Storm in a Very Small Teacup?

There’s an interesting spat going on in the physics community over what in my view is the most exciting and potentially revolutionary area of science today — nanotechnology.

Apparently Richard Smalley, a Nobel prize winner and Rice University Professor, has responded to a challenge issued by nanotech pioneer and evangelist Dr Eric Drexler to defend current US policy on the goals of nanotechnology — specifically, the holy grail of building “molecular assemblers,” tools and processes that can precisely position individual atoms, and thereby construct useful nanoscale devices. Smalley insists that molecular assembly isn’t possible and should not be a priority for research funding, whereas Drexler insists that it’s not only possible, but that significant demonstrable research progress has already been made, and that significant funding should be provided at a national level.

The interesting aspect of this public scientific glove-slapping fest is that both protagonists are well-respected experts in the field; Smalley is apparently an expert in carbon nanotubes, another essential building block in molecular assembly. Details can be found in a Foresight Institute press release (note that Drexler chairs the Foresight Institute — expect it to be biased accordingly). Is this a scientific revolution of Kuhnian proportions in the making?

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