Invisible Architecture

The NanoWorld of Buckminster Fuller

by Bonnie Goldstein DeVarco



VII. Ephemeral Computing - The Architecture of Information

Computer Information Storage and Closest Packing of Atoms

The application of fullerenes to computer technology is not only a significant new direction, but it also emphasizes the physical intersection of carbon and silicon in unique and surprising ways. Fuller himself began to theoretically apply synergetics to computers because of its suitability for design on a microlevel. In 1969 when most computers were the size of rooms and even complex calculators were the size of refrigerators, Fuller laid the groundwork for a patent on computer information storage using his concepts of closest packing on the atomic scale. He suggested taking advantage of the high conductivity of convex surfaces by closest packing atomic-sized spherical glass beads that are gold plated, silver plated and copper plated. He suggested that the critical configuration of these spheres in a nonlinear closest packed arrangement of 12 around one would cause energy to be transmitted along their convex arcs following the great circles. Because of the different conductivity of each metal plating, a nonlinear hierarchy for energy coding would allow various "frequencies" of information to be conveyed throughout the system at the same time.56

It would seem logical enough to attempt to extend this concept of closest packing of atoms to the notion of closest packing of buckyballs using the configurations Fuller suggested in his proposed patent of 1969. But a nanosize abacus with buckyball beads, even with its linear structure may not be so far away from such a concept. Last year, scientists at the I.B.M. Zurich Research Laboratory in Switzerland invented an ultraminiature abacus in which they used the sphere-shaped buckyballs as "counting beads" which slide along microscopic copper grooves to perform arithmetic calculations. This type of micro abacus could dramatically enhance the speed and utility of computers. Interestingly the nanotubes with buckyball tips are used as microscopic probes to scoot the balls along the grooves.

Dr. James M. Gimzewski, a member of the group that built the molecular abacus, described its ungainly operation as comparable to using the Eiffel Tower to move around the beads of an ordinary abacus. But I.B.M. and other companies specializing in high-speed computation constantly explore the limits of nanotechnology -- the fabrication of devices little larger than single molecules -- as the means of making better computers...

Although the molecular abacus is not yet a practical computing device, Dr. Gimzewski and his colleagues, Dr. M.T. Cuberes and Dr R. R. Schittler, said its speed and utility would greatly improve. Its advantage, they say, is that thousands of buckyballs can be lined up along a groove only as wide as a typical device on a conventional chip. The speed of the abacus's operation could be greatly increased by using many microscope probes instead of just one, they reported in the journal Applied Physics Letters. 57

Another surprising application of fullerenes to computer design was reported in the March 1997 issue of New Scientist. Scientists now see that buckyballs can act as tiny electronic components which will help to usher in a new generation of mini-computers.

A single buckyball can act as a tiny, transistor-like amplifier, say researchers in Switzerland and France, who hope their buckyball will one day become part of molecule-sized electronic devices....

The buckyball amplifies the regular changes in current through the piezo-electric crystal by a factor of five, mimicking the action of a three-terminal transistor. The ultimate hope is that such tiny electronic components could be used to make miniature circuits--reducing the supercomputer to the size of a paperback.58

Almost weekly more examples of fullerene applications appear, charting new trends in the ephemeralization of technology. The architectures of nanotechnology, modeled someday with aesthetic precision on the seamlessly symmetric/asymmetric spontaneous self-assemblies of fullerene and buckyball carbon molecules have already been proven relevant beyond all expectation. Nanoscale architecture has opened up avenues for computer language-building devices to mirror more accurately the atomic level of our own cellular makeup, making silicon-based life not so different than carbon-based life. With these new developments our personal relationship to that future "machine" will soon become far less cumbersome and separate.

Quantum Computing, Quantum Consciousness and the Ultra Micro Computer

Today's new architectures for nanoscale computer probes and information coding systems build excitement around what might be possible in a world that does more and more with less and less. Yet it represents only an entrance to the next level of computer organization. Quantum computers are now at least theoretically possible, someday replacing digital computers -- that is, computer information coding using instead of a binary code, a code containing all the probabilities. We have just stepped up to the point of entry into quantum realities, when the confusing "many worlds" concept of quantum physics begins to make tangible sense in the physical world of the medio scale.

New computation methods going well beyond parallel processing are now possible by using a phenomenon called "quantum superposition." In an article in the New York Times Science Section in March, 1997, scientists announced that this long postulated concept has been proven at least theoretically feasible. In the quantum world, since an electron is continually in motion and in limbo, never occupying a single definite position, the only way to understand their ephemeral "placement" is through "a superposition that consists of every possible location that it could conceivably occupy." When the electron is measured or affected by the outside world it is frozen in space and time and becomes fixed. Photons, particles of light, also obey quantum rules. They follow all conceivable paths, some which reinforce each other and many which cancel each other out. Eventually, only one trajectory of the photon can be observed. The quantum computer would work in a similar way.

In a similar way, a quantum computer would be capable of a powerful kind of parallel processing that goes far beyond what is possible with even the most advanced digital machines. In a quantum computer, all the calculations needed to solve a problem could be performed simultaneously, like the photons trying out every possible path as they are reflected by a mirror. Most of these calculations would cancel out, leaving the correct answer to the problem.59

Fuller's theorized the possibility of building "ultra micro computer" in the 1970s. He suggested that this "nuclear computer" could operate with a microscale matrix of "lights" in the configuration of his isotropic vector lattice. To design this type of application on the nanoscale, Fuller employed closest packing of spheres, the dense octet truss lattice in a Vector Equilibrium configuration and the great circle energy circuits of spinning polyhedra. He uses them to describe building components of a micromachine that can exhibit the same properties as the quantum superposition concept applied to computers. In Fuller's theoretical "nuclear computer," all information circuits could be actuated and accessed at the same time in an invisible matrix of light nodes, thus compressing a great deal of information into a tiny piece of almost ephemeral machinery.

We could progressively and discretely activate each of the atoms of such a four-dimensional isotropic vector matrix to become "lights" and could move a multidimensional control "form" through the isotropic multidimensional circuitry activating field.... Employing as broadcastable channels, the 25 great circles of the vector equilibrium all of which pass through all the "K" (kissing points) of intertangency of all uniform radius, closest packed spheres of all isotropic vector matrixes; and employing as local holding patterns the 31 great circles of the icosahedron; and employing the myriadly selectable, noninterfering frequencies of such propagatable intertransformation resonance; it is evidenced that the isotropic vector matrixes of various atomic elements may be programmed to receive, store, retrieve, and uniquely constellate to provide computer functioning of unprecedented capacity magnitude writing approximately invisible atomic domains. 60

At the end of his description, Fuller suggested that this ultra micro computer (UMC) "employs step-up, step-down, transforming visible controls between the invisible circuitry of the atomic computer complex pinhead-size programmer and the popular outdoor, high-in-the-sky, "billboard" size, human readability."61 Is such a thing possible? Many scientists seem to think so. But the design of these new quantum computers is still to be determined. Perhaps some clues can be taken from Fuller. In his Applied Synergetics Home Page, Richard J. Bono has called for a more serious consideration of the merits of synergetics to such quantum computational methodology in his online research paper, "Applied Computational Cosmography."

Physicist and mathematician, Roger Penrose, has championed the idea of quantum consciousness in his two most recent works, The Emporer's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind. Penrose suggests that there is something going on in the brain that is beyond what we now know in physics, something of a noncomputational character. He proposes that through a type of quantum superposition, the microtubules, long tubes only a few nanometers in diameter which inhabit the neurons of the brain, actually process information in non-linear ways that are well beyond what a digital computer could ever duplicate. In other words, computers could never mimic the brain's neurostructure.

Their action has a lot to do with the transport of neurotransmitter chemicals along axons, and the growth of dendrites. The neurotransmitter molecules are transported along the microtubules, and these molecules are critical for the behavior of the synapses. The strength of the synapse can be changed by the action of the microtubules. What interests me about the microtubules is that they're tubes, and according to Hameroff and his colleagues there's a computational action going along on the tubes themselves, on the outside.

A protein substance called tubulin forms interpenetrating spiral arrangements constituting the tubes. Each tubulin molecule can have two states of polarization. As with an electronic computer, we can label these states with a 1 and an 0. These produce various patterns along the microtubules, and they can go along the tubes in some form of computational action. ..62

Dr. Penrose, Dr. Stuart Hameroff and others are now exploring the behaviors of microtubules to better understand their role in consciousness. Penrose and Hameroff maintain that we cannot understand the dynamics of the brain with classical physics. They argue that quantum-level activities are present in the neurostructure of the brain and their location is in the microtubules where the noncomputational influence along the tubules themselves cause a "quantum oscillation" to occur in the synapses traveling through them. In order to prove their theory, fullerene "probes" or "tweezers" and buckytubes may make it possible for them to carry out this atomic scale investigation. In a recent conversation documented in the Quantum-d Archive on the World Wide Web, these possibilities were discussed between various participants and Hameroff:

LC: I have the idea of interfacing a microtubule with a "buckytube," a Buckminsterfullerene that has a complete hex structure and forms a tube. Thereby the quantum wave could be extracted from a living cell and maybe run through an interferemetric experiment.

SH [Stuart Hameroff]: Beautiful!! We did some scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) of MTs with the eventual hope of doing what you're suggesting. Djuro Koruga has made some similar interface suggestions (have you seen his book on Fullerenes? He's calculated a communication code for MTs and structure as buckyballs/tubes, and large energy gaps. Some form of atomic force microscopy (AFM) or, as you suggest, optical tweezers with a Fullerene interfaced to MTs would be very interesting!! 63

[recent update: Physicist Tony Smith documents recent work published in the July 6 2001 issue of New Scientist which lays a foundation for potentially combining both buckytubes with microtubules because of their shared properties].

Table of Contents

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copyright 1997, Bonnie DeVarco