NanoBio 2007 Day Two Speaker: Ralph Merkle

Dr. Ralph Merkle is a nanotechnology expert, Alcor Director, Zyvex Principal Fellow, and Foresight Institute adviser. He talked about health, wealth, and atoms.

If you shuffle around the same atoms found in coal, you could get a diamond. Arranging atoms allows for greater precision, diversity, and lower manufacturing costs. Suppose that you can build anything you want with the best materials, such as diamond? Diamond is:

  • Strong
  • Hard
  • Not reactive
  • Dense
  • Impresses women

Diamond is an amazing material. It will allow us to build extremely small mechanisms such as joints, buckeyball bearings, tubes, planetary gears, and neon pumps that pump individual atoms.

Making diamond today involves taking hydrogen and carbon, adding energy, and creating highly reactive molecules that settle into a diamond film. There is very little control as to position of atoms. Molecular tools would enable us to synthesize stable diamond structures with atomic precision.

We will be able to make almost anything of high complexity. There are over 100 elements in the periodic table, which are over 100 tools we can use to enable a vast range of new activities. Of these 100 elements, three elements – hydrogen, carbon, and germanium – have been chosen by Merkle for specific utilization. Many things are made out of hydrogen and carbon and their structures can become quite rigid. Germanium is included in the mix to add some synthetic flexibility. Out of these materials, a series of nine molecular tools that have been theorized to work in real world situations via computational methods could be constructed. These tools have high accuracy positional control by rigidity and lowering the temperature for activity.

Before we create these tools, and without the guidance of further computational and theoretical work, Merkle stated that we will wander in a nanotechnologic desert for a long time.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), his (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).