Molecular Manufacturing

Catching up on research looking into advances in smart material and nanotechnology for my upcoming science fiction space-based adventure novel, I’ve come across some very exciting material. A 2017 article for example, explains how research scientists have successfully developed molecule sized robots, each with ~150 atoms comprising just four elements; which can be programmed to ‘build’ other molecules. The researchers have got these minuscule robots to carry out molecular manufacturing tasks while suspended in a ‘special solution’.

Fiction has for a while now, predicted that we’d get to a point where people develop nano machines which self-replicate themselves. Some predictions see these self-replicating nano machines get out of hand and consume everything in their proximity during the replication process, resulting in the planet turning into grey goo. Wait, is that what happened to the moon?

The reality is that molecular manufacturing and assembly has been around for a while. People are the constructs of molecular assembly. So is all life. Ribosomes are in fact, tiny complex machines inside cells which synthesize or manufacture protein molecules from amino acids. The ribosomes pick up the programming or sequence for putting together proteins, by reading these off messenger RNA and joining up appropriate transfer RNA into correct sequences. Perhaps like a computer reading off a punch-card. The correct code for the protein to be constructed is pulled of DNA, by the RNA; that’s called transcription.

Big Story

Its all about resources. In today’s world, there’s massive amounts of waste. Tomorrow, every bit of extracted material will become a resource, element-wise and possibly atom-wise. Machines will manufacture molecules, while others will put them together. Gives 3D printing a whole new meaning. What this would mean for the world is that resources will be utilized only as needed, right down to the last molecule.

The real kicker is that all our waste will become the resources that power us along. A whole century’s worth. In a zero-waste world, everything that is not required or is a by-product, would be broken down into its elements, separated; and then put back into the resource usage cycle. Over the last century, we’ve quite literally taken the planet apart in our quest for resources. This would slow down.

Possibilities

Modern science will likely replicate nature (as challenging as it may be). Initially, proteins may be manufactured, or entire tubs of nano-particles may be synthesized. These would then be assembled in combination with other nano materials to form complex molecules. These molecules would then be self-assembled with other types of molecules to create 3D blocks, possibly through self-assembly.

3D assembled blocks would get put together to assemble objects. Objects would be assembled to form components. And, finally components would be fitted to produce industrial or consumer products. All waste would be completely recycled.

Such a system would be applicable in every manufacturing scenario, including food production in space exploration and possibly generation manufacture of tissue and organs.

Downside

With every advance, there is always the dreaded possibility for misuse or outright negligence. Responsible nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing would have to be the norm, without exception. The effect of a ‘spill’ or other ecological disaster from nano-particles could be irreversible. Already, plastic waste pollution (which degrades into nano plastics) have been found concentrated in fish brains (across species) resulting in brain damage, which consume ever smaller creatures down the food-chain, which may have initially ingested the nano particles. Now imagine this for other kinds of nano-materials.

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I’m using an extrapolation of molecular manufacturing and self-replication as a concept (among others) in my upcoming science fiction space adventure novel. Subscribe or follow to be among the first to know when the book is out.

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