Monday, January 19, 2004

Nano's 'No GMO' Mantra

It's obvious that business and government have a bad case of DNA PTSD, or genetic shell shock, which is why they certainly won't get fooled again when it comes to nanotechnology. I've heard the mantra many times during the past few years: "No More GMO." But the chanters wear pinstripes and not patchouli oil.

Public outcry (especially in Europe) against genetically modified organisms was the result of a determined effort between science, business and government to completely misread the public. It took some serious brainpower, collusion and planning to so totally miss the point on what gets the masses all fired up, and the important role public perception plays in the introduction of any new technology. The biggest mistake was the arrogant assumption that the public will accept as inherently good anything that helps big biotech companies succeed and farmers increase their yields. What was missing from the equation, of course, was consideration of how the public "feels" about genetic manipulation.

The right has a problem with "playing God," while the left doesn't want the corporate world messing with Mother Nature. The result is that it could take a generation or two to undo the damage done to public acceptance of scientific progress.

If you're curious about how and why this happened, PBS is running an excellent series on the history of DNA, and last night I caught some of the episode that deals with genetically modified organisms. The PBS site's "gallery of genetic modifications" is especially well done, stating the issues concisely and with flair.

It goes into the Flavr Savr tomato, created by the biotechnology company Calgene, and accompanying "rumors and horror stories [that] mention square tomatoes or tomatoes that glow in the dark."

By the time the Human Genome Project came along in the late '90s, the lesson had been learned. That's when the phrase "societal and ethical implications" became part of the government lexicon.

I recently had a talk with Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University, who explained some of this historical context to me.

The study of societal and ethical implications, he said, is now an embedded part of most government nanotechnology programs, and it's a direct descendent of the Human Genome Project, where science, government and business had amazingly learned from their mistakes.

"The scientists involved in the Human Genome Project weren't really aware, until lots of surveys and things were done by the social scientists, that privacy issues were going to be the public hot-button issue," Ausman said. "In hindsight it makes a lot of sense."

And it paid off in broader public acceptance and trust. "You do a comparison of the Human Genome Project to genetically modified organisms, and it's just incredible the difference in public perception, and I believe pretty strongly that's directly attributable to the money and the good-faith effort that went into studies about societal and ethical implications," he said.

One more thing about DNA on PBS that I think could echo into nanotech's future. The documentary describes the "golden rice" debacle in which Monsanto essentially made overblown claims that it has found the solution to malnourishment. Long story short: "According to a 1999 report in the Financial Times, African countries in particular are 'wary of increasing dependence on developed countries and multinational corporations as a result of genetically modified crops.'"

A number of efforts are about to get under way that involve selling the idea of nanotechnology to developing nations, including those in Africa, as a means of solving local problems. Nanotechnology proponents are telling them that nano is no GMO. There doesn't need to be a Great White Monsanto to dole out its product. Developing nations can grow their own nanotech industry and tailor it to their own needs. It's true, but nanotech proponents will first need to penetrate more than a few layers of mistrust.

Watch for some of these efforts to make the news this year.

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The Napster of nano
A nanosize line in the sand
Water for peace


News in a NanoSecond



Friday, January 16, 2004

'Nanoworld' is about solving small mysteries

Dear Howard:

As one of the creators of 'It's a NanoWorld,' let me set out a few details.

It's a NanoWorld was created through a collaboration between the Nanobiotechnology Center, (an NSF supported Science and Technology Center), the Sciencenter (a hands-on science museum in Ithaca NY) and Painted Universe (a design fabrication firm in Lansing NY).

The effort began some three years ago with two very simple questions that we posed to somewhere around 100 kids.
  1. What is the smallest thing that you can see?
  2. What is the smallest thing that you can think of?
The majority of kids especially those that attend science museums like the Sciencenter was pretty much uniform. The smallest thing that they could see was also the smallest thing that they could think of. Granted the questions were perhaps leading but the world that is 'too small to see' is one of great mystery to kids and one of the greatest challenges to kids understanding nanotechnology. Or even microtechnology.

So 'It's a Nanoworld' focuses on the microscopic world and hopefully kids start to gain an understanding of the world that is too small to see and the tools that are used to see it (microscopes, magnifying glasses, etc). We also introduce visitors to the technology used to make small things largely photolithographic based techniques.

'It's a NanoWorld' is not about nanobots, molecular manufacturing or anything along those lines but rooted in some fundamental concepts of size and scale and current technology. But more importantly the exhibition is fun, kids get engaged, adults read the signs and the communicate with their kids about the science.

We are very proud to have 'It's a Nanoworld' at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot. It represents one of the first opportunities for a non-commercial organization at this venue and it gives the public the chance to see the grand things that National Science Foundation supports. The NSF and we at the NBTC take our mission to engage the public very seriously believing that kids represent the future and that a more scientifically literate population is able to better judge the promise and potential challenges of emerging technology.

And if you can't make it to INNOVENTIONS at Epcot, there is video footage at

Carl A. Batt
Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor
Founder, Main Street Science Director,
Cornell University/Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Partnership
Co-Director, Nanobiotechnology Center

Related Posts
Tomorrowland Never Knows?
It's a NanoWorld After All

Thursday, January 15, 2004

News in a NanoSecond

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Tomorrowland Never Knows?

Denizens of the Disneyland newsgroup have their ears in a bunch over my "It's a Nano World After All" post. I mentioned that I went to Epcot in 1982, the year it opened, and my geeky teenage brain was entertained. I wondered what the next generation would say about the nanotech exhibit that just opened at Epcot.

A reader answered:

    What we've been saying about nanotech for the past ... oh ... 15 years. Nanotechnology will always be 10 years in the future.
Another reader disagreed:
    Nope. When "Engines of Creation" was published in the '80s, the prediction was mid 21st century. Now, they are saying that if Moore's law continues it's path, it will be here by 2020, perhaps as early as 2010.
You gotta love that ol' mouse. Seventy-five years after Steamboat Willie, he's still steering our kids into uncharted waters.

Related Posts
It's a Nano World After All
Do you know where your children are?
Why the Nano Generation doesn't need us

News in a NanoSecond

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

New materials are not without risk


Good day. I read your blog frequently and enjoy it thoroughly (long time listener, first time caller). On the nanotube/rats story, I am pleased that DuPont is weighing in on the subject. I have worked in the chemical/materials industry for some time. A few years ago, we founded a nanotube manufacturing company (SWeNT) with the University of Oklahoma and ConocoPhillips.

The article illustrates why toxicity testing can initially involve less expensive short-term tests using exaggerated, conservative (high-exposure) animal test models. These are valid and important studies. However, the ultimate tests need to closely mimick human exposure (i.e. suspended particulate exposure) at exposure concentrations only perhaps 10-100 fold (not 10,000-1,000,000 fold) above worst-case human exposure.

SWeNT and OU are conducting experiments to determine how nanotubes react in living systems. Additionally, we are looking at environmental effects.

The bottom line is that new materials are not without risk. For hundreds of years, those risks have been managed by those before us, because it was important to the future of their organization.

Let us move forward as an industry, and engage this important debate head-on. Good product stewardship will be the cornerstone of a sustainable and successful nanomaterial industry.

Warmest Regards,
Mike Moradi
SouthWest NanoTechnologies Inc.

Related Posts
Nanotubes and the tale of the rats
Apocalypse Nano
The nano-brain barrier

Blood-sucking Nanomachines

All's not quiet on the nanogame front. This just in from A new PlayStation2 game called "Nanobreaker." Here's the premise:
    In a story that bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of The Matrix, in the futuristic world of ‘Nanobreaker’, Nano-technology was originally developed to enrich humankind, but the nanomachines suddenly went awry. The machines began to harvest the blood of humans and the iron of buildings in an effort to construct an army of monster machines. It's up to the player to combat this threat and save the world from apocalypse.
Add NanoBreaker to the growing list of "bad" nano impressions that the government is going to attempt to "correct." Sounds to me like the children have already been assimilated. Don't despair, though. Think of it this way: Did the "Star Trek" Generation really view the show as a documentary? Or did it simply fire up the imagination? From the vantage of a few technology revolutions later, I'd say the latter.

Drexler: 'Bait and Switch -- The Coverup'

Dear Howard,

DrexlerYou recently wrote that --

    "A reader affiliated with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office challenged me recently on some of my commentaries on molecular manufacturing as a policy goal. The reader said that government funded research on "nanoscale manufacturing" is already under way, pointing me to these projects ... As the NNCO reader pointed out, though, there is research going on in molecular manufacturing -- even government-sponsored research ..."
You have been misled by your nameless reader. These projects will not result in molecular manufacturing because they don't aim to develop systems of nanomachines that fabricate atomically precise products by mechanically positioning and joining molecules. Saying that this sort of "nanoscale manufacturing" (lithography, microscale chemical engineering, etc.) is molecular manufacturing is like saying that a paper airplane is a passenger jet. The misrepresentations continue.

It's interesting to see how quickly the story is changing. One day we're told that there's no issue because the goal is impossible; the next day we're told that there's no issue because research is already underway. Amazingly, the NNCO sponsors no research whatsoever aimed at the original goal of nanotechnology. With this policy, it cannot deliver on the original promise of the field or fulfill the widespread expectations held by the public. Pretending otherwise compounds the damage.

Best Wishes,
Eric Drexler

Related Posts:
2003: The Year of the Straw NanoMan
Nano 'crackpots' seem downright respectable
Agitation anticipation

Monday, January 12, 2004

I've Got Male!

schmeckle   schmeckle

Notes from my secret lab-OR-atry: Our experiment  in bottom-up manufacturing has entered a new phase, as this mass of molecules begins to look more and more "human." We have identified gender. In the photograph at left, an arrow points toward a protrusion that I have code-named "schmeckle," indicating that the creature is developing along male gender lines. In the photo at right, it almost appears as though the beast is not only self-aware, but happy (the photo has been enhanced to highlight this feature). Perhaps the smirk on its face would not be so evident if it only knew of the names that friends have suggested for it. They include: Martian, Peppercorn, Louie Larry Lovy and Fonzie. Well, we have until June 13 to decide on the name. If you have any thoughts, please send me a memo.

Saturday, January 10, 2004


The nano meme continues to pick up steam. I'm among the Pong generation, so I might be lost in this game space, but it's clear that game programmers and marketers know a cool prefix when they hear it. So, in no particular order, here are some of the latest games and videos with a nano theme:

deusAccording to this review from
    You're Alex D., a nanotech-enhanced agent whose gender you choose at the start of the game, and just like JC, you in the middle of a tense battle for the future of planet Earth. The WTO is the primary caretaker of the world these days (they're also the outfit that trained you), but a new religion, known as the Order, has increased its political power in recent years. (It also may or may not be behind a [nanotech] terrorist attack that just leveled Chicago, but let's worry about that later.)"

    "The WTO is calling on him to report back to headquarters, but he also has a friend in the Order who says that the WTO's using him as a guinea pig for their experiments and that he should desert that scene as soon as possible.
More reviews can be found here, here and here.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here - Epidemic (Vol. 1) (anime video)

zaionThis review from DVD Empire just about sums it up:
    Nanotechnology is one of the current hot topics in various fields of science and medicine. Essentially, the idea is that small machines can be made and programmed to perform a host of different tasks, sight unseen, with endless possibilities. Recent television shows, including Andromeda and Jake 2.0 explore some applications of such technology, albeit by greatly advancing what we can do today. A newly released OVA anime series, Zaion: I Wish You Were Here 1: Epidemic, explores the idea in another way, this time as a means to combat an alien virus."

    The premise of the show was that a meteor crashed into the Earth and deposited a virus; much like in the mainstream hit Species. The virus invades the cells of people and turns them into powerful monsters.
    Episode One: Encounter: The world is under attack from a virus thought to have come from a meteor. The scientists dealing with it dub it M34 as it's the 34th strain of virus originating from the source and it has fought all attempts at a cure. The world governments keep it a secret in order to prevent mass panic, and the group CURE is empowered to use any means necessary to wage a battle against its victims. The military arm of the organization, NOA, is full of soldiers who are treated with nanotechology and have tiny machines coursing through their veins that repair damage and form a protective body armor/weapon system to fight the enemy.
    Episode two: Soon, it is discovered that the virus is adapting to the nanobots and no one is safe.
And here's what says about it:
    The Zaion series leaves many details unexplored, but it skims across a few pertinent details—the NOA soldiers are nanotech-enhanced warriors whose bloodstreams are filled with microscopic "nano machines." In times of stress, those robots flock to the skin, extrude through the sweat glands, and expand to form armor."
Synnamon: Facing Mecha, Part 7 (graphic novel)

mechaHere's a blurb from 2000AD Review:
    Of course, a planet composed entirely of artificial intelligences has been done before, but the ideas here are strong ones, particularly the idea of nano-technology being used like a virus to infect and control the galaxy."
James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Nintendo GameBoy Advance, PlayStation 2, GameCube)

shakennotstiredHere's a plot synopsis from the Electronic Arts news release.
    James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing once again finds the world's greatest secret agent fighting to save the world from a diabolical madman; former KGB agent Nikolai Diavolo. Armed with metal-eating nanotech, Diavolo's private army will steamroll the forces of the free world, unless Bond and CIA agent Mya Starling can stop Diavolo's forces in Egypt, Peru and New Orleans, culminating in a deadly battle beneath Moscow's Red Square!"
There's more, but I'll save them for later.  Meanwhile, I'm introducing crass commercialism into the NanoBot. Click the links to the right, and pieces of nano culture can be yours.

Friday, January 09, 2004

It's a Nano World After All

I went to Epcot in 1982, the year it opened, and my geeky teenage brain  was marvelously entertained, although many of the "predictions" just never materialized. I wonder what the next generation will say about the nanotechnology exhibit that just opened.

I'm sure this exhibit, developed by Cornell and Ithaca Sciencenter will inspire some young minds. Boy this looks fun! It looks like a "Fantastic Voyage" type trip for 5- to 8-year-olds, which sounds incredibly unjust to big kids like me, who would love to check out the "giant blood drop" and play Adventures in Tiny Things!

It runs until March 1. I doubt I'll get down to Florida, so, please, if you're in kindergarten through third grade and you're sneaking onto Mom or Dad's computer to read a nano blog, check out the exhibit for me and report back! (Also, you really need to get out a bit more).

News in a NanoSecond

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Nanotubes and the tale of the rats

This Reuters report on how nanotubes will kill you (if you're a rat) was a prelude to Nanotox 2004 next week in the U.K. The news conference was a way to generate some media buzz in advance and get reporters all jazzed up over an event at the Royal Microscopical Society. Of course, Small Times' man in London will be there, so you can expect some first-rate reporting, with proper context.

The British scientists, meanwhile, were telling rat tales, pointing to DuPont toxicologist David Warheit's recent study on the toxicity of single-wall carbon nanotubes in rats.

Yes, it's DuPont that did the study, so you can read what you want into it, but the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University had also looked at the results.

I'll cut to the chase on the tale of the rats.The study concludes, in part:


    "Exposures to high-dose (5 mg/kg) SWCNT produced mortality in ~15% of the SWCNT-instilled rats within 24 h postinstillation. This mortality resulted from mechanical blockage of the upper airways by the instillate and was not due to inherent pulmonary toxicity of the instilled SWCNT particulate."

Kevin Ausman CBEN's executive director, supplied me with a wonderfully understandable translation during a conversation I had with him a month ago in Chicago:

    What that means is that if you look at just the cross-sections of the lungs, "Uh-oh. Bad things are happening." If you look at the biochemistry of what's going, almost nothing seems to be going on. And so the normal biochemical tags for, "something bad is happening" aren't telling something bad is happening."

Here's my translation of the translation: The rats were definitely dead (and I believe they are still dead, although I have yet to confirm this). The nanotubes were definitely the guilty party. But the late rodents met their rat makers by suffocation, and not necessarily from any poison in the tiny tubes.

Plus, what the researchers did, as Ausman explained it to me, was basically disperse the nanotubes into a soap-and-water solution and inject it into the lungs, avoiding the whole issue of how the nanotubes ever got there in the first place.

This is how science works. Small steps, each study building on the conclusions of others. Nanotubes might, as the slogan goes these days, turn out to be the "next asbestos," but it is far too early to convict them of anything except being in the wrong rats at the wrong time.

For more on DuPont and nanotubes, here's an excellent report from The News Journal of Delaware. And more background can be found on Small Times here and here.

Everything and the kitchen counter

trederYou want to know what we're talking about here, listen to my man Mike Treder:

    The technology described in this article is molecular nanotechnology (MNT). This is a big step beyond most of today's nanotech research, which deals with exploring and exploiting the properties of materials at the nanoscale. Industry has begun using the term nanotechnology to cover almost any technology significantly smaller than microtechnology, such as those involving nanoparticles or nanomaterials. This broad field will produce important and useful results, but their societal effects – both positive and negative – will be modest compared with later stages of the technology.

    MNT, by contrast, is about constructing shapes, machines, and products at the atomic level – putting them together molecule by molecule. With parts only a few nanometers wide, it may become possible to build a supercomputer smaller than a grain of sand, a weapon smaller than a mosquito, or a self-contained nanofactory that sits on your kitchen counter.

Interesting stuff no matter where you stand on the kitchen counter. Now, suspend your disbelief or belief, and just read it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Uh-oh ...

Quick! Everybody look busy! (see visitor at bottom)


From the Pooh-Bah of Punditry

Now, here's some instapunditry with punch:

    "THE UNITED STATES NANOTECHNOLOGY BUSINESS is pooh-poohing the prospects for true molecular manufacturing, in no small part because it thinks -- wrongly in my opinion -- that by doing so it will forestall Luddite assaults on nanotechnology. But I spoke recently with one U.S. nanotech researcher who fears that the consequence of this attitude will be to forestall ground-breaking research here (while people focus on things like nanopants and comparatively modest improvements in materials and electronics) and allow other nations to get the jump on us."
But wait, there's more here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

It's about vision, not nanobots

A reader affiliated with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office challenged me recently on some of my commentaries on molecular manufacturing as a policy goal. The reader said that government funded research on "nanoscale manufacturing" is already under way, pointing me to these projects.

I responded that those are all very worthwhile areas of study, especially since they appear to reflect a healthy balance between the advancement of nanotech as both a business and a science. Government funding for these kinds of projects -- on a piecmeal basis -- has been going on for a while, and I'm certain will continue. These researchers are the ones who are doing the important work, away from the spotlight, and will emerge with some amazing discoveries in nanoscale manufacturing.

In fact, the spirit of these kinds of grants runs counter to the words I'm hearing from some government and business spokespeople, who have declared nanoscale self-replication (and I'm not certain that the projects cited delve into that) to be impossible.

To me, the separate issue is one of government vision and priorities. My main argument is that U.S. policymakers need to rise above the commerce side of the debate and help encourage development of nanoscience without letting business interests become the sole driver of the research. As this NNCO reader pointed out, that is not entirely the case, but reading the nanotech bill alone, you'd think that the government's central goal was to spin off companies and develop new products. Is that it?

The proposed center to study nanotech's impact on society is a step in the right direction, but with only one model of nanotechnology deemed legitimate, I'm not certain what exactly will be studied. Many of the "societal and ethical implications" research that I've come across either assumes that molecular manufacturing is feasible, or is concerned with how to fight negative or misleading images of nanotechnology.

In other words, is the study of "societal implications" another way to control the message by stamping out all "incorrect" images of nanotech? It's very bizarre. I hear all the time that the nanotech business community and the government want to avoid another "GMO"-type controversy. So, its solution is to create a center on ethics that will discuss how to manage and conrol image and public perception?

It was determined that a feasibility study on MNT was not the best use of government resources, but a center for image control was deemed money well spent.

As the NNCO reader pointed out, though, there is research going on in molecular manufacturing -- even government-sponsored research -- just as there are government-funded projects to study societal and ethical implications. As the nanotech bill was being formulated, though, it was determined that research into societal and ethical implications should come together into a new center, while research into nanoscale manufacturing -- for various reasons -- was determined to be too "out there," not the best use of government resources and certainly not worthy of a national goal.

Shameless self-promotion

First, you learn it here, then from every fool on the street.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Unauthorized uses of 'nano'

britneyCease and desist orders are being sent to the following perpetrators:

    Britney Spears' Nano-Nuptials

    The fruit passes under the Autoline, which needs barely a nano-second to identify each piece by size.

    Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the school, St. Catherine had a Nano Nagle celebration on Nov. 21.

    Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano

News in a NanoSecond


Friday, January 02, 2004

Love in the Time of Crichton

Michael Crichton's "Prey" is in paperback, and apparently available in Thailand. Here's a piece of a review from the Bangkok Post:

    "Authors are expected to exaggerate to make their point and Crichton is no exception. Having characters assume shapes of one another, change sex, appear and disappear, kissing the choice way of passing on infections are a bit much. Not least when bodies turn to dust, then reform.

    "Swarms of micro-processors and laboratory-developed molecules have intelligence and are able to reproduce, melting down micro-chips in human machines. They enter the engineers via kissing at the facility, with the exception of Jack and his assistant Mae."

Makes you wonder whether Rick Smalley's argument against molecular nanotechnology was based on a reading of "Prey":

    "You still do not appear to understand the impact of my short piece in Scientific American. Much like you can't make a boy and a girl fall in love with each other simply by pushing them together, you cannot make precise chemistry occur as desired between two molecular objects with simple mechanical motion along a few degrees of freedom in the assembler-fixed frame of reference. Chemistry, like love, is more subtle than that. You need to guide the reactants down a particular reaction coordinate, and this coordinate treads through a many-dimensional hyperspace."

Speaking of "Prey," I thought I'd make myself known on the Michael Crichton message board and see if anybody in that audience is interested in delving deeper.

And from NanoDot, comes news of a speech by Crichton at CalTech, in which he derides "consensus science." Crichton says:

    Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had. Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics."

Apparently, Mr. Crichton has been following nanotech nonfiction, as well.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Update on human nanofactory experiment

dababe      kid

Excellent, excellent. My experiment in bottom-up molecular manufacturing is proceeding as planned. Note the self-assembly evident between Nov. 3 at left and Dec. 29 at right. The subject is apparently a future NBA or WNBA star. Gender is still undetermined, as the specimen would not hold still long enough, yet it seems to resemble my wife in its tall physical stature. Spouse says the creature's apparent "monkey head" (photo at right) must come from my section of the gene pool.

News in a NanoSecond

Monday, December 29, 2003

News in a NanoSecond

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

2003: The Year of the Straw NanoMan

Ronald Bailey, in his very reasonable piece about the "growing peril" of a nanotechnology moratorium," asserts that anti-nano activists "cannot be lightly dismissed."

I agree to a point, having made similar assertions myself, but after speaking and listening to a number of business and government leaders, I can't help but think that activists like Pat Mooney of the ETC Group might be the best thing that's happened to the nanotech industry.

When it comes to the environmental debate, the handful of people who call for a moratorium on nano research conveniently play the role of the straw enemy of nanoprogress, since their pseudoscience can easily be attacked. That is what I was thinking as I listened to Phil Bond, the U.S. Commerce Department's undersecretary for technology, give an eloquent speech recently in Chicago. He told the audience of businesspeople that a nanotech research moratorium would, itself, be "unethical" because it would delay development of technologies that could improve the quality of human life and the environment.

Of course, you can't argue with that. He's right. However, in effect, Bond and others are rallying the nanotech troops by telling them who their enemies are, and warning of dire consequences if these enemies crash through the city walls and begin to plunder and pillage. The only way to fight is to gather around the "correct" nanotech vision as defined by the government and business community.

I'm not talking solely about the marginalization of the kind of nanotechnology proposed by Drexler and others. Since the science behind molecular manufacturing is too complicated to debunk in sound bites, they needed a Rick Smalley up there to misrepresent Drexler's ideas, and then open the straw Drexler up to ridicule.

But the more-subtle trick is that by identifying enemies – whether it's environmentalist hippie wackos or science-fiction enthusiasts with no social lives – the business community has taken control of the nanotechnology vision and agenda.

Business interests, of course, represent an important piece of the total nano puzzle, but it is not the only piece. I have nothing against business. Some of my best friends are … Well, I also believe in the American cliché that greed can, indeed, be good, if you tap into corporate self-interest. DuPont is on the advisory board of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology because it makes business sense to be there. You can also expect some new studies on the environmental impact of nanomaterials to come out of DuPont in the coming months. The company certainly does not want to find out a few years from now that its products are harming people or the environment – or at least are perceived to be harmful. Bad for business.

I also believe that business is a necessary tool to enable the larger vision. Businesspeople can be visionaries, themselves. I've even met a few. But they, alone, almost by definition, will not necessarily follow through with the high-minded ideals espoused now by government and business leaders – not when the profit motive is the only guiding principle.

Do you want proof? Well, wasn't the Internet supposed to enable a new world of democratic participation and equal access to information? Sure, we'll get closer to that ideal, eventually. But right now, with commerce the sole driving force of the Internet Revolution, we have only one truly successful e-commerce model: pornography.

So, since everybody is doing a "year in review" piece, here's mine in a "nanosecond." Nanotech purists cannot see how nanotechnology could be treated as merely a business proposition, while businesspeople cannot see how it could be treated as anything else.

And that brings us to 2004. Here's to a truly nano New Year.

Happy Holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

'How The Schmirk Stole Nanotechnology'


By popular demand, enjoy:
    'How The Schmirk Stole Nanotechnology'
    (A Fantasy of Science)

    With abject apologies to Dr. Suess

    By J. Storrs Hall

    Every Nerd down in Shopton
    Was a Future-o-phile...

    But the Schmirk
    Thought the future they wanted
    Was VILE!

    The Schmirk hated the future! Hated nanotechnology!
    Rejected the vision, no hint of apology!
    Wanted people to age without cell repair,
    and never have cars that could fly through the air.
    (It is not understood, what could cast this great pall,
    Tho t'was rumored his brain was two sizes too small.)

    Nobody knows why, but consider the following:
    The Schmirk had a penchant for public-trough wallowing.
    If the Nerds got the grant money, surely, he figured,
    his own cut of the take was quite sure to be jiggered.
    For the stuff that he claimed he could do in his lab
    Looked, beside nanotech, just a bit drab.

    So he stood in his lab with his anger fermenting,
    for surely in Shopton the Nerds were inventing.
    Molecular gadgets! Atomically true!
    Tips that did chemistry! Undid it too!
    Assemblers to build us a bridge to the stars;
    Programmable matter; and yes, flying cars!

    Whatever his motives, the Schmirk, on the eve,
    of a great science breakthrough, could only feel peeve.
    He hated the Nerds and their whole future vision,
    And sneered at their plans with no little derision.
    "They're playing with molecules," muttered the Schmirk.
    "They're building machines, and they're making them work!"

    "They've designed nanofactories!" Snarling and scoffing,
    "Home synthesizers are soon in the offing!"
    Then he growled, with his schmirk fingers nervously drumming,
    "I MUST find a way to keep nano from coming!"

    It was quite bad enough they would have flying cars,
    and personal spaceships, and houses on Mars;
    But the thing that most greatly disgruntled the Schmirk,
    Was the prospect of people not having to work.
    They would chatter and travel and party and play,
    Oh, they'd play, and they'd play, and they'd play EVERYDAY!

    That was something the Schmirk couldn't stomach -- No way!

    So he sneered with a scowl and a frown on his brow,
    "I MUST keep this Breakthrough from coming!
    ...But HOW?"

    Then he got an idea!
    An awful idea!

    "Here is what must be done," said the Schmirk with a sneer,
    And he called in his minions from far, wide, and near.
    "We'll discredit the science, spread doubt and derision,
    Politically swaying the funders' decision!"
    And he quickly distributed papers and articles,
    Detailing troubles with moving small particles.

    Then the Schmirk told his minions -- they, scientists all,
    All grasping for funding for labs large and small,
    "That isn't physics, materials science,
    Not even chemistry; join my alliance --
    It doesn't matter what you used to do;
    We're ALL doing NANOTECHNOLOGY too!"

    So they went, hat in hand, down to old Foggy Bottom,
    And they dickered for grants -- and by cracky, they got 'em!
    "See? WE're nanotech now," said the Schmirk in a huff.
    "You Nerds down in Shopton, you're pretty small stuff."
    We've got the funding, and we've got the labs,
    And all the ideas you had, they're up for grabs."

    But the Schmirk didn't stop at that -- "No," he averred,
    "I'll stop any funding for even one Nerd!"
    So he called in his minions again, did the Schmirk,
    And said "Find me proof that THEIR nano WON'T WORK!"

    So his minions at once hurried back to their labs,
    And prodded and poked what they had on their slabs,
    And dickered and whined till their voices were shrill,
    And returned to the Schmirk and said, "Sorry... IT WILL!"

    But the Schmirk wasn't flustered. "No problem," he said.
    If I can't find the proof, I'll invent it, instead!
    So he stuffed up a strawman or two, very fat,
    and blustered importantly, right through his hat.
    He baited and switched! He insulted and slurred!
    He postured and pandered -- but spoke not a word
    Of a technical nature; the crafty Schmirk knew
    How to stay off the subject of what's really true.

    So he jawboned and backbit and spread innuendo,
    And claimed the Nerds were just playing Nintendo;
    It was just science fiction, religion, and games;
    While calling them "dreamers" and other bad names.

    So the Schmirk got the funding -- he got ALL the money.
    No bureaucrat noticed that something was funny:
    He'd promised them nanotech wonders and fun,
    telling everyone else that it couldn't be done!

    Then the Schmirk took the money, with morals quite stinky,
    back to do yesterday's science ... how dinky!

    Then a funny thing happened -- in labs the world over,
    People saw that TRUE nano could put them in clover.
    So in spite of the ridicule, quashing their fears,
    They soon started building molecular gears,
    Also bearings and shafts -- with no help from the voters,
    The next thing you saw was molecular motors.

    Then came the announcement, with no warning tremblor,
    Someone had successfully built an assembler!

    The Schmirk was astounded, as if by a blast;
    He hadn't stopped nano -- just made US come last.

    And then, for what may be the first time that year,
    A new thought occured -- and it wiped out his sneer:
    For while, as the Schmirk stood and wrestled the thought,
    He learned what for years he'd pretended he'd taught:
    What if knowledge and science were not just a game?
    Maybe truth -- for its own sake -- was better than fame?

    And then the true meaning of science burst through,
    And the Schmirk realized something the Nerds always knew:
    Nature's book never closes. The knowledge is there
    For any who'll read it -- if only we dare.

    T'isn't quite clear what happened; but some people say
    That the Schmirk's tiny brain grew three sizes that day.
    So he hurriedly went to the lab, it appears,
    To work on molecular motors and gears.

    So he now helps humanity reach for the stars,
    And he himself -- the Schmirk --
    built the first house on Mars.

Monday, December 22, 2003

News in a NanoSecond

  • Italian "nano" story before Google English translation … and after
  • Nano's beginning to look a lot like commerce
  • Amen, brother George; your son is living proof that the children are skeptical, not "scared."
  • Speaking of "new chemistry …"

Bang! Zoom! To The Moon!

Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray says President Bush plans to call for a "moon shot -- or its moral equivalent -- in the State of the Union address ..." Murray writes that what's needed is a "national goal that all Americans can feel good about," and he has a few suggestions (subscription only). Here's one:

    There's also probably a worthy national goal in the field of nanotechnology, but I haven't figured out what it is. The Commerce Department's Bruce Mehlman insists the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level promises "more change in the next 30 years than we saw in all of the 20th century." In a recent speech, he offered this as an example: "Imagine having your clothes adjust to changing weather conditions, monitor your vital signs, or protect your wounds." Hmm.
Hmm, indeed.