The final project to go forward from the Ideas Factory on the Software Control of Matter is based on theoretical chemistry/materials science and computer science, and we anticipate this linking strongly to the experimental activities funded from the Ideas Factory. As with the two experimental projects, a few administrative hurdles need to be jumped before EPSRC funding can be confirmed.
An ambition to assemble molecules and materials under atomically precise control demands a big leap forward in control engineering and computer science. Is it possible to anticipate the properties and needs of a ‘nano-assembler’? If so, there is a need for a high level instruction language and a computer compiler that translates commands in this language into instructions for the ‘nano-assembler’. This development will require a breakthrough in understanding of chemical synthesis that must embrace the radically new ‘pick and place’ assembly method which is now possible in scanning probe microscopy (SPM). The Matter Compiler project is thus both an exercise in foresight, to anticipate developments in this area, and a prototype implementation for the engineering control and computer science aspects of directed molecular assembly. It has as inputs data from SPM experiments of collaborators, energy landscapes for ‘pick and place’ reactions and the vast knowledge base of classical synthetic chemistry, including methodologies such as retrosynthesis. This will be supplemented by reaction schemes for ‘pick and place’ reactions deduced from first principles quantum chemistry calculations and the technology of object oriented databases and inference engines.
The team is led by Dr Harris Makatsoris (Engineering, Brunel University) and comprises Professor Malcolm Heggie (Chemistry, University of Sussex), Dr Nick Holliman (Computer Science, University of Durham), Dr Helen Wright (Computer Science, University of Hull) and Professor Jeremy Ramsden (Advanced Materials, Cranfield University).