Friday, January 28, 2005

NanoLife vs. NanoDeath


"Nanoenergetics." It's a word that might sound like a new body-enhancement product, but it's really all about the opposite: ripping bodies apart. It's a military euphemism for use of nanosized aluminum to transform a bang into a bang times 10. It's been making the news rounds recently, beginning with this story in Technology Review and it's been blogged by my friend Noah Shachtman at Defense Tech.

The Army-funded Center for NanoEnergetics Research at the University of Minnesota is the lead U.S. institution studying this dangerous branch of nano.

The recent media focus on this subject had me thumbing through an old notebook for an interview I conducted with a nanotech business leader who told me that his company will not go down that road. "The actual building of things used to explode or kill people, this is where we happen to have drawn the line."

He had requested that his comments not be "on the record," which explains why I've let it sit in my notebook for so long without doing anything with it. So, this week I went directly to the top of this same company, Zyvex founder James Von Ehr, and asked if he would expand on his company's policy when it comes to death by nano. Here's what he wrote:

    It's certainly our intent to develop technology for positive ends. One gets into gray areas with things that have dual uses (making our fighter jets better serves defensive and offensive purposes), but I want nano to be known as a good thing, so want to be thoughtful about the things we work on. We're pretty interested in developing better armor for our troops, so they don't get blown apart by the bad guys. We're not very interested in making better projectiles that could penetrate such armor. When the public starts to hear about nano, I want it to be a positive story about nano doing something good, not a nano weapon story. That said, if the bad guys continue to romp about and kill our guys, and our government asks us to help, we probably would do so.

    The nanoenergetics story has an upside as well - better rocket fuel that makes rockets go faster. Great if you're NASA or launching a satellite. Not so great if you're on the wrong end of the rocket. Nano-explosives 10x more powerful would be good for industrial apps, but are a bad idea when used by crazed human bombs. I'm happier to work on things like better armor, and the greatly improved prosthetics we're conceptualizing now.

NanoBot Backgrounder
The nanothin green line
Shape-shifting wings closer to flight?
Military Nano Complex

4 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Howard Lovy said...

I deleted the post above because of an inappropriate reference to a religious group. The gentle reader called me a "woose," which is fine, I suppose. Call me whatever you want. Just no bigotry, please. Now, I just have to figure out what a "woose" is -- maybe a genetically modified cross between a wildebeest and a moose ...

Howard

Tim said...

The one thing all readers need to always understand. The enemy (whoever they are for the day) will always be looking for overpowering technology such as the explosive nanotech that the government is looking at. I believe to create something offensive is a great way to figure the counter agent for it also. By knowing what it can do, we can then arm ourselves to defend against it better. Theories are great, but in the heat of a battle, I wouldn't want something that is only theorized to work.

Gene said...

Well this nano stuff all sounds great but just how small could a "nano" bomb be and how likely would it be to get into terriosts hands? Right now we don't seem to be able to keep conventional stuff away from them. Making them smaller and more powerful just makes the problem worse. You can bet if we are hearing about nano technology so are they and I'm sure they are watching it closely.

I'm all for the better body ammor and other positive uses if we can find a way to prevent the negative uses.