Last week, I talked about the mind blowing impossibility of making sub-atomic devices. It’s a lot like trying to make a fruit salad using only half an apple- it doesn’t even make sense to think about it.
But I want to talk about what we can do, and what the constraints are. What are the rules of the game? Well, just over 20 years ago, Don Eigler managed to position individual atoms to spell out the letters IBM. It’s pretty amazing that we can mechanically manipulate the smallest building blocks of matter, but it doesn’t mean we’ve mastered the nano-scale.
We can’t just build whatever we want atom-by-atom. Atomic manipulation is a painstaking process, but even if you have unlimited time and patience, there are still limits to what you can do. What happens is that atoms tend to move about of their own accord, they can drift across a surface or stick together in ways you don’t want. (more…)