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December 11, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 50

Your cover story about Richard Smalley was interesting, but it had an annoying problem (C&EN, Oct. 9, page 13).

Yes, Smalley was brilliant, politically astute, and from what I hear, a very nice guy. But as Smalley himself admitted, he was first turned on to nanotechnology after reading K. Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation." Then, in their famous disagreement, Smalley was wrong about "sticky fingers," he was wrong about "fat fingers," and he was blatantly wrong about "dry enzymes" (C&EN, Dec. 1, 2003, page 37). So why not at least give Drexler a nod?

At stake is not just a question of fairness to Drexler. As Thomas Vandermolen pointed out recently in Air & Space Power Journal (2006, 20, 96), the cost of a limited view of molecular nanotechnology might be our survival.

C&EN did the world a huge service by publishing the Point-Counterpoint debate between Drexler and Smalley. However, that debate should have gone further, perhaps by considering the experimental results of scanning probe microscope-assembled molecules, for example (Science 1999, 286, 1719; Ann. Rev. Phys. Chem. 2003, 54, 307).

The recent National Nanotechnology Initiative review ( ) pointed out, quite correctly, that it is very difficult to analyze Drexler's vision of quickly building atomically precise, complex, large-scale industrial objects such as computers or spacecraft at very low cost. But the review committee accepted that Drexler's technical arguments make use of accepted scientific knowledge. Therefore, the committee called for delineating desirable research directions not already being pursued by the biochemistry community; defining and focusing on some basic experimental steps that are critical to advancing long-term goals; and outlining some "proof-of-principle" studies that, if successful, would provide knowledge or engineering demonstrations of key principles or components with immediate value.

I hope and expect C&EN and its readers to answer this call.

Tihamer T. Toth-Fejel
Ann Arbor, Mich.



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