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Not surprisingly, that argument leaves a lot of scientists cold. A number of those at the conference expressed a keen desire to move the science forward, and leave these distractions-and the past disputes-associated with nanotech behind. “The spotlight should be on the science, not on the personalities,” says Reza Ghadiri, a biochemist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “The character of the meeting has changed, and now the talks emphasize things you can test.

Could it be, then, that Eric Drexler is unhappy because nanotechnology has moved beyond him? Richard Smalley, a Rice University chemist and 1996 Nobel laureate who attended the Foresight conferences in 1995 and 1997, says Drexler “had a tremendous effect on the field through his books.” But, Smalley adds, as the Foresight meetings have gotten scientifically better and better, “Drexler is now almost a bystander.”

In the minds of many, the burgeoning field of nanotech is no longer identified with-or dependent on-Eric Drexler’s vision of molecular manufacturing. The science has gained its own momentum, forming its own picture of a nanoworld. And while it may not meet Drexler’s grandiose expectations, nanotech is, in some ways, growing bigger and more inclusive than many scientists would have ever thought possible. Yet in doing so, it may have left its conceptual progenitor behind.

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