K. Eric Drexler
Eric Drexler in 2013
Born (1955-04-25) April 25, 1955 (age 68)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology (BS, MS, PhD)
Known forForesight Institute
Scientific career
FieldsEngineering, molecular nanotechnology
ThesisMolecular Machinery and Manufacturing With Applications to Computation (1991)
Doctoral advisorMarvin Minsky

Kim Eric Drexler (born April 25, 1955) is an American engineer best known for introducing molecular nanotechnology (MNT), and his studies of its potential from the 1970s and 1980s.[1] His 1991 doctoral thesis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was revised and published as the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery Manufacturing and Computation (1992), which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992. He has been called the "godfather of nanotechnology".[2]

Life and work

K. Eric Drexler was strongly influenced by ideas on limits to growth in the early 1970s. During his first year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he sought out someone who was working on extraterrestrial resources. He found Gerard K. O'Neill of Princeton University, a physicist famous for his work on storage rings for particle accelerators and his landmark work on the concepts of space colonization. Drexler participated in NASA summer studies on space colonies in 1975 and 1976. He fabricated metal films a few tens of nanometers thick on a wax support to demonstrate the potentials of high-performance solar sails. He was active in space politics, helping the L5 Society defeat the Moon Treaty in 1980.[3] Besides working summers for O'Neill, building mass driver prototypes, Drexler delivered papers at the first three Space Manufacturing conferences at Princeton. The 1977 and 1979 papers were co-authored with Keith Henson, and patents were issued on both subjects, vapor phase fabrication and space radiators.

During the late 1970s, Drexler began to develop ideas about molecular nanotechnology (MNT). In 1979, he encountered Richard Feynman's provocative 1959 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom". In 1981, Drexler wrote a seminal research article, published by PNAS, "Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation".[4] This article has continued to be cited, more than 620 times, during the following 35 years.[5]

The term "nano-technology" had been coined by the Tokyo University of Science professor Norio Taniguchi in 1974 to describe the precision manufacture of materials with nanometer tolerances, and Drexler unknowingly used a related term in his 1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology to describe what later became known as molecular nanotechnology (MNT). In that book, he proposed the idea of a nanoscale "assembler" which would be able to build a copy of itself and of other items of arbitrary complexity. He also first published the term "grey goo" to describe what might happen if a hypothetical self-replicating molecular assembler went out of control. He has subsequently tried to clarify his concerns about out-of-control self-replicators, and make the case that molecular manufacturing does not require such devices.[6]


Drexler holds three degrees from MIT. He received his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Sciences in 1977 and his M.S. in 1979 in Astro/Aerospace Engineering with a master's thesis titled "Design of a High Performance Solar Sail System". In 1991, he earned a Ph.D. through the MIT Media Lab (formally, the Media Arts and Sciences Section, School of Architecture and Planning) after the department of electrical engineering and computer science refused to approve Drexler's plan of study.[7]

His Ph.D. work was the first doctoral degree on the topic of molecular nanotechnology and his thesis, "Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation", was published (with minor editing) as Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation (1992), which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992.

Personal life

Drexler was married to Christine Peterson for 21 years. The marriage ended in 2002.

In 2006, Drexler married Rosa Wang, a former investment banker who works with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public on improving the social capital markets.

Drexler has arranged to be cryonically preserved in the event of legal death.[8]


See also: Drexler–Smalley debate on molecular nanotechnology

Drexler's work on nanotechnology was criticized as naive by Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley in a 2001 Scientific American article. Smalley first argued that "fat fingers" made MNT impossible. He later argued that nanomachines would have to resemble chemical enzymes more than Drexler's assemblers and could only work in water. Drexler maintained that both were straw man arguments, and in the case of enzymes, wrote that "Prof. Klibanov wrote in 1994, ' ... using an enzyme in organic solvents eliminates several obstacles ... '"[9] Drexler had difficulty in getting Smalley to respond, but in December 2003, Chemical and Engineering news carried a four-part debate.[10] Ray Kurzweil disputes Smalley's arguments.[11]

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in its 2006 review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, argues that it is difficult to predict the future capabilities of nanotechnology:[12]

Although theoretical calculations can be made today, the eventually attainable range of chemical reaction cycles, error rates, speed of operation, and thermodynamic efficiencies of such bottom-up manufacturing systems cannot be reliably predicted at this time. Thus, the eventually attainable perfection and complexity of manufactured products, while they can be calculated in theory, cannot be predicted with confidence. Finally, the optimum research paths that might lead to systems which greatly exceed the thermodynamic efficiencies and other capabilities of biological systems cannot be reliably predicted at this time. Research funding that is based on the ability of investigators to produce experimental demonstrations that link to abstract models and guide long-term vision is most appropriate to achieve this goal.[12]

In science fiction

Drexler is mentioned in Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel The Diamond Age as one of the heroes of a future world where nanotechnology is ubiquitous.[13]

In the science fiction novel Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod, a 'drexler' is a nanotech assembler of pretty much anything that can fit in the volume of the particular machine—from socks to starships.[14]

Drexler is also mentioned in the science fiction book Decipher by Stel Pavlou; his book is mentioned as one of the starting points of nanomachine construction, as well as giving a better understanding of the way carbon 60 was to be applied.[15]

James Rollins references Drexler's Engines of Creation in his novel Excavation, using his theory of a molecular machine in two sections as a possible explanation for the mysterious "Substance Z" in the story.[16]

Drexler gets a mention in Timothy Leary's Design for Dying in the "Mutation" section, briefly detailing the 8-circuit model of consciousness (pg. 91).[17]

Drexler is mentioned in DC Comics' Doom Patrol vol. 2, #57 (published July 1992).[18]

Drexler is mentioned in Michael Crichton's 2002 novel Prey in the introduction (pg xii).[19]

The Drexler Facility (ドレクサー機関) of molecular nanotechnology research in the Japanese eroge visual novels Baldr Sky is named after him. The "Assemblers" are its key invention.[20]


See also


  1. ^ Bayda, Samer; Adeel, Muhammad; Tuccinardi, Tiziano; Cordani, Marco; Rizzolio, Flavio (2019-12-27). "The History of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: From Chemical–Physical Applications to Nanomedicine". Molecules. 25 (1): 112. doi:10.3390/molecules25010112. ISSN 1420-3049. PMC 6982820. PMID 31892180.
  2. ^ Regis, Ed (2004-10-01). "The Incredible Shrinking Man". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2023-11-01.
  3. ^ http://www.nss.org/settlement/L5news/1980-treaty.htm
  4. ^ Drexler, K. Eric (1 September 1981). "Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 78 (9): 5275–5278. Bibcode:1981PNAS...78.5275D. doi:10.1073/pnas.78.9.5275. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 348724. PMID 16593078.
  5. ^ "Drexler: Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities ..." (citation). scholar.google.com. Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  6. ^ Giles, Jim (2004). "Nanotech takes small step towards burying 'grey goo'". Nature. 429 (6992): 591. Bibcode:2004Natur.429..591G. doi:10.1038/429591b. PMID 15190320.
  7. ^ McCray, W. Patrick (2013). The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future. Princeton University Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-0691139838. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  8. ^ Miller, James D. (2012). Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World. BenBella Books. ISBN 978-1-936661-65-7.
  9. ^ "Nanotechnology: Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy". Crnano.org. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  10. ^ "C&En: Cover Story - Nanotechnology". Pubs.acs.org. 2003-12-01. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  11. ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 2005
  12. ^ a b Committee to Review the National Nanotechnology Initiative (2006). A Matter of Size: Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Washington, DC: National Academies of Science. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-309-10223-0. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  13. ^ Stephenson, Neal (1998-08-27). The Diamond Age. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 9780141924052.
  14. ^ results, search (2005-01-06). Newton's Wake: Novel (New ed.). London: Orbit. ISBN 9781841492247.
  15. ^ results, search (2007-01-09). Decipher (Reprint ed.). St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 9780312366964.
  16. ^ "Excavation - James Rollins". James Rollins. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  17. ^ results, search (2018-04-19). Design for Dying. S.l.: Forgotten Books. ISBN 9781333214203.
  18. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Doom Patrol #57 (1987-1995) (NOOK Comic with Zoom View)". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  19. ^ Crichton, Michael. "Prey - Michael Crichton - E-book". HarperCollins US. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  20. ^ "Baldr Sky Dive1 "Lost Memory"". The Visual Novel Database. Retrieved 2018-05-08.

Further reading