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Basic Information About Nanotechnology:
A nanometer is a billionth (ten to the minus 9) of a meter. (A meter, for those used to the traditional measuring system in the United States, is just slightly over a yard in length). Nanotechnology is a field of study involving the ability to manipulate objects at the atomic and molecular level. For perspective, the famous DNA "double helix" has a diameter of about two nanometers. One of the small bacteria has a length of around 200 nanometers. As can be seen, the field of nanotechnology deals with things that are very, very small indeed.
Dr. Richard Feynman's Talk:
One of the earlier talks in this area in general was by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Dr. Feynman, on December 29, 1959, gave a talk to the American Physical Society at their annual meeting at the California Institute of Technology. In this talk, entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" Dr. Feynman spoke about the possibility of dealing with things on a smaller and smaller and smaller scale. Several topics were mentioned, including writing on an extremely small scale (One of the intriguing questions of the talk was "Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica on the head of a pin?"). Other things mentioned were the storage of information, better microscopy, miniaturizing the computer, lubrication at the molecular level and other topics of interest in the general question of just how small devices and procedures can be made.
Dr. Feynman's Talk in Perspective/K. Eric Drexler:
While there is some disagreement as to whether Feynman's talk launched the field of nanotechnology, there is little doubt that, looking back, Feynman's paper has generated much interest, at least retrospectively, among the proponents of this field of study. Whether Feynman's talk originated the field, as some seem to believe, or whether Feynman's talk simply was rediscovered by those who became involved in nanotechnology later, is an interesting question. It seems to be agreed that an individual by the name of K. Eric Drexler has championed Feynman's paper, whatever the case may be with Feynman's place in the origination of nanotechnology.
K. Eric Drexler's 1981 Paper and 1987 Book:
Whatever the case with Feynman's place in the history of nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler's 1981 paper, Molecular Engineering: An Approach to the Development of General Capabilities for Molecular Manipulation, was a seminal paper in the field. It talked about fundamental principles of molecular design, protein engineering, and productive nanosystems (systems at the molecular and atomic level). Drexler, who holds a Ph.D., wrote, in 1987, a book entitled Engines of Creation.
Engines of Creation and Cryonics:
In Engines of Creation, Dr. Drexler took an approach intended more for a general audience. He talked about many topics but among those was the subject of cryonics. In Chapter 9 of the original book, entitled "A Door to the Future", Dr. Drexler begins with a discussion of Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's interest in "...a method of embalming...in such a manner that they may be recalled to life at any period, however distant...".
Using the word "biostasis" for the general concept of trying to represent the essence of Franklin's thought, Drexler goes on to say "Whether we can place patients in biostasis using present techniques depends entirely on whether future techniques will be able to reverse the process. The procedure has two parts, of which we must master only one." A final comment, relevant directly to cryonics, is Dr. Drexler's sentence "Robert Ettinger has apparently identified a workable approach to biostasis".
Drexler's Work as Support for Cryonics:
Dr. Drexler's work had provided people in cryonics with even more support for the concept of cryonics. Robert Ettinger had developed the idea of cryonics with the general concept that, due to the development of future science, resuscitation could be reasonably expected. Mr. Ettinger had even gone on with some general details of exactly how this might happen. With Dr. Drexler's work and writings, however, the path became exceedingly more clear.
In the publication Cryonics, put out by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, in the January 1986 edition, Eric Drexler himself stated at one point that he had previously been acquainted with cryonics and didn't get very interested in it. In fact, he thought that "...It's a nice idea, but it probably won't work. They're probably a bunch of crazies." Years later, after his thinking in nanotechnology developed, he began to see the logic of Mr. Ettinger's approach. In that same edition of Cryonics, Eric Drexler stated the following:
" So then I went and dug out a copy of Ettinger's The Prospect of Immortality from the MIT library, and there, lo and behold, I found out that these crazy cryonics people not only were right, but they even knew why they were right, that in the future we're going to have molecular repair technology. Ettinger wrote of repairing cells molecule-by-molecule if need be. Of course, he didn't have the numbers to demonstrate this, and there was still the question of how we would get there. But he had the basic physical perception that we'd develop molecular-level repair machines, and that doing this doesn't conflict with any physical law."
Present Workers in Nanotechnology:
Like any new field of scientific endeavor, the field of nanotechnology has had its numbers of scientific disputes. Dr. Eric Drexler and Dr. Richard Smalley (now deceased) had a discussion, well known in the nanotechnology community, about the feasibility of the approach to some of Dr. Drexler's concepts.
Dr. Drexler continues his work in nanotechnology. Another notable individual within the cryonics community that works in nanotechnology is Dr. Ralph Merkle. Dr. Merkle has a webpage www.merkle.com where he has lots of information about various subjects. Dr. Merkle has a special web page on cryonics which one can reach at www.merkle.com/cryo.
For a very good place to start in reading about nanotechnology and its usefulness in cryonics, one may check out the personal web page of Ben Best, a former President of the Cryonics Institute at www.benbest.com.
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