Foresight Institute

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The Foresight Institute is a Palo Alto, California-based research non-profit dedicated to promoting the development of nanotechnology (and other emerging technologies).[1] The institute holds conferences on molecular nanotechnology[2] and is one of the independent foundations in the nanotechnology area.[3]


The Institute was founded in 1986 by author Christine Peterson,[2] who still serves on the Board of Directors. Other founding members include molecular nanotechnology proponent K. Eric Drexler as president, and space entrepreneur James C. Bennett. Drexler's book, Engines of Creation, was one of the institute's founding documents. Many of its initial members came from the L5 Society. It was first intended as a smaller, more focused group than L5, but grew rapidly and reached a few thousand members shortly afterwards.[4] In its early days, it was largely responsible for promoting the concept of nanotechnology, before the idea became widespread among researchers.

Nanotech received little investment from government and industry in the early 1990s, a gap Foresight tried to fill through its private fundraising efforts.[5] Named to honor 1965 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Richard Feynman, the Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology was started in 1993, with two prizes being awarded for theory and experimentation every year since 1997.[6]

In 1991, two sister organizations were formed: the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM) and the Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology (CCIT), with funding from tech entrepreneur Mitch Kapor.[4] CCIT was founded to study policy issues, but communications professor David M. Berube argued in 2005 that it had not accomplished much in this area.[5]

In May 2005, the Foresight Institute changed its name to "Foresight Nanotech Institute". [3] In June 2009 it reverted to the original.

Foresight and its founder Eric Drexler have been criticized for technological utopianism and unrealistic expectations.[7] Stanford researcher Steven Block has called Foresight a "cult of futurists", and said that visions which might resemble science fiction would hold back research progress.[8] Chemist and Nobel laureate Richard Smalley was originally a supporter of Foresight during the early 1990s, before changing his mind and becoming a prominent critic of Foresight and Drexler.[3] A public debate ensued through written papers and letters, dubbed the Drexler-Smalley debate on molecular nanotechnology.


The Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology is an award given by the Foresight Institute for significant advances in nanotechnology. The prize was first given in 1993. Before 1997, one prize was given biennially. From 1997 on, two prizes were given each year in theory and experimental categories.[9][9][10][11][12] By awarding these prizes early in the history of the field, the prize increased awareness of nanotechnology and influenced its direction.[13]:60[14][15]

The prize is named in honor of physicist Richard Feynman, whose 1959 talk There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom is considered to have inspired and informed the start of the field of nanotechnology.[9] The prize was instituted in the context of Drexler's advocacy of funding for molecular manufacturing.[9] Author Colin Milburn refers to the prize as an example of "fetishizing" their namesake Richard Feynman, due to his prestige as a scientist and his fame among the broader public.[3]

The Foresight Institute also offers the Feynman Grand Prize, a $250,000 award to the first persons to create both a nanoscale robotic arm capable of precise positional control, and a nanoscale 8-bit adder, conforming to given specifications. The Grand Prize is intended to emulate historical prizes such as the Longitude prize, Orteig Prize, Kremer prize, Ansari X Prize, and two prizes that were offered by Richard Feynman personally as challenges during his 1959 There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom talk.[16][17][18] In 2004, X-Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis was selected to chair the Feynman Grand Prize committee.[16]


The Institute carries out yearly workshops, attended primarily by scientists, engineers, and students. The subject matter matches molecular nanotechnology and its close relative, atomically precise manufacturing with other transformative technologies, such as energy efficiency, artificial intelligence, programmable matter, and medical applications. In 2016, the Institute initiated the first of a promised series of “Great Debates” on various technical, existential and ethical subjects related to impending outcomes of transformative research and technologies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guston, David H. (2010). Encyclopedia of nanoscience and society. London: SAGE. p. 253. ISBN 1452266174. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b Oliver, By Richard W. (2003). The biotech age : the business of biotech and how to profit from it (2nd ed., rev. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 86. ISBN 0071414894. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Milburn, Colin (2008). Nanovision: Engineering the future. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822391481.
  4. ^ a b McCray, W. Patrick (2012). The visioneers: how a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691139830.
  5. ^ a b Berube, David M. Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781615922369.
  6. ^ Marcovich, Anne; Shinn, Terry (2014). Toward a New Dimension: Exploring the Nanoscale. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198714610.
  7. ^ Byrne (December 8, 1999). "Sidebar: Looking at Foresight". SF Weekly. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  8. ^ Hayles, N. Katherine; Foushee, Danielle (2004). Nanoculture: Implications of the New Technoscience. Intellect Books. ISBN 9781841501130.
  9. ^ a b c d Marcovich, Anne; Shinn, Terry (December 1, 2010). "Socio/intellectual patterns in nanoscale research: Feynman Nanotechnology Prize laureates, 1993–2007". Social Science Information. 49 (4): 615–638. doi:10.1177/0539018410377581.
  10. ^ Feynman Prize: Dr Amanda Barnard, ABC (Australia), 2015-04-30, retrieved 2018-05-12
  11. ^ Finkel, Elizabeth (2016-09-26). "Michelle Simmons: a quantum queen". Cosmos Magazine. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  12. ^ Heinze, Thomas; Shapira, Philip; Senker, Jacqueline; Kuhlmann, Stefan (2007-01-01). "Identifying creative research accomplishments: Methodology and results for nanotechnology and human genetics". Scientometrics. 70 (1): 125–152. doi:10.1007/s11192-007-0108-6. ISSN 0138-9130.
  13. ^ Marcovich, Anne; Shinn, Terry (2014). Toward a New Dimension: Exploring the Nanoscale. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198714613.
  14. ^ Stallbaumer, Clayton (2016). "From Longitude to Altitude: Inducement Prize Contests as Instruments of Public Policy in Science and Technology" (PDF). Journal of Law, Technology & Policy. 2006 (1): 117–158 – via University of Illinois.
  15. ^ Berube, David M. Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781615922369.
  16. ^ a b "Diamandis to chair Feynman Grand Prize committee | Solid State Technology". Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  17. ^ Nicolau, D.E.; Phillimore, J.; Cross, R.; Nicolau, D.V (July 2000). "Nanotechnology at the crossroads: the hard or the soft way?". Microelectronics Journal. 31 (7): 611–616. doi:10.1016/s0026-2692(00)00036-7. ISSN 0026-2692.
  18. ^ Davidian, Ken (2005). "Prize Competitions and NASA's Centennial Challenges Program" (PDF). International Lunar Conference. Retrieved 2018-05-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Richard Hewlett. "A Policy Framework for Developing a National Nanotechnology Program", Master of Science thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1998, available at Digital Library and Archives

External links[edit]