Monday, December 08, 2008

Putting the tech back into nano

Almost five years ago, in my NanoBot post, Nanotubes and the tale of the rats, I discussed an often-cited Dupont study on the toxicity of carbon nanotubes, the material that will either build us an elevator to the stars or turn into the "next asbestos," depending on whose propaganda you want to believe.

ratIt was a study around which the anti-nanotech movement was built, since at the time it was the only one around that looked at the potential health effects of carbon nanotubes. I questioned whether pumping a rat's lungs full of nanotubes until he suffocated to death really proved anything.

Now, a new study published in the journal Nanotoxicology indeed shows that if you send a nanotube into a cell functionalized with the proper material and in the proper dosage, it does no damage. Increase the dosage, and damage occurs.

This is a point I've been trying to make for years on this blog. Nanotech is not about use of nanoscale materials only. It's also about engineering them to do what you need them to do. Right now, we're only in the beginning stages. Like I wrote back in January 2004:

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.

Nanotubes and the tale of the rats
Nanotech? Nahh, doesn't exist yet

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