The Making of a Personal Lab Neil Gershenfeld of MIT says a revolution is on the horizon for manufacturing -- that existing technologies and tools can bring capabilities once only held by huge factories down to the personal level.
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The Making of a Personal Lab

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The Making of a Personal Lab

The Making of a Personal Lab

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Do you tinker in your home workshop, perhaps in the garage or the basement? Now imagine that you had the power to make anything, and I'm not just talking about a nice wood shelf here, but things accurate down to microns in length, microseconds in time, complex objects made of metal or custom-designing your own electronics. Used to be that you didn't have to have a massive factory or Norm Abram at your disposal. You'd be out of luck. But the world is changing. It used to be that the ideas of having, for example, a powerful computer on everyone's desk seemed like science fiction, too. Well, my next guest argues that we are on the verge of another kind of digital revolution, but instead of it being about personal computing, it's about personal fabrication, the idea that soon you'll have the tools to whip up just about anything on your own. Boy, I can't wait. And prototypes of these systems, what he calls fab labs, are now in place here in the US and in the developing world.

And joining me now to talk about the idea is Neil Gershenfeld. He's the author of the book "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication." He's also the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT in Cambridge. He joins us from WBUR in Boston.

Welcome to the program.

Professor NEIL GERSHENFELD (Author, "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication"): It's a pleasure to be here.

FLATOW: Let's talk about a fab lab. Is this really a set of tools that I can use anywhere, you know, in my shop, or how far along are you? What can I do with your fab lab?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: That's the real surprise. The fab labs are the analog of the minicomputers in the history of the PC, and so I thought they were quick hacks, but for about $20,000 now, you can create modern technology. So it's my favorite kind of prediction about the future. It's really a statement about the present.

FLATOW: Well, let's talk about the actual tools. What kind of tools are we talking about here? Is it a "Star Wars" transporter, or is it something a little more basic?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: To place it in between--back at MIT, we have millions of dollars of tools. These are the mainframes of fab that let you build anything from atoms on up. And the research is aiming 20 years from now for the "Star Trek" replicator, and the fab labs emerged from that as a little side project that mushroomed out of control. It's about $20,000 in equipment that approximates both to bring it in the field early. So there's a laser that lets you cuts 2-D shapes that make 3-D parts, a sign-cutter that plots in copper to make things like antennas and connections, a very precise little 3-D cutting tool that works down to millionths of a meter, and programming tools for very tiny high-speed chips, less than a dollar but tens of millions of instructions a second. And they let you create modern technology today approximating where the research is heading tomorrow.

FLATOW: So I would, for example, design a 3-dimensional object on my computer and I would press a button, and the lab would make that object?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Almost. You still need some of you. Again, these are kind of like the minicomputers.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Mainframes reach PCs through the PDPs. PDPs were clunky. They cost tens of thousands of dollars, but everything you do today with a computer was done there first, more or less: e-mail, the Internet, word processing, all of that.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So the fab labs, they have some consumables, they need some skill, but they let you do today where the research is heading in 20 years. And like PDPs, they're already useful today.

FLATOW: Give me an idea of a typical fab lab design that I might want to make in my basement if I had all the components there.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: That's the next surprise. There's different answers and, to me, surprising answers in both the developed and developing world. In the developed world, I stumbled across this when, with colleagues, we started teaching a class called How To Make Almost Anything...

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: ...on using all these tools. And we were swamped with non-technical students desperate to take it, not to do research, just to make stuff.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: And what they did was enormously inventive and not the sort of stuff I would do. One student made a device that saves up screams and plays it back later when it's convenient.

FLATOW: Save up screams?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Screams. It's a thing you wear.

FLATOW: Like a Halloween thing.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yeah. Well, when you're in a meeting, it's kind of frustrating, you scream. It saves your scream and lets it out later.

FLATOW: Oh, I see.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Another made a Web browser for parrots. Parrots have the cognitive ability of a young child. They go crazy left home alone. So it lets parrots surf the net and talk to their owners. Another made a dress with sensors and spines that spring out to protect your personal space.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So it's not technology to enhance communication; it's technology to prevent communication. Another made an alarm clock you wrestle with to prove that you're awake.


Prof. GERSHENFELD: And what that feature, though...

FLATOW: So you just let your mind go wild and this can come up with it?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yeah, what I learned from those is those projects answered a question I hadn't asked, which is: What is it all good for?

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: And the answer is, you don't need this to buy something you can buy at Wal-Mart 'cause you can buy it at Wal-Mart. These are all inventions for a market of one person. It's a personal expression in technology. The head of Digital Equipment famously said, `Nobody'll have a computer in the home.'


Prof. GERSHENFELD: DEC is bankrupt and we have computers in the home. He was in effect saying, `Why would you do inventory, your own payroll at home?' But that's not what you have a computer for. You have it for what makes you unique. And the lesson is personalizing fabrication democratizes invention, picking up from your last segment.

FLATOW: And you also say that this can help Third World countries, developing countries.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So against this backdrop, I should explain, we had bought with, thanks to all of your listeners' taxpayer money, all these big machines to do the research. There's a government requirement you do some outreach, which too often can be a class or a Web site that's not that exciting. So we made a deal we'd set these up in a field. And it wasn't mean to scale or be important. But they exploded all around the world--India, Africa, Latin America, above the Arctic Circle, 'cause we found for all the attention to a digital divide, even bigger is what you can think of as a instrumentation and a fabrication divide. A rural farmer doesn't just need information on the screen. They need to measure and modify the world. And so in turn, instead of bringing IT to the masses, we found you can bring tools for IT development so that invention itself becomes the most enabling kind of aid.

FLATOW: Talking with Neil Gershenfeld, author of "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication," on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

1 (800) 989-8255 is our number.

There was an interesting machine in here--you sort of fabricated a globe, you know, the kind of globe you buy in a department store, and actually made the globe in little layers of plastic. Put a--made a three-dimensional globe by passing ba--if I saw it correctly, a machine would pass back and forth and deposit some more plastic and make another layer and sort of build it up that way. Is that right?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: That's c--Yep. Those are commercially available today. Companies like Stratosys and Z Corp make these printers that print 3-D objects. I love those, but they're also expensive and they don't work in functional materials, like electronic materials. So we use those back at MIT, but in turn the research is aiming at the step that comes after that, which is how you--we joke about a student whose thesis can get up and walk out of the printer. And we just had a meeting today on firming up that thesis, where the idea is you print sensing, logic, actuation, the functional parts of the system also.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number.

What is the ultimate kind of fab lab that you're aiming for? Obviously, you want things to develop at universities, you have--you know, the sky's limit, but there may be something down the road that you really want.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So in retrospect, it's surprisingly clear and it's very close to what's inside you. You have an amazing molecular machine, the ribosome, that's a computer that builds the proteins in your body. And it really computes--everybody knows we've had a digital revolution, but few people know what it means. The heart of it are threshold theorems--they're called the Shannon proof for communication and van Neumannn proof for computing--that show how you can do perfect things with imperfect parts. And this little molecular machine in your body does that exactly like the computers, but its output is a thing. And so what we're moving towards is molecular fabricators that are little molecular computers where the output isn't numbers but it's things, but just like the transition from telephones to the Internet, it makes perfect things from imperfect parts.

FLATOW: Could you make something that you just think about it and it puts it together?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yes. It--I wouldn't invest too much effort in trying to read your mind. You have to communicate it.

FLATOW: Well, yeah. You have some sort of helmet you put on and...

Prof. GERSHENFELD: You know what? That actually doesn't work so well 'cause the representation in your brain isn't designed to be read inside. It's designed to be read outside. But once you communicate it, we're well along the way--this is just a very modest projection--to make printers that print functional things. And what's emerging in retrospect is we did have a digital revolution in communications, then computations, but they're done. We just don't need to keep fighting over it. We're just at the edge of bringing the programmability of the digital world out into the physical world, which really is likely to be a much bigger revolution 'cause this is where we live.

FLATOW: And so you're really just beginning going down this road now.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yeah, although, then again, against this backdrop of these mainframes at places like MIT and the research 20 years in the future, these fab labs--every day I get messages saying, `I want to devote--I want fab labs, so I'm devoting my life to this. Where should I report?' And in this project, unlike anything I've been involved in, we've been spending time with, like, generals and heads of state and tribal chiefs and street children. And I kept telling them this may be useful and important, but just wait, 'cause it's not the real thing,' Until I finally really got this minicomputer analogy.


Prof. GERSHENFELD: Every--the minicomputer era was chaotic. It wasn't clear how important what was going on or what was going on. But modern computing happened then. And so what we're talking about isn't just a projection to the future. It really is possible today. We are today in that minicomputer era we read about reverently for computing.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to take a short break, take some of your calls and come back and talk with Neil Gershenfeld, author of "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop." Stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.


FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I am Ira Flatow.

We're talking this hour with Neil Gershenfeld, author of the book "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication."

And, boy, I would like one. Where do I get one of these things, Neil? How can I find one?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So that's the next challenge. Somehow getting access to this touches something really deep. I don't know if goes back to, like, nest building or mate finding. It's just--there's this overwhelming passion we trip across wherever we have done this. So we're racing to keep up with it. I've been approached on how you make a killing in fab labs, but if the machines can make the machines, that's not a good business to be in. So, in fact...

FLATOW: You'd go out of business pretty fast.



Prof. GERSHENFELD: So it's splitting. MIT is involved in the research, but what's spinning off from this is two things. One is a micro-VC fab fund to invest in the businesses, and then fab foundations all around the world to help support the scaling to meet this passionate demand we've found.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255.

Let's go to Matt in San Francisco. Hi, Matt.

MATT (Caller): How are you?

FLATOW: Hi. Go ahead.

MATT: Yeah, I was just--I thought it was interesting that with this nanotechnology and desktop fabrication that people will be able to essentially be their own nutty professor and make--you know, the sky's the limit, just according to their imagination, and in a James Bond sense, you know, people can be their own, you know, Q, so to speak, making their own little customized, personalized gadgets, both for fun but also for some real-world applications as well. So just thought I'd make that comment. I thought it was interesting.

FLATOW: All right, thanks for calling.

MATT: Thanks.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255.

Let's go to Ohio. Rick in Hiram. Hi, Rick.

RICK (Caller): Hey, how you doing?


RICK: I just wanted to comment. I've been using, for my electronic stuff, a system where I can actually design a PC board on my computer. When I get it to my satisfaction, I can send it by the Internet to the company. They manufacture the boards, either just a one-on-one type thing or they'll manufacture as many as they want. And within a week or so, I have it. And it's just absolutely remarkable technology. Allows me to do things much better from the old dead-bug style of constructing electronic stuff in your home.

FLATOW: Neil, can you do this at home now?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Sure. So the transition to fab labs then is process technology. So in the field you can make the board without chemical waste in an hour instead of a week. And what's really important about that, even more than the cost, is turn times so you can do this in a remote village without a supply chain to reduce the threshold for inventions.

FLATOW: Well, you'll have to go out and get one now.

1 (800)...

Prof. GERSHENFELD: And in fact I should mention...

FLATOW: Yeah, go ahead.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: the links on the Web site, all the specs of hardware and software are freely available. I invite people to do just that.

FLATOW: But there's got to be a limit to the complexity of things. How many parts can you send in the kit, you know? There's got to be a limit to what--maybe you can build a simple radio, but not some sort of complex satellite you're going to launch, something like that.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: We've been surprised by the foundry. Again I should mention the fab labs were done with NSF support as a little side project. I didn't wake up and think of this. And they just got pulled around the world. But in developing countries, people are working on projects like steam turbines for solar energy conversion and rural antennas and radios for Internet connectivity and instrumentation for agriculture and health care, really solving substantial problems. So I'd say the catch isn't complexity as much as right now to do this in the field, there's small high-tech consumables. The tiny microcontrollers are precision subtractive tools. But even so, a few hundred dollars in a drawer of those is a year's supply in a remote village.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Years from now we'll print them, but you just need a small set of high-tech consumables, and then the rest are locally available materials.

FLATOW: Tell me a bit about the machinery you get. Do you get a drill, a saw, a metal milling machine or electronics fabrication? What do you actually get to work with?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Sure. So the fab labs emerged as a kind of a market research. Having all the big machines, this is what emerged as what's most useful. So again, a powerful but small laser cuts in 2-D that lets you snap together complex 3-D shapes. And that's faster and cheaper than building directly in 3-D. A thing that makes lettering on signs which you can make the antennas and the flexible parts, a very little three-dimensional milling machine that works down to microns, and then tools to use tiny high-performance what are called surface-mount electronic components with very fast little computer chips.

FLATOW: Now I imagine one of the interesting parts about this might be the ability to swap designs with other fab lab people.


FLATOW: `Hey, I came up with this.' `Send it to me, I'll make that on my machine.'

Prof. GERSHENFELD: That goes much further than I would've expected. When we set these up, there's a sequence we see that just starts with--and by the way, these are in community centers, non-traditional settings where just people hang out. It starts from just empowerment, a joy of `I can do it.' It turns on to hands-on technical education, that sort of just-in-time project phase. From there, there's real problem solving, then businesses are getting created, small-scale high-tech businesses.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: But most interestingly for me is invention itself, that the labs work on and share projects and really invent--more knowledge, I'd say on balance, is coming back to MIT than going into the field from MIT.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So you can start to look at the other five and a half billion or so brains on the planet not as potential consumers but as potential creators.

FLATOW: At what point can you start to do genetic engineering, you know, on a fab lab? Can you design that in, to do DNA sequencing, things like that, sooner or later down the line?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: You could use the tools if you wanted to make the equipment that's used for DNA sequencing, stuff like that, right now, like PCR cycling.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: I think the more interesting connection is where the research is headed is recognizing that in many ways the secret of life is that it computes to build, that it's an information-processing machine at the molecular scale. And so the ultimate fab labs that we're aiming towards, these "Star Trek" replicators, look just like molecular biology, but we're working in a larger set of materials than biology has access to. And in fact, I had thought 20 years from now we'll swap out the fab labs and plug this in.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: But just day by day, the labs themselves are changing and they're morphing into that place 20 years from now, as we get closer to fab labs that can make fab labs.

FLATOW: Sounds very organic, you know? It's al...

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yeah, it is. It's--but again, what we're finding is the deepest lesson about being organic is that it's information processing--that is, computing--is what you need to understand. If you look at the transition from a telephone to the Internet or a differential analyzer to a Pentium, what it brings is complexity, the ability to make enormous complex things. But state-of-the-art chip fab or building an airplane still uses very old-fashioned techniques that would be recognized by a village artisan. And so digitizing fabrication lets you build with enormous complexity, just like the body shows.

FLATOW: I'm going to build my Cessna 172 with this thing.

1 (800) 989-8255.

Going to the phones. Adam in San Francisco. Hi, Adam. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ADAM (Caller): Hi, how you doing, guys?

FLATOW: Hi there.

ADAM: I just have a comment regarding the complexity of designing for output to an SLA or any other 3-D fabrication device. I'm a product designer and I've used similar devices in the past. Your guest is right in that the cost and affordability of these devices, these 3-D printing devices, is dropping really rapidly. You can pick up a desktop 3-D printer for about 1,500 or $2,000 now. The problem doesn't come in the affordability of the devices; the problem comes in the complexity it takes to design objects for production on these devices. And it's a very technical and very challenging task to do that. You have to be very proficient in 3-D software. You have to know a lot about how the actual individual device works. And that's not the kind of thing that is easily transferable to a village setting. Even in a very high-tech setting like San Francisco or any part of the modern developed world, it's not the kind of thing that the majority of people can do. And, you know, that's the reason why there's specialists in that field of product design that deal with that. So I'm very dubious about the concept of easily transferring this technology to an untrained or village setting. It just doesn't seem appropriate. I don't understand.


Prof. GERSHENFELD: So I believed everything you said until the world taught me that that wasn't right. To get the labs in the field, we had to rewrite a lot of the engineering software to make it integrate with all these tools. Once we did that and we found this tremendous demand, what we saw was in between `you have to learn everything and do everything' and `you do nothing and someone else does it,' there's this rich space in between. It's sort of like just-in-time learning rather than just-in-case. So we have eight-year-old Ghanaian girls on their first day building circuits, programming microcontrollers, designing parts. And they don't know quite what they're doing or how they're doing, but they do it. And there's things they learn to do in days, weeks, months and years.

And a good model for that is if you look at the evolution of digital audio or software, it used to be proprietary. There was this spike of open-source, freely available, and Napster meant everybody could do everything, and it settled down to this continuum of you did down-line designs remotely, you customize with scripts. People design locally simple things; larger groups collaborated on bigger things. In between everything and nothing, it opens up this very rich space in between.

But I have to say, I've been shocked. We used to put kiddie stuff in the field, and we found the kiddies need the grown-up stuff. And in many ways, they were pushing it harder than the grown-ups were.

FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling.

ADAM: Thank you.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255.

Spencer in Portland, Oregon. Hi, Spencer. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY. Spencer, are you there?

SPENCER (Caller): Yes, yes.

FLATOW: Yes, go ahead.

SPENCER: Well, I have a question concerning his comments about these being similar to the "Star Trek" replicators.


SPENCER: If I understand correctly, the theory behind the "Star Trek" replicator, I guess, was that they convert energy to matter. And I was wondering if that was the case with these fab labs.

FLATOW: Well, he hasn't said they've gotten to that point yet where they can do the "Star Trek" replicator, but that would be something down the road, right?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: But it's a fair question. To be clear, we're using digital fabrication in two senses in this conversation. There's a casual one, which is computers controlling tools and you can share files and work precisely. And that's where we are today. And then the research state coming pretty quickly is the computers are tools where fundamentally at a molecular scale you compute to build. And so the "Star Trek" replicator--it didn't quite convert energy. The idea of that is you start with subatomic particles to make atomic particles to make molecules. And that's a nice idea. What's wrong with that is the energy scales to do that, you need gigaelectron volt particle accelerators. So it's likely the "Star Trek" replicator in your home will have a feed stock of things that work sort of like that, but that are engineered materials, but that come together like the molecular materials. That's the kind of sweet spot emerging from the research.

SPENCER: So you'll basically feed your replicator, you know, the raw material--metal, plastic, blah, blah, blah--and...

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Not--no, crucially it--you have feed stocks in your house now: electricity, water, things like that.


Prof. GERSHENFELD: These feed stocks will be conductors, insulators, semiconductors, but the key insight--and it comes back to things like the role of amino acids in your body that are like little molecular LEGOs--is these aren't continuous materials; they're digitally structured. The materials can contain the code for their own construction and also, crucially, their deconstruction. Trash itself is an analog concept. Trash just means the material doesn't have the information internal to disassemble it. Once you build digitally, like biology, you can unbuild. So crucially, these are microscopically structured materials, not goo, in just the same way the body does it.

FLATOW: Talking about the fab lab this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News with Neil Gershenfeld, author of "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication." That's out in Basic Books. You can buy a copy. He's also director of Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT in Cambridge.

You must have students lining up to get in to work on this kind of stuff.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Oh, it breaks my heart. In this class, this How to Make Anything class...


Prof. GERSHENFELD: ...we can fit maybe 10 people and then, you know, hundreds show up saying, `All my life I've been waiting for this. I'm desperate to take it.' They ask me, `Are you allowed to teach it at MIT? It seems too useful.'

FLATOW: (Laughs)

Prof. GERSHENFELD: So either there's something wrong with this class or everything else, and I'm beginning to wonder a little bit about everything else. It breaks my heart that there's such a mismatch between the demand. And again, I didn't think of all of this and push this off. I couldn't wake up in Cambridge, Mass., and decide rural India needs precision fab. But everywhere we set up this lab, there's just this very deep thing they could touch. They think--you know, we express ourselves and the means of expression have kind of gotten funneled down. In high school, I wanted to go to a trade school to learn to weld and fix cars, and I was told you had to go to sit in classrooms, and it seemed kind of punitive.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: And all the way back in the Renaissance, the notion of literacy emerged as mastery of the means of expression, the trivium and the quadrivium. And there's this great notion of the illiberal arts. Making stuff was thrown out as commercial. And so technology is something done to us and it's reasonable to be anti-technical. But once you let people get control so that breaking down the barrier between scientific consumers and creators so you can create technology, instead of it being an oppressive thing, then to you it becomes a liberating kind of expression, that just touches something very deep.

So again, we're racing to keep up with that. That's why the specs are freely available and caller--encourage your listeners to do this. You don't need me to do this. And...

FLATOW: You can just assemble your own, assemble your own fab lab.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: The specs are online. There's this growing community of these foundations sharing designs and files, trying to wean this off of us.

FLATOW: So Caltech doesn't have to try to steal it; they can just make their own from the specs.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Absolutely.

FLATOW: And you say it costs about 25, $20,000 to get the parts together?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Today the fab labs are maybe 20 or 25 K in capital equipment, 5 K in consumables. And crucial is that gets you go the scale where you can do both form and function--structure, logic, sensing, actuation and display in this sort of integrated suite. That wasn't meant to be affordable. Again, it was a little outreach project with the National Science Foundation.

FLATOW: Right.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: But what we found, if you look at the scale of school budgets and business budgets and aid budgets, all over the world we're finding, even though that's not meant to be affordable, it is indeed affordable to work groups. So long before it gets down to a thousand-dollar thing--and in fact I have students looking at how you put one in your pocket--it's about 20 or 25 K right now.

FLATOW: Well, I think people are going to go to your site and take a look. I have about 30 seconds left. If you could expand it and go to your next step, what is your next step to develop this idea?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: Yeah, I'd say the next step is not a herculean leap to the "Star Trek" replicator, but we want fab labs to make fab labs, among other reasons, 'cause we have so much trouble with international customs. So we want to be able to send fab labs electronically and then bootstrap them locally. And it looks like you can do that, 'cause there's a subset of high-tech parts you make remotely, and the rest you really can do locally. So in the next year or so, I hope we'll have, in that sense, self-reproducing fab labs getting closer and closer to the replicator.

FLATOW: So you say it's hard for people abroad to get the parts themselves?

Prof. GERSHENFELD: No, there's just--there's a small set of very high-tech parts, and then the rest indeed is locally available. One of the things this played into is in this whole notion of sort of top-down vs. bottom-up aid, there's still--technology in the rest of the world is delivered top-down, but out of sight of academia and industry, there's this amazing network of grassroots inventors primed and ready, just struggling with--they don't have the means to quite do what they're thinking of. So what's pulling this is this dense network of grassroots inventors...


Prof. GERSHENFELD: ...who get what this is good for and are running with it when they get access to it.

FLATOW: Neil Gershenfeld, author of the book "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication," also director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT. Thank you for taking time to join us today.

Prof. GERSHENFELD: My pleasure. I love your show.


FLATOW: And if you'd like to surf over to our Web site at, you can leave us e-mail. Also SCIENCE FRIDAY's Kids' Connection is there. We make free teaching curricula out of SCIENCE FRIDAY. Also we're podcasting, of course, SCIENCE FRIDAY. And if you missed any back editions of the program, you can download them to podcast and take them with you and listen to you later.

I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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