossible to control. I think we need to do this at a broader scale, certainly I agree that enterprise that's undertaken, not just by government,
M? Would you necessarily always go for electron transfer of storage as opposed to hydrogen storage, local hydrogen generation and hydrogen release and storage, [IA]?
RS This is such a big challenge I wouldn't want to narrow or throw out any possibilities. The trouble is, right now, none of the possibilities are good enough. [IA] store the energy by separating an electron from a hole and there's really an electric field between them, I don't think you'll ever get the volume density [IA]. Getting some oxidised form of a molecule and putting it in a tank [IA] in an opposite tank and then working it back, then you can get the sort of capacity you are after. But at this moment I wouldn't rule anything out.
NG This is Nicole. I just wondered on problem with nanotechnology is people often bring nanotubes into the game, the question is how important do you think they are, and what percentage [IA]?
RS Could you….the last part of your question could you repeat it again? I didn't hear it very clearly.
NG How important are carbon nanotubes or related materials in the whole set of nanotechnology and what percentage do you think….
RS And what is their advantage? Yes, well, as you can expect I think they are tremendously important, that's why I am working in that area. I like to think of carbon nanotubes as the new polymer. [IA] miracle polymers, following along from the previous miracle polymers like for example nylon, polyethylene and polypropylene, and [ketalone] and this is another polymer and in time we will learn how to make it [IA] cleanly around the world. But what is the property of this new polymer you know, carbon buckytubes, single wall carbon nanotubes that makes it of value already has super strong [IA] very strongly, and polyethylene is incredibly strong to get the molecules going all [IA], polymer buckytubes conduct electricity.
RC Hi this is Roland Clift, can I come back to something you said earlier on? I can understand why you are emphasising that energy conversion, particularly photovoltaics and photocatalytic devices would need to use nanoscale materials. Then you went on to nuclear and referred to the control of high temperature reactions, interestingly to produce hydrogen rather than electricity. Where does the nanotechnology come in there? Why is that technology essential?
RS Well there's one of the alloys or in the structure that binds the high temperature fluid or whatever it happens to be that's transporting thermal energy from the fusion reactor, on the other side is generating whatever is going to be the energy output, in the particular case of hydrogen generation by splitting water either you use very high temperatures, catalysts that we don't yet have, some sort of chemical process to do that to lower the activation energies. Both those cases nano, whatever you come up with I'm going to claim it as part of nano.
RC Okay, so you're not suggesting that in the reactor itself you are going to have the sort of nano version of a [IA].
RS Although there are issues about what is the form of the fuel and how it's packaged.
RC Yes, can you go on? Yes there are all sorts of issues about the way you handle the fuel in the reactor.
RS Right, and while we're going on this line, in the fuel cycles there are technologies that need to be developed [IA] found and so forth, that's all that I would class as nano as well.
RC Okay. The other thing I'd like to pick up on is I understand your arguments using things like buckytube along the lines of transmission, storage clearly we are looking there presumably for something with a high capacity and a high response rate, short response time. How does the nanotechnology contribute there?
RS [IA] batteries and fuel cells there is a phenomena where there is a [readout] to that, either an electron comes in or leaves this little [IA] battery or fuse cell it must be that that electron is able to flow to the macroscopic world. So there had to be a good conductor, has to be chemically robust to handle the cycles. It also has to go down and communicate at a 10 metre scale which is seldom is larger than a box about a nanometre on the side where that readout even occurs. Organised [IA] over a nanometre scale [IA] possible over voltage.
RC Yes, and so you are looking for something which actually has a very high active surface area, and good production paths within it.
RS Right, you need, from this little nanospace where you have [IA] most efficient, you have to transport and electron [IA] outside world endoscopically, something that's nano in one or two dimensions and macro on the other, sounds like a buckytube to me.
RC Okay so it's kind of a nano-engineered surface.
RS Well, plus the connection to the macroscopic world.
RC Yes, okay thank you.
NP Nick Pigeon, just a quite simple, and a lot of what you've talked about is all very positive and beneficial and I just wondered within that where the uncertainties are and where particular areas of scientific uncertainty or technological uncertainty are likely to lie say in the next 10 - 15 years?
RS We're building new nano stuff here and just as we have been building old nano stuff and the chemical and materials industries have to worry about just what the nano stuff is going to do that you have them thinking about, both when what you are doing in the laboratory with students and workers and how that even the first little nanograms ever get disposed of, and later on, as you are actually out there making it on a large scale in a plant, and you are putting in products and the whole life cycle of that, those issues have been very big at least in our country, here in the United States, since Rachel Carlson and [IA] is here and will always be with us.
NP I did want to pursue that one, but what's the North American approach to that then? Is it regulation, or is it the industry that you have to be responsible? How do you think we are going to deal with those uncertainties?
RS Well, we're exploring this right now just as ….I in particular have been trying to focus in on the question 'so what is new here?'. After all it's not actually the phenomena thing, the nanometre scale that's new, I mean after all sugar is a nanometre sized molecule, so is aspirin, [IA] and in fact all the molecules that Rachel Carlson were worrying about were nano. Some of them are water soluble and some of them aren't, like DDT [IA] you know and so it isn't the nanoness that's the disturbing part is it? If you leave aside the notion that there maybe self-replicating [nano parts] and we leave that as a separate discussion I guess it is that these are bigger nano things that have properties. But what is it about those different properties that we ought to be concerned about? I think that we need to focus on that to see whether or not there are any chinks in the armour, any cracks that are regulatory or analytical in our awareness that a negative property environmental or health impact of the new nano might wriggle through by this and were somehow missed because the old kind of nano things didn't have that problem.
NP Okay so it's new properties.
RS I think that’s a very worthwhile activity to go through. At the moment I don't know of any chinks in the armour but obviously we need to find them if they are there [IA] be surprised, and you know, we are big boys and girls and we've had a lot of experience over the past 50 or some odd years.
AD This morning we were talking about what were the appropriate health and safety precautions to take in the laboratory given that currently the inhalation effects of nano tubes are not known. What do you think is an appropriate level of safety in laboratories?
RS That we don’t inhale them. Okay that's the…it turns out that the single walled buckytubes you have to really knock yourself out to get them inhaled because they stick to each other, so that they are not actually in the…as they are made they are not really nano they are really [IA] tubes even though they are a nanometre in diameter times only 100 to 1000 nanometres in length, and they are in [IA] binding with other tubes and they form these things we call ropes, very stringy sort of things and really quite flexible so on the length scale of microns they are just loopy spaghetti, but they don't actually…they aren't really nano, it's a macroscopic object and they do float around in the air often so we very quickly go to a form of them that is a granular powder or beads that [IA]. So the sort of levels of inhalation [IA] we have a moderate level of control over it right now, we're very alert to there being others but so far we haven’t seen them.
JR Okay, and can I follow up on a sort of broader policy issue here, and that is, given the uncertainties surrounding the safety of nano particles in particular that perhaps nano technology in general is it right the congress should be forging ahead spending the very large sums of money on developing nanotechnology, in advance of a clear picture of where the risks and hazards lie?
RS I think so, I think that if we were [IA] to place a monotorium on nanotechnology research until all these issues were finally laid to rest, this is the formula for doing nothing, that will effectively stop [IA], so I think we have to go ahead, after all we do have [IA] as big boys and girls we need to keep our wits about us and to if possible avoid any problems. So, so far I don't see any reason to be fearful but we should be very alert.
JR Do you think that the congress in particular is behaving responsibly adequately funding the research in the theory of toxicology and the environmental impact? Is that a current issue in the United States, and what's your view on what congress is doing?
RS I believe that we are going to have plenty of money for toxicology research, unfolding story and I think we ought to re-visit this every year.
As I was saying, yes, I think it's extremely useful to concentrate the conversation [IA] environmental and medical human effects of nano. I'm trying to find out what is it new about nano that will slip by what is our regulatory and analytical capabilities, what would be useful, let's concentrate on that.
JR Okay, Richard I'd like to follow that on even further. My interests lie in how do we get useful products through nano manufacturing and we've talked about carbon nanotubes which could be a jumble or a rope what is if you like disorganised at the macro scale, whilst being organised at the micro or nano. Now, obviously when you are looking at new functionality in materials the classic thing that you do in science is structure property relationships, and I am interested in the relationship between structure property process relationships, in creating highly organised structure for volume, and therefore I would like to have your comments on the future of self-assembly and in fact directed assembly as a way towards a future nanomanufacturing.
RS Well in fact that goes along with where I was going on my [IA] about the environment toxicology. Nano tubes are I am sure going to be involved in all sorts of stuff, and [ecological impact]. Every one of those things is in itself a new thing, it's going to have its own….does it have any health risks in [IA] itself as it exists and what happens when you tear that thing apart and you put it in your local municipal dump, what happens to it in the future? It's actually every nano thing I can imagine that will be in our future technology. It won't be the nano thing of itself embedded in something else.
JR Can you just…the question I'd like to get clear in my head is what do you think will become potential manufacturing technologies, and I am thinking here of our ability to make highly organised structures through self-assembly but probably direct in assembly. Is that something you've given a lot of though to?
RS Well, a little bit. As the nano thing gets bigger it jiggles around less at room temperature and so the self-assembly that we are used to using for small and medium sized molecules becomes less and less effective as the thing gets bigger, so for example I would love to be able to make what I call a bed of nails of single walled nanotubes, and build in a two dimensional array, they are all sticking up, [IA], I'd like to have them a micron in length and a nanometre in width and I just got this wonderful carpet of these things. Those nanotubes are moving around independently, each individual little tuft of them, [IA] in the tuft of the carpet. Just how fast does it move? How far, given a day or a week or a month can it jiggle around until it finds it's right place? Such a big thing that even when it gets in a wrong place it has quite a bit of righting energy to that wrong place, and so you end up waiting a long time for it to get to the right place. So self-assembly in the classic sense of it stops working as the things get bigger. In some cases it stops working a lot before we'd like it to stop working, but what's left then is that you have got to physically go and pick this darn thing up and drag it over to where you want it. So that sort of thing goes on in cells all the time, and the cell divides there's structures that are formed and little motors that grab things and drag them to one side of the cell to the other, not waiting on random diffusion for that to happen. Perhaps we can get some manufactured technique that does that kind of thing too. I can’t imagine ever doing that at low cost. So to an extent I have any deep thinking about it is that's the point, that you can wait for small molecules to jiggle around and find the right place to get to and you'll be satisfied they'll get there, but if you wait for nails to jiggle around by themselves, you better be prepared to wait a long time.
JR I think that's a wee bit naïve in terms that you can use relatively low cost, well, low cost [IA] low cost polymers as templates for doing some of that to help that process along. I was also thinking outside the carbon nanotube box, in terms of nanomaterials in general and how we are going to manufacture these things for benefit, both commercially and societally, and if we don't have a proper, if you like, design for manufacture here, it may not get us into that realm of the new oil.
RS Yes, well, I'm open and I'd love to be shown that I am naïve, and so in fact amongst the miracles we need to have are ways of making these structures [IA] in large amounts and so I agree with you, I appreciate your criticism.
JR Okay, could I at this point….its actually a very appropriate point to perhaps direct the conversation towards the mechanical approach to molecular manufacture, the Drexlarian view of molecular nanotechnology. Now, of course you've had a very well-publicised exchange of views with Drexler on this whole issue, and I guess the recent situation is that there is no meeting of minds as yet. Now, you have argued that this type of mechanical approach to molecular manufacturing is simply not feasible. Can I ask a very simple question? Is it impossible?
RS Well, there is an impossibility that I outlined in my argument. [IA] physical impossibility of sticking two things in the same place at the same time, there's just not enough room and adequate fines [IA] to do general chemistry. [end of tape side 1]
[Tape Side 2]
RS I think that we can all agree that that is a physical impossibility you can't get two atoms in the same place at the same time, but broadly the issue of can you ever make a self-replicating entity a [IA] machine, smaller than a certain volume I think is a fascinating argument, that we will at some point [IA] possible. Drexler's side of his argument is extremely [long] in that [IA] ever at any time possible to build a self-replicating nano[IA] in actual fact could be so negative to humanity that [IA] talk about it with the [Foresight] Foundation to figure out how we are going to go down that path. My argument is that I believe that it is so implausible that I wouldn't worry about it, and I have shown some cases why I think [IA] making that side of an argument proving an impossibility is a very difficult thing to do and I've only done it in small parts. My hope is that by bringing this discussion out in the open and particularly into the chemical community that people who really know what it means to [IA] by thinking about this. Now, it may turn out that somebody comes up with a plausible scheme of replicating nano [IA] that would be scary. I would like to hear it. I haven't heard it so far and I believe that most people feel the same but an experiment in public perception …
JR But there is a point here that Drexler argues in his own favour which is that his ideas are in fact well-received by the scientific community, and so based on that statement presumably he attracts funding for his theoretical and experimental research. What do you think of that statement?
RS I think it's just not true (laughs) I don't think it is well-received within the scientific community and I don't think it's getting much response from [IA] technology work, but I imagine you can just take a look at it.
RO No, I don't have a comment, I just thought he was right.
JR So as you see it in the United States there is no significant body of support within the scientific community for this vision of mechanical molecular manufacturing?
RS No I didn't mean to say this. I think there is no support for the notion of building self-replicating nano [IA] or adding the mechanically [IA] chemistry or surfaces the assemblers in the general sense, self-assemblers, other people are interested in this [IA] to build [IA] memories at low cost, and one of the approaches is to have thousands of little FM tips that go down and do chemistry orchestrated under computer control to make a particular pattern. I think that's a very interesting way of going. I like that idea a lot. What I am talking about is the self-replicating nano [IA], I thought that was what our conversation was about.
JR Yes, I was….
RS Something that not only does chemistry but it is so powerful it can build another copy of itself, and you'd need to have that happen, because otherwise at the end of the day one of these assemblies doesn’t have much to show for itself, and it's the self-replicating nano [IA] that gives rise to scenarios that have been written by Michael Chrichton and [IA]. And it is the self-replicating nano [IA] that have the possibilities that [Bill Joy] was worried about, that's what I'm talking about. I don't know of any substantial a group in the scientific community, actual practicing scientists in the area to believe that there's any plausible way of doing that.
JR Okay, thanks for that. Now we've touched on several major themes and we have almost used up our time allocation, are there issues that you think that we haven't touched on that you think that we ought to be considering in this review?
RS No, I think you've pretty well hit on the top ones, we haven't talked very much at all about nanotechnology in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, we haven't talked at all about the possible consequences of future technologies based on nano that could augment [defences] of the human being. We could go there if you want. I think that this latter issue is really quite interesting, but it's far enough in the future I don't think it's a pressing issue.
M? You are thinking of things like [IA] implants [IA]?
RS Yes, or those that were possible to enact with the human brain a memory. One thing that the human brain is not very good at is remembering details. Computers are really good at that. Boy wouldn't it be powerful if you could kind of blink your eyes and you could remember anything in the library of congress?
RS You wouldn't want to do that, and you know, who knows what is possible, but we are on a path where we will probably find out whether it's possible. And so when you talk about social, ethical implications of nanotechnology, I think that that's a really fascinating issue it gets into the whole business of you know fooling with mother nature, but as I say, I think that's far enough in the future that we don't need to worry about it.
M? Could I just ask you this, I get the impression that this kind of issue is actually counts much more on this side of the Atlantic than particularly in the States, for example there was an issue in [IA] journal a few months ago, we've had a lead article on social and ethical implications [IA] and to be blunt, it didn't say anything.
RS Yes, yes I completely….anyway, my main take on this is that these are all fine discussions for us to have in church or in a civic group our out having beers, but there are very pressing issues that are going to come to our planet over the next 20 years that so far outstrip the importance that I think we ought to talk about them. An issue is that 10 billion people on the planet with not enough energy for them to be [prosperous]. If you really care about the environment what are you going to do about it? About disease the whole business of the health [IA] and their well being during their lifespan of even the normal lifespan of 70 - 100 years, for 10 billion people, that's a pressing issue that we have right now. Bring about what we might do to humanity a couple of hundred years in the future is [IA] that few people on this planet can afford to spend time on.
AD2 Richard, it's Andrew Dunn here, perhaps I can ask one final quick question? What are your fears and hopes surrounding the public's perception of nanotechnology?
RS Well, I have been hoping that the word 'nanotechnology' can be [IA] concentrated as a labelling for the frontier of the guys and girls who make stuff and make stuff work. And broadened away from the narrow view of nanotechnology being self-replicating nano [IA]. And I think that is happening. But in order for that to really happen in the world with public perception we all have to grow up a little bit and we have to confront this real issue of the nano[IA], that's one of the reasons why I consented to write this article exchange with Eric Drexler to bring this conversation out in the open so we can look at this. It's really quite fascinating. You would think you could actually build anything in this world, but when you actually sit down to try to do stuff you find that almost anything you try to do is impossible for one reason or another.
AD2 Do you think the public realise that?
RS Of course they don't because they haven't tried being registered….have you ever been and registered and tried to come up with an original research proposition and to defend it to your peers? Almost every time you try to do that you find out after several hours that what you were suggesting has either already been done, or its impossible.
AD Do you think the funding agencies realise what's possible and impossible?
RS Of course not (laughs)
(laughter around table)
AD Well, perhaps on that happy note (laughs) we should draw this discussion to a close. Thank you very much for giving us your time Dr. Smalley, it's been very interesting and very illuminating.
RS I enjoyed it, thank you.
JR Thank you. Bye…