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What is Diamondoid Mechanosynthesis (DMS)?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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Diamondoid mechanosynthesis (DMS) refers to the hypothetical mechanical synthesis of stable chemical structures using covalently bonded carbon, otherwise known as diamond. Mechanical synthesis (mechanosynthesis) contrasts with chemical synthesis is that the synthesis (creation of a new chemical or structure from two smaller precursors) is performed using mechanical forces alone rather than combining the chemicals in a test tube randomly. Mechanosynthesis is a technology in the early research phases. Though mechanosynthesis has been demonstrated several times, proving its physical viability, it has primarily been performed with silicon, not carbon, and only on a very limited scale.

The motivation for developing a reliable method of diamondoid mechanosynthesis is that, if it could be massively parallelized, it would be a sound basis for a superior manufacturing technology. Such a manufacturing technology would build macroscale products atom-by-atom, a type of bottom-up assembly, in contrast to the top-down assembly that represents almost all present-day manufacturing. This idea, pioneered by engineer Eric Drexler in the 1980s, has been called molecular nanotechnology or molecular manufacturing, and has been the basis of much speculation and controversy in the scientific press.

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Though a general scheme for diamondoid mechanosynthesis was laid out in Drexler's 1992 book Nanosystems, it wasn't until 2007 that nanotechnologists Rob Freitas and Ralph Merkle designed a comprehensive set of molecular tools necessary for diamondoid mechanosynthesis and tested them in computational chemistry simulations. This 2007 work helped inspire applications for a $3.1 million US Dollars research grant in 2008 to actually fabricate and test the proposed tool-tips for diamdondoid mechanosynthesis in a physical setting. The principal investigator is Phillip Moriarty at the University of Nottingham, a specialist in single-molecular manipulation and the development of new scanning probe microscopes.

Diamondoid mechanosynthesis and molecular nanotechnology have been mentioned in UK and US government reports on nanotechnology, but the reaction towards the proposed technologies are mixed. Most reports are either dismissive of the idea, rejecting it with concerns over self-replicating "grey goo," or simply acknowledge ignorance and assert that any future funding in the area will be contingent on proof-of-concept demonstrations.

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