K. Eric Drexler is widely known as the founding father of nanotechnology. In his recent book, Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, Drexler discusses how rapid scientific progress in the field has the potential to produce an extraordinary range of products efficiently and at a low cost. These include solar arrays, computers, and ultra-strong materials. That’s because nanoscale mechanical devices will be able to produce patterns of atoms and molecules, resembling the operation of 3D printers only atomically more precise, he says, with fabrication costs comparable to inexpensive materials like common plastics.
Drexler began exploring the potential of non-biological atomically precise fabrication in 1977 as an undergraduate student at MIT, and introduced the resulting concepts (and coined the term “nanotechnology”) to a broad audience in a book published in 1986, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. He has since written many research papers on the subject and was awarded MIT’s first Ph.D. in molecular nanotechnology.
In a recent podcast interview on the U.S. National Public Radio station WNYC, Drexler discusses how the widespread adoption of nano manufacturing has the potential to close the gap between the global haves and have-nots, providing low-cost opportunities to solve many of today’s social problems, such as lack of medicine, sanitation, power and energy, and other necessities in developing areas. (See an example in our December story “Cleaner Water.”) But, he says the challenges in developing nanotechnology in underserved communities are not so much technical as they are cultural and institutional.
Eric Drexler is available to answer your questions about nanotechnology and its modern-day applications and challenges throughout the month of December. To participate, submit your question in the comments field below or tweet it to us @IEEEInstitute. His answers will be published on The Institute website on 2 January 2014.