“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

EPSRC SANDPIT – SOFTWARE CONTROL OF MATTER AT THE ATOMIC OR MOLECULAR SCALE

What is a Sandpit?
A sandpit is a residential interactive workshop over 5 days involving 20-30 participants, a director and a number of independent stakeholders. An essential element of a sandpit is a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants taking part to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing particular research challenges.

A sand-pit is an intensive discussion forum where free-thinking is encouraged to delve deep into the problems on the agenda in order to uncover innovative solutions. The sand-pit is led by the Director, whose role will be to define the topic and facilitate discussions at the sand-pit. This sand-pit will be led by Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield. Working with the Director and participants will be a team of professional facilitators who will also help steer participants through the process.

Event photo
Roleplay

The Challenge

Can we design and construct a device or scheme that can arrange atoms or molecules according to an arbitrary, user-defined blueprint?

This is at the heart of the idea of the software control of matter – the creation, perhaps, of a “matter compiler” which will interpret software instructions to output a macroscopic product in which every atom is precisely placed. Progress towards this goal would significantly open up the range of available functional materials, permitting meta-materials with interesting electronic, optoelectronic, optical and magnetic properties.

One route to this goal might be to take inspiration from 3-d rapid prototyping devices, and conceive of some kind of pick-and-place mechanism operating at the atomic or molecular level, perhaps based on scanning probe techniques. On the other hand, the field of DNA nanotechnology gives us examples of complex structures built by self-assembly, in which the program to guide the construction is implicit within the structure of the building blocks themselves. This problem, then, goes beyond surface chemistry and the physics of self-assembly to some fundamental questions in computer science.

The Outputs?

The sand pit will produce

Novelty in ideas
Novelty in methodology
Novelty in teams

Leading to new, fully funded, exciting research activities.

Paul Rouse
EPSRC

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