Saturday, October 02, 2004

Invisible horrors and ghost stories

Dangers compared to science fiction (The Ithaca Journal)

    According to Bruce Lewenstein, a Cornell communication professor who studies public perception of nanotechnology, preliminary testing of some nanoparticles "doesn't rule out" their environmental toxicity.

    Many scientists, however, say nanotechnology is no different than any other science that introduces potentially hazardous materials.

    "There are noxious gases that can be released in manufacturing that you have to be aware of and control," said Robert Richardson, vice provost for research and a low-temperature physics professor.

    To Richardson, it's fair and necessary to talk about chemical hazards of nanoparticles. That's anything from the tens of millions of kilograms of carbon particles that are released into the atmosphere each year from diesel engines, or evidence that suggests the loss of ice cover on earth is related to nanoscale particles embedded in the ice, Richardson said.

    But the other class of nanoskeptics, to him, "is people who have read 'Prey' by Michael Crichton." In the 2002 science fiction novel, tiny "nanobots" learn how to replicate, eventually taking over people's bodies. To some, the ideas in the novel represent real fears of what emerging sciences such as nanotechnology could mean to an unsuspecting public.

    But most science buffs agree the book is what it's meant to be -- fiction.

    "Those are fun stories, but they're ghost stories," Richardson said. More here

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