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K. Eric Drexler

Eric Drexler is the man who deserves credit for bringing nanotechnology to the forefront of human consciousness.  In two hugely popular books, he meticulously outlined the potential of nanotechnology and one possible realization of it.

While working at MIT on projects for NASA, he stumbled upon Richard Feynman's famous talk, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom".  It was the inspiration he was waiting for, and he took those ideas and extended it into an entire book called "Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology".  Engines of Creation was a highly theoretical book that was quite removed from the nitty-gritty work that he would later deal with.  In it, he simply addressed the benefits and dangers of creating materials and devices at the nanoscale.

When Drexler decided to pursue the world's first doctoral degree in Molecular Nanotechnology, he embarked on the first codex in the annals of nanotechnology.  His doctoral dissertation, titled 'Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation' would later be published as a book.  The book was highly successful and influenced many of the early pioneers working on nanotechnology in the 1990's.  He is the co-founder of the famous Foresight Institute, which is a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of science and engineering with nanotechnology.

I actually own a copy of this book if you're curious about its accessibility.  If you're going to buy any book on nanotechnology, this would probably be it.  Your only real alternative is to read peer-reviewed journals for the latest information.  However, you won't find a better 'big picture' summary of nanotechnology on the molecular scale.  A word of warning: if you're interested in things like nanowires and quantum dots, you won't find what you're looking for in hear.  Drexler's work is centered on molecular machinery and electronics, much like James Heath's work at Caltech.

Many of my professors took the time to discuss some of the ideas that Drexler laid out.  Unfortunately, K. Eric Drexler was just plain wrong on some points.  While his ideas are valid, given the equipment he requires, nothing yet exists that can offer us the chance to realize any of his goals.  Furthermore, a lot of the scaling theory he uses just doesn't work the way he thinks they will.  You can read many studies these days that show how many scaling laws start breaking down once you reach the right limit.

I'm from the school of thinking that believes that nanotechnology's promise lies not in nanorobots and machines, but in electronics and medical applications.  Drexler's enthusiasm about tiny little gears and motors is not without merit, but to me it's just a distraction in the 21st century where electronics is driving our research.