Future buildings will build themselves
Nanotechnology will merely replicate nature's way: expert
Vito Pilieci
The Ottawa Citizen
The Ottawa Citizen
Nanotechnology expert Douglas Mulhall says scientists believe smart materials that render themselves into machines and structures will be available within the next one to three decades.

The buildings of the future will be pre-programmed to construct themselves. Futuristic building materials will work just like cell generation in the human body -- except that instead of following DNA instructions, millions of pre-programmed, atom-sized computers will tell a material how to shape itself and what it should do in case of damage, U.S. nanotechnology expert Douglas Mulhall, says.

Mr. Mulhall, the author of several books on nanotechnology, including his latest, Our Molecular Future, is speaking today at the seventh annual Innovation Round Table at the Château Laurier.

More than 200 business, finance and research experts are in Ottawa to discuss their visions for the future.

"Nature has been undertaking molecular assembly ever since the beginning of time," Mr. Mulhall said yesterday.

"We just haven't been able to replicate it. We are now just on the cusp of being able to do that."

Thanks to ever-increasing computing power, self-constructing materials with the ability to arrange themselves atom-by-atom will eliminate the need for assembly line workers and people skilled in various trades, he said.

"The lathes, looms and assembly lines will all be replaced by self-assembling, software driven machines," said Mr. Mulhall.

He wouldn't predict when that might happen, but said other scientists believe it will be between 10 and 35 years from now.

U.S. doctors are already using these types of manufacturing technologies in the United States to aid in surgery, he said. Software is being used to analyze CT scans layer-by-layer to make an exact plastic replica for surgeons to practise on before they operate on the real patient.

Atom-sized "carbon nanotubes" -- like steel rope of a much smaller scale -- will be manufactured in Japan by the tons within the next year.

Arthur Carty, president of the National Research Council, is not surprised at the Jetson-like technology proposed by Mr. Mulhall. Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton are already in the process of setting up a national institute of nanotechnology to establish Canada as leader in the area.

"Nanotechnology is the next revolution," Mr. Carty said. "We want to take a serious look at that and see if there are ways we can help it along and how we can buy into it in a bigger way."

The two-day round-table discussion, which opened last night, has been jointly sponsored by the NRC, the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation and the Ottawa Life Sciences Council.

During today's talks Mr. Carty will unveil the NRC's Vision 2006, which will see more than $340 million pumped into research across Canada over the next seven years. The new money will create technology clusters across the country, including a photonics cluster in Ottawa.

© Copyright  2002 The Ottawa Citizen

Copyright © 2002 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest Global Communications Corp. All rights reserved.
Optimized for browser versions 4.0 and higher.