Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nanotech? Nahh, doesn't exist yet

UT Dallas and Zyvex, the only company I am aware of devoted to true molecular manufacturing, recently announced a partnership to work on a new technique to "build 3D objects atom by atom."

But, wait ... isn't that what nanotech is supposed to be about? And we can't even do it yet? I mean, Merriam-Webster defines nanotechnology as "the art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices (as robots)." And just about every news story you read about nanotech informs readers that it's about building new stuff atom by atom.

Well, this is why I've been hesitant to comment any further than I already have on the renewed debate over whether and how to "regulate nanotechnology." In my mind, we're not there yet, and the presence of nanoscale materials in sunscreens, socks and bowling balls does not mean we've entered the nanotech age.

Maybe we're partway there, at best, since the size of these particles does give them new properties that simultaneously create new benefits for the products and raise new fears over "tiny terrors" and other such alliterative nonsense we've been reading about lately.

But, to me, nanotech will have arrived when we not only can dump nanoscale materials into the soup, but we can precisely control their assembly and what they do once they go to work. The sunscreen with nanoscale ingredients you've been reading about is just that -- sunscreen with nanoscale ingredients. Not yet nanotech.

However, count on Zyvex chief James Von Ehr to keep his eyes on the prize during these cave-man days of nano.

"Our goal is to develop the capability to fabricate nanostructures in such a way that we can control position, size, shape and orientation at the nanometer scale, which is not possible today,” said Tom Kenny, DARPA program manager. “If we can demonstrate this, we will be able to truly unlock the potential capabilities of nanotechnology." More here

How PR 'spins' the atom
... and I am a trivial boy
Zyvex's Von Ehr on pixels, bits and stitches

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