Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Tale of Tomalia

Close followers of this blog know that I'm naturally attracted to people who are considered on the fringe. Good writers are often "outsiders," themselves. But even within that crowd, I'm often an outsider among outsiders. I explained it best in an interview I gave to Neofiles:

    "So, my natural inclination is to look at any issue of public concern — especially ones in which there appears to be a monolithic opinion — and find those who begin with a whole different set of assumptions or beliefs. I’ve always thought that was the role of journalism — not to confirm for the majority what they already believe, but to make them constantly question their own assumptions by exposing them to the minority opinion. That’s the only way a free society can be certain it’s making the right decisions, by being forced to defend it."

It's probably a sure way to make a fool of myself, but given my natural contrary nature, I just can't help it. Besides, I find that the people who march on the "wrong foot" are usually far more interesting.

tomaliaThis is all just a navel-contemplating way of linking to this story on Michigan Small Tech, the latest chapter in the Tale of Tomalia.

Don Tomalia had his eureka moment back in 1979, when the Dow chemist first figured out how to make a synthetic molecule grow some scary-looking tendrils -- actually, dendrites. Thus, Doc Tomalia (the picture at right is one I snapped of him at a Foresight Institute conference last fall) introduced the world to the dendrimer. If I were a Hollywood casting director, I'd pick the dendrimer shape (not the neatly uniform buckyball) for my evil molecule. In reality, though, the dendrimer is far from evil. It might hold a key to fighting HIV or -- and I think this is especially cool -- can be set to self-destruct at the right moment for use as a targeted drug-delivery device.

The trouble was, it was just too expensive to grow the little things. So, Dow finally sent the IP packing in 1992, leaving Tomalia and his tiny tendrils out in the cold for almost a decade. A couple of years ago, though, somebody at Dow must have been rummaging through the IP basement and found the little beasts again. This time, though, nanotech had finally caught up with Tomalia's creation. Dow snatched the little toys back and began its marketing push. Our lone hero, though, had already moved on. His company, Dendritic Nanotechnologies Inc., is the pride and joy of Starpharma, which is going to pump more resources into the firm.

That's good for Michigan. Good for dendrimers. And good for Don Tomalia, who is finally coming in from the fringe.

More background here, here, and here.


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