If you are a Star Trek fan, you may long have been fascinated by the idea of a "replicator"; a device where you simply ask for something and the device releases something called nanobots which are miniature robots that molecule for molecule assembles the object that you want.
Now this replicator may sound fantastic and it is science fiction...it least for now. But replicators actually exist in nature. We can see a great example every time a human baby is born: a baby is essentially replicated in a mere 9 months time. So, it is possible molecule for molecule to recreate a baby, and nature does it. We scientists are currently trying to figure out how exactly it is that nature does that. How does nature rearrange the molecules—cut and splice molecule for molecule — to create something as complex as a baby? We know that the body does it with what are called ribosomes which have a blueprint that is provided by DNA.
We haven’t been able to create such a replicator in the laboratory but may be possible in many decades. This, of course, is a biological process, but the fact of the matter is that nanotechnology is stalled so we are trying to essentially learn from nature and reverse-engineer the processes.
We are trying to see how mother nature can take a molecule, cut and splice it with an instruction and then have an end result of creating an object. As I state in my BBC series Visions of the Future -- We are on the brink of a revolution which will give us exquisite control of our physical world and our mastery of matter will profoundly change our lives and the world around us.
It will be very interesting to see the developments of nanotechnology in the coming decades. Please also be encouraged to read to my previous blog entry The World of Nanotechnology.