Friday, January 30, 2004

Legislation before Education

The British government is doing many things right in formulating nanotechnology policy, as I've written before, but this article (registration required) in the Times Higher Education Supplement indicates that they've picked up a few bad habits. As it is for their American cousins, the British government is trying to regulate and legislate before it's been properly educated. This can lead to some inconsistent, or even bizarre, policies. Here's an excerpt from the Times article:
    Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury, told (Science Minister David Sainsbury): "There is only one thing that is absolutely clear about government policy on nanotechnology - that it is chaotic and it is being made up as it goes along."

    The Department for Trade and Industry was originally basing its nanotechnology policy upon a strategy report written by Sir John Taylor, the former director general of the research councils, which was published in June 2002. This called for urgent government action, including the setting up of two national centres.

    But Lord Sainsbury admitted that when this report was drafted, the government understood "very much less about what was going on" in nanotechnology.

In the United States, this chaotic, scattered process produced a nanotechnology act (PDF, 56.1 KB), signed by the president, that is being promoted as a down-to-earth, realistic piece of legislation that does not stray into speculative fiction, yet also includes safeguards against "potential use of nanotechnology in enhancing human intelligence and in developing artificial intelligence which exceeds human capacity."

While it seems strange that this possibility was not deemed too "sci-fi" to remain in the bill, I can see why some legislators would feel threatened by such technology.


Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Impossible Dream?

Conversation snippet (After I had referred to this "Quixotic" quest for a molecular assembler, amid all the talk of investments, pants and profits.)

QuixoteEric Drexler

 "Regarding the quest for molecular machine systems able to do programmable mechanosynthesis, this isn't Quixotic (it isn't pursuing an illusion -- using this word says that the goal isn't real), and it isn't a quest that I've been pursuing. If my aim had been to promote MNT, I'd have focused more on implementation and less on describing long-term systems and their consequences -- and I'd have said far less about the downsides. At present, I think that the failure of the U.S. to focus on developing artificial molecular machine systems is a strategic error of the first rank, but that's another matter."

"I've been thinking a bit about the term "Quixotic," and could see why you would not want your quest to be characterized in that way, since it implies that it's an impossible dream. Just remember, though, the theories of Copernicus were mocked as impossible. Then Galileo, a contemporary of Cervantes, picked up where Copernicus left off and was not only told that it was impossible that the earth could revolve around the sun, but was forced to just shut up about his theories because, G-d forbid, if the heavens and the firmament were not exactly as the Holy Church said it was, why there would be mass confusion in the streets!"


P.S.: "Eppur si muove"

An end to Insight

From: NanoInsight Message NeXus
Sent: Thu 1/29/04 3:05 AM
To: NanoInsight Message NeXus Members
Subject: Discontinuing All NanoInsight Services

I have decided to discontinue all NanoInsight services due to lack interest. It's no longer worth my time, effort and money. Thanks for taking the time to sign up. Best of luck to all of you.



Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Props to the Pundit

One very legitimate criticism of the "blogosphere" is that it's often too self-referential. Nevertheless, I do want to express my gratitude to fearless leader Glenn Reynolds.

I'm fortunate that the pooh-bah of pundits is also a nanotechnology observer and enthusiast, which means that I get his attention fairly often.

So, thanks, Glenn, for your frequent links to my work from InstaPundit, Tech Central Station and even in the most recent issue of Wired.

Because of you, my message is reaching a far wider audience than I had ever expected. I'm grateful.

Related Posts
From the Pooh-Bah of Punditry

Ripples in the Nanoblogosphere

Well, now, where to begin? My recent rantings have rippled up and down the nanosphere and have had a far larger influence on the public debate over nanotech's future than I had ever expected. Scary. I'll take it from the top, but stay with it until the end, since there's a narrative flow with a bizarre ending.

I wrote a column in Small Times. Mark Modzelewski of the NanoBusiness Alliance, wrote an opposing column in Small Times. Both were excerpted in this blog entry, which I'll further encapsulate here:

Then the nanoblogosphere (I just made up that term) rumbled and roared:

Chris Phoenix of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology:
"Politics these days seems to be more about smearing your opponents than about presenting actual facts. Mark Modzelewski says that we've cooked up a conspiracy theory with a "devious cabal." What we actually said is that the wording was changed deliberately and blatantly."

Chris will likely have more to say in a letter to the editor for the next print edition of Small Times magazine.

From a blogger who chooses to remain anonymous:
"I resent this insuation. It's totally inaccurate. I work out of my mom's den, not her basement."

From blogger DF Moore
The idea of Drexler's nanobots is indeed a cool one. I agree. It seems exciting. But it would be ridiculous to base national nanotech policy on achieving something that, as I said before, no one has shown any scientific reason as to why they should work and plenty of people have shown scientific reasons as to why the won't work. The commercial approach that we have now works well. It allows the field to develop on many different tangents and in all directions.

From blogger Marc Goodner
"I think this act is another example of government largesse to corporate interests, no surprise from this administration. If this money had gone to academic research, and the ip to the public domain, without preordained conclusions society would be better off."

Chris Peterson of the Foresight Institute, writing in Nanodot:
"Note to Mark M.: it is a risky thing to make fun of bloggers--they can make a difference. Just ask Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader."

Robert Bradbury, writing in my discussion section:
"The problem Howard is that tens of millions of lives, perhaps even yours, are likely to be on the line depending on how fast robust molecular nanotechnology (of the Drexlerian type) develops. I'm one of the few people who has actually tried to sketch out a possible development path with costs."

Glenn Reynolds, writing in Tech Central Station:
"I think that if the nanotechnology business community, because of the PR strategy that it has chosen, finds itself scissored between the scientists and visionaries on one side, and the environmentalists on the other, it will have cause to regret its rather shortsighted PR strategy."

Then, it gets really bizarre on Glenn's InstaPundit, in which Mark shot off this letter:
"Clearly being educated man, I can hardly even fathom how you take Drexler's fantasies and turn them into reality in your head. As far as our "pr strategy" as you call it-its not so much pr strategy as a 'reality strategy.' I don't promote nor spend much time worrying about science fiction and frankly don't even view the zettatechnology/molecular manufacturing/Foresight folks thinking as on the table in the environmental debate. I am clearly not between two poles, as your misguided views on the subject frankly don't constitute a pole in the landscape as far as I see it. I would say my skills as a long time political damage control specialist leave me -all ego aside - a little better skilled then Howard Lovy or yourself at these type of things. So just the same, I will actually be the one with a degree of sympathy here. Keep fighting the -strange-if not good fight for your lost cause."

And that brings us to the present. Any questions?


Monday, January 26, 2004

NanoBusiness vs. Mom's Basement

This wasn't originally intended to have been a point-counterpoint on the nanotech bill, but it just turned out that way. Enjoy.


"While I’m fascinated by the argument over whether self-replicating nanomachines are possible – especially with strong personalities like Drexler and Smalley taking opposing views – the debate is completely beside the point. It’s a distraction from the central question of why this first-ever piece of nanotechnology legislation was conceived, written, altered and sold purely as a business proposition."

Mark Modzelewski, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance

"What the bill does not do has been seemingly pondered by bloggers, Drexlerians, pseudo-pundits, panderers and other denizens of their mom’s basements more than its revolutionary benefits. They have developed an elaborate fantasy about how molecular manufacturing research work was pulled from the bill by some devious cabal.

If only it was that exciting. In a nutshell, the bill had many iterations, changes and attempted changes. Even a new nanobio center was floated around. These efforts were shelved in order to create a dynamic bill with a strong framework and an ability to adjust to evolving research and market developments built on top of the strong foundation put in place by the Bush administration and the National Nanotechnology Initiative team."

Friday, January 23, 2004

News in a NanoSecond


Thursday, January 22, 2004

But Siriusly, folks ... The Neofiles Interview

R.U. Sirius, who has an impressive track record of spotting cultural and technological trends years before the rest of the media pick up on it, has posted an interview with me on his neofiles Webzine. Mr. Sirius gave me tons of room to rant and gussied it up with some very pretty pictures. R.U. gave me the chance to expand on what it is I'm trying to accomplish on this blog and in some of my other work. Here's a clip:
    NEOFILES: Howard, you’re one of the main editors of a daily webzine dedicated to the nanotech industry and then you do a nano blog besides. How did you become so obsessed with nanotechnology and what sustains your obviously intense interest?

    HOWARD LOVY: Well, like most journalists, I’m an expert at nothing myself, except maybe at describing, in understandable terms, what the real experts are up to. I spent most of my career as a general-interest newspaper journalist, but also wrote a great deal about Jewish and Mideast issues. My personal background gave me some genetic insight into the topic, but writing about it also allowed me to take a look at any issue from the perspective of an “outsider,” making me naturally question the base assumptions that motivate any society, culture, government or majority opinion. 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. ...

    So, I launched Howard Lovy’s NanoBot in the summer of 2003, and I’m just amazed at how widely it’s being read and how influential it’s becoming. That tells me there’s a hunger for this perspective on nanotech — not only the financial aspects — and I’ll keep using it to question, prod and annoy those who believe they know everything there is to know about it.

There's more. Take a look.

Related Posts
Journalism from the bottom up
Nothing like nano incitement

Monday, January 19, 2004

Nano's 'No GMO' Mantra

It's obvious that business and government have a bad case of DNA PTSD, or genetic shell shock, which is why they certainly won't get fooled again when it comes to nanotechnology. I've heard the mantra many times during the past few years: "No More GMO." But the chanters wear pinstripes and not patchouli oil.

Public outcry (especially in Europe) against genetically modified organisms was the result of a determined effort between science, business and government to completely misread the public. It took some serious brainpower, collusion and planning to so totally miss the point on what gets the masses all fired up, and the important role public perception plays in the introduction of any new technology. The biggest mistake was the arrogant assumption that the public will accept as inherently good anything that helps big biotech companies succeed and farmers increase their yields. What was missing from the equation, of course, was consideration of how the public "feels" about genetic manipulation.

The right has a problem with "playing God," while the left doesn't want the corporate world messing with Mother Nature. The result is that it could take a generation or two to undo the damage done to public acceptance of scientific progress.

If you're curious about how and why this happened, PBS is running an excellent series on the history of DNA, and last night I caught some of the episode that deals with genetically modified organisms. The PBS site's "gallery of genetic modifications" is especially well done, stating the issues concisely and with flair.

It goes into the Flavr Savr tomato, created by the biotechnology company Calgene, and accompanying "rumors and horror stories [that] mention square tomatoes or tomatoes that glow in the dark."

By the time the Human Genome Project came along in the late '90s, the lesson had been learned. That's when the phrase "societal and ethical implications" became part of the government lexicon.

I recently had a talk with Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University, who explained some of this historical context to me.

The study of societal and ethical implications, he said, is now an embedded part of most government nanotechnology programs, and it's a direct descendent of the Human Genome Project, where science, government and business had amazingly learned from their mistakes.

"The scientists involved in the Human Genome Project weren't really aware, until lots of surveys and things were done by the social scientists, that privacy issues were going to be the public hot-button issue," Ausman said. "In hindsight it makes a lot of sense."

And it paid off in broader public acceptance and trust. "You do a comparison of the Human Genome Project to genetically modified organisms, and it's just incredible the difference in public perception, and I believe pretty strongly that's directly attributable to the money and the good-faith effort that went into studies about societal and ethical implications," he said.

One more thing about DNA on PBS that I think could echo into nanotech's future. The documentary describes the "golden rice" debacle in which Monsanto essentially made overblown claims that it has found the solution to malnourishment. Long story short: "According to a 1999 report in the Financial Times, African countries in particular are 'wary of increasing dependence on developed countries and multinational corporations as a result of genetically modified crops.'"

A number of efforts are about to get under way that involve selling the idea of nanotechnology to developing nations, including those in Africa, as a means of solving local problems. Nanotechnology proponents are telling them that nano is no GMO. There doesn't need to be a Great White Monsanto to dole out its product. Developing nations can grow their own nanotech industry and tailor it to their own needs. It's true, but nanotech proponents will first need to penetrate more than a few layers of mistrust.

Watch for some of these efforts to make the news this year.

Related Posts
The Napster of nano
A nanosize line in the sand
Water for peace


News in a NanoSecond



Friday, January 16, 2004

'Nanoworld' is about solving small mysteries

Dear Howard:

As one of the creators of 'It's a NanoWorld,' let me set out a few details.

It's a NanoWorld was created through a collaboration between the Nanobiotechnology Center, (an NSF supported Science and Technology Center), the Sciencenter (a hands-on science museum in Ithaca NY) and Painted Universe (a design fabrication firm in Lansing NY).

The effort began some three years ago with two very simple questions that we posed to somewhere around 100 kids.
  1. What is the smallest thing that you can see?
  2. What is the smallest thing that you can think of?
The majority of kids especially those that attend science museums like the Sciencenter was pretty much uniform. The smallest thing that they could see was also the smallest thing that they could think of. Granted the questions were perhaps leading but the world that is 'too small to see' is one of great mystery to kids and one of the greatest challenges to kids understanding nanotechnology. Or even microtechnology.

So 'It's a Nanoworld' focuses on the microscopic world and hopefully kids start to gain an understanding of the world that is too small to see and the tools that are used to see it (microscopes, magnifying glasses, etc). We also introduce visitors to the technology used to make small things largely photolithographic based techniques.

'It's a NanoWorld' is not about nanobots, molecular manufacturing or anything along those lines but rooted in some fundamental concepts of size and scale and current technology. But more importantly the exhibition is fun, kids get engaged, adults read the signs and the communicate with their kids about the science.

We are very proud to have 'It's a Nanoworld' at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot. It represents one of the first opportunities for a non-commercial organization at this venue and it gives the public the chance to see the grand things that National Science Foundation supports. The NSF and we at the NBTC take our mission to engage the public very seriously believing that kids represent the future and that a more scientifically literate population is able to better judge the promise and potential challenges of emerging technology.

And if you can't make it to INNOVENTIONS at Epcot, there is video footage at

Carl A. Batt
Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor
Founder, Main Street Science Director,
Cornell University/Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Partnership
Co-Director, Nanobiotechnology Center

Related Posts
Tomorrowland Never Knows?
It's a NanoWorld After All

Thursday, January 15, 2004

News in a NanoSecond

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Tomorrowland Never Knows?

Denizens of the Disneyland newsgroup have their ears in a bunch over my "It's a Nano World After All" post. I mentioned that I went to Epcot in 1982, the year it opened, and my geeky teenage brain was entertained. I wondered what the next generation would say about the nanotech exhibit that just opened at Epcot.

A reader answered:

    What we've been saying about nanotech for the past ... oh ... 15 years. Nanotechnology will always be 10 years in the future.
Another reader disagreed:
    Nope. When "Engines of Creation" was published in the '80s, the prediction was mid 21st century. Now, they are saying that if Moore's law continues it's path, it will be here by 2020, perhaps as early as 2010.
You gotta love that ol' mouse. Seventy-five years after Steamboat Willie, he's still steering our kids into uncharted waters.

Related Posts
It's a Nano World After All
Do you know where your children are?
Why the Nano Generation doesn't need us

News in a NanoSecond

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

New materials are not without risk


Good day. I read your blog frequently and enjoy it thoroughly (long time listener, first time caller). On the nanotube/rats story, I am pleased that DuPont is weighing in on the subject. I have worked in the chemical/materials industry for some time. A few years ago, we founded a nanotube manufacturing company (SWeNT) with the University of Oklahoma and ConocoPhillips.

The article illustrates why toxicity testing can initially involve less expensive short-term tests using exaggerated, conservative (high-exposure) animal test models. These are valid and important studies. However, the ultimate tests need to closely mimick human exposure (i.e. suspended particulate exposure) at exposure concentrations only perhaps 10-100 fold (not 10,000-1,000,000 fold) above worst-case human exposure.

SWeNT and OU are conducting experiments to determine how nanotubes react in living systems. Additionally, we are looking at environmental effects.

The bottom line is that new materials are not without risk. For hundreds of years, those risks have been managed by those before us, because it was important to the future of their organization.

Let us move forward as an industry, and engage this important debate head-on. Good product stewardship will be the cornerstone of a sustainable and successful nanomaterial industry.

Warmest Regards,
Mike Moradi
SouthWest NanoTechnologies Inc.

Related Posts
Nanotubes and the tale of the rats
Apocalypse Nano
The nano-brain barrier

Blood-sucking Nanomachines

All's not quiet on the nanogame front. This just in from A new PlayStation2 game called "Nanobreaker." Here's the premise:
    In a story that bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of The Matrix, in the futuristic world of ‘Nanobreaker’, Nano-technology was originally developed to enrich humankind, but the nanomachines suddenly went awry. The machines began to harvest the blood of humans and the iron of buildings in an effort to construct an army of monster machines. It's up to the player to combat this threat and save the world from apocalypse.
Add NanoBreaker to the growing list of "bad" nano impressions that the government is going to attempt to "correct." Sounds to me like the children have already been assimilated. Don't despair, though. Think of it this way: Did the "Star Trek" Generation really view the show as a documentary? Or did it simply fire up the imagination? From the vantage of a few technology revolutions later, I'd say the latter.

Drexler: 'Bait and Switch -- The Coverup'

Dear Howard,

DrexlerYou recently wrote that --

    "A reader affiliated with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office challenged me recently on some of my commentaries on molecular manufacturing as a policy goal. The reader said that government funded research on "nanoscale manufacturing" is already under way, pointing me to these projects ... As the NNCO reader pointed out, though, there is research going on in molecular manufacturing -- even government-sponsored research ..."
You have been misled by your nameless reader. These projects will not result in molecular manufacturing because they don't aim to develop systems of nanomachines that fabricate atomically precise products by mechanically positioning and joining molecules. Saying that this sort of "nanoscale manufacturing" (lithography, microscale chemical engineering, etc.) is molecular manufacturing is like saying that a paper airplane is a passenger jet. The misrepresentations continue.

It's interesting to see how quickly the story is changing. One day we're told that there's no issue because the goal is impossible; the next day we're told that there's no issue because research is already underway. Amazingly, the NNCO sponsors no research whatsoever aimed at the original goal of nanotechnology. With this policy, it cannot deliver on the original promise of the field or fulfill the widespread expectations held by the public. Pretending otherwise compounds the damage.

Best Wishes,
Eric Drexler

Related Posts:
2003: The Year of the Straw NanoMan
Nano 'crackpots' seem downright respectable
Agitation anticipation

Monday, January 12, 2004

I've Got Male!

schmeckle   schmeckle

Notes from my secret lab-OR-atry: Our experiment  in bottom-up manufacturing has entered a new phase, as this mass of molecules begins to look more and more "human." We have identified gender. In the photograph at left, an arrow points toward a protrusion that I have code-named "schmeckle," indicating that the creature is developing along male gender lines. In the photo at right, it almost appears as though the beast is not only self-aware, but happy (the photo has been enhanced to highlight this feature). Perhaps the smirk on its face would not be so evident if it only knew of the names that friends have suggested for it. They include: Martian, Peppercorn, Louie Larry Lovy and Fonzie. Well, we have until June 13 to decide on the name. If you have any thoughts, please send me a memo.

Saturday, January 10, 2004


The nano meme continues to pick up steam. I'm among the Pong generation, so I might be lost in this game space, but it's clear that game programmers and marketers know a cool prefix when they hear it. So, in no particular order, here are some of the latest games and videos with a nano theme:

deusAccording to this review from
    You're Alex D., a nanotech-enhanced agent whose gender you choose at the start of the game, and just like JC, you in the middle of a tense battle for the future of planet Earth. The WTO is the primary caretaker of the world these days (they're also the outfit that trained you), but a new religion, known as the Order, has increased its political power in recent years. (It also may or may not be behind a [nanotech] terrorist attack that just leveled Chicago, but let's worry about that later.)"

    "The WTO is calling on him to report back to headquarters, but he also has a friend in the Order who says that the WTO's using him as a guinea pig for their experiments and that he should desert that scene as soon as possible.
More reviews can be found here, here and here.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here - Epidemic (Vol. 1) (anime video)

zaionThis review from DVD Empire just about sums it up:
    Nanotechnology is one of the current hot topics in various fields of science and medicine. Essentially, the idea is that small machines can be made and programmed to perform a host of different tasks, sight unseen, with endless possibilities. Recent television shows, including Andromeda and Jake 2.0 explore some applications of such technology, albeit by greatly advancing what we can do today. A newly released OVA anime series, Zaion: I Wish You Were Here 1: Epidemic, explores the idea in another way, this time as a means to combat an alien virus."

    The premise of the show was that a meteor crashed into the Earth and deposited a virus; much like in the mainstream hit Species. The virus invades the cells of people and turns them into powerful monsters.
    Episode One: Encounter: The world is under attack from a virus thought to have come from a meteor. The scientists dealing with it dub it M34 as it's the 34th strain of virus originating from the source and it has fought all attempts at a cure. The world governments keep it a secret in order to prevent mass panic, and the group CURE is empowered to use any means necessary to wage a battle against its victims. The military arm of the organization, NOA, is full of soldiers who are treated with nanotechology and have tiny machines coursing through their veins that repair damage and form a protective body armor/weapon system to fight the enemy.
    Episode two: Soon, it is discovered that the virus is adapting to the nanobots and no one is safe.
And here's what says about it:
    The Zaion series leaves many details unexplored, but it skims across a few pertinent details—the NOA soldiers are nanotech-enhanced warriors whose bloodstreams are filled with microscopic "nano machines." In times of stress, those robots flock to the skin, extrude through the sweat glands, and expand to form armor."
Synnamon: Facing Mecha, Part 7 (graphic novel)

mechaHere's a blurb from 2000AD Review:
    Of course, a planet composed entirely of artificial intelligences has been done before, but the ideas here are strong ones, particularly the idea of nano-technology being used like a virus to infect and control the galaxy."
James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Nintendo GameBoy Advance, PlayStation 2, GameCube)

shakennotstiredHere's a plot synopsis from the Electronic Arts news release.
    James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing once again finds the world's greatest secret agent fighting to save the world from a diabolical madman; former KGB agent Nikolai Diavolo. Armed with metal-eating nanotech, Diavolo's private army will steamroll the forces of the free world, unless Bond and CIA agent Mya Starling can stop Diavolo's forces in Egypt, Peru and New Orleans, culminating in a deadly battle beneath Moscow's Red Square!"
There's more, but I'll save them for later.  Meanwhile, I'm introducing crass commercialism into the NanoBot. Click the links to the right, and pieces of nano culture can be yours.

Friday, January 09, 2004

It's a Nano World After All

I went to Epcot in 1982, the year it opened, and my geeky teenage brain  was marvelously entertained, although many of the "predictions" just never materialized. I wonder what the next generation will say about the nanotechnology exhibit that just opened.

I'm sure this exhibit, developed by Cornell and Ithaca Sciencenter will inspire some young minds. Boy this looks fun! It looks like a "Fantastic Voyage" type trip for 5- to 8-year-olds, which sounds incredibly unjust to big kids like me, who would love to check out the "giant blood drop" and play Adventures in Tiny Things!

It runs until March 1. I doubt I'll get down to Florida, so, please, if you're in kindergarten through third grade and you're sneaking onto Mom or Dad's computer to read a nano blog, check out the exhibit for me and report back! (Also, you really need to get out a bit more).

News in a NanoSecond

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Nanotubes and the tale of the rats

This Reuters report on how nanotubes will kill you (if you're a rat) was a prelude to Nanotox 2004 next week in the U.K. The news conference was a way to generate some media buzz in advance and get reporters all jazzed up over an event at the Royal Microscopical Society. Of course, Small Times' man in London will be there, so you can expect some first-rate reporting, with proper context.

The British scientists, meanwhile, were telling rat tales, pointing to DuPont toxicologist David Warheit's recent study on the toxicity of single-wall carbon nanotubes in rats.

Yes, it's DuPont that did the study, so you can read what you want into it, but the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University had also looked at the results.

I'll cut to the chase on the tale of the rats.The study concludes, in part:


    "Exposures to high-dose (5 mg/kg) SWCNT produced mortality in ~15% of the SWCNT-instilled rats within 24 h postinstillation. This mortality resulted from mechanical blockage of the upper airways by the instillate and was not due to inherent pulmonary toxicity of the instilled SWCNT particulate."

Kevin Ausman CBEN's executive director, supplied me with a wonderfully understandable translation during a conversation I had with him a month ago in Chicago:

    What that means is that if you look at just the cross-sections of the lungs, "Uh-oh. Bad things are happening." If you look at the biochemistry of what's going, almost nothing seems to be going on. And so the normal biochemical tags for, "something bad is happening" aren't telling something bad is happening."

Here's my translation of the translation: The rats were definitely dead (and I believe they are still dead, although I have yet to confirm this). The nanotubes were definitely the guilty party. But the late rodents met their rat makers by suffocation, and not necessarily from any poison in the tiny tubes.

Plus, what the researchers did, as Ausman explained it to me, was basically disperse the nanotubes into a soap-and-water solution and inject it into the lungs, avoiding the whole issue of how the nanotubes ever got there in the first place.

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.

For more on DuPont and nanotubes, here's an excellent report from The News Journal of Delaware. And more background can be found on Small Times here and here.

Everything and the kitchen counter

trederYou want to know what we're talking about here, listen to my man Mike Treder:

    The technology described in this article is molecular nanotechnology (MNT). This is a big step beyond most of today's nanotech research, which deals with exploring and exploiting the properties of materials at the nanoscale. Industry has begun using the term nanotechnology to cover almost any technology significantly smaller than microtechnology, such as those involving nanoparticles or nanomaterials. This broad field will produce important and useful results, but their societal effects – both positive and negative – will be modest compared with later stages of the technology.

    MNT, by contrast, is about constructing shapes, machines, and products at the atomic level – putting them together molecule by molecule. With parts only a few nanometers wide, it may become possible to build a supercomputer smaller than a grain of sand, a weapon smaller than a mosquito, or a self-contained nanofactory that sits on your kitchen counter.

Interesting stuff no matter where you stand on the kitchen counter. Now, suspend your disbelief or belief, and just read it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Uh-oh ...

Quick! Everybody look busy! (see visitor at bottom)


From the Pooh-Bah of Punditry

Now, here's some instapunditry with punch:

    "THE UNITED STATES NANOTECHNOLOGY BUSINESS is pooh-poohing the prospects for true molecular manufacturing, in no small part because it thinks -- wrongly in my opinion -- that by doing so it will forestall Luddite assaults on nanotechnology. But I spoke recently with one U.S. nanotech researcher who fears that the consequence of this attitude will be to forestall ground-breaking research here (while people focus on things like nanopants and comparatively modest improvements in materials and electronics) and allow other nations to get the jump on us."
But wait, there's more here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

It's about vision, not nanobots

A reader affiliated with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office challenged me recently on some of my commentaries on molecular manufacturing as a policy goal. The reader said that government funded research on "nanoscale manufacturing" is already under way, pointing me to these projects.

I responded that those are all very worthwhile areas of study, especially since they appear to reflect a healthy balance between the advancement of nanotech as both a business and a science. Government funding for these kinds of projects -- on a piecmeal basis -- has been going on for a while, and I'm certain will continue. These researchers are the ones who are doing the important work, away from the spotlight, and will emerge with some amazing discoveries in nanoscale manufacturing.

In fact, the spirit of these kinds of grants runs counter to the words I'm hearing from some government and business spokespeople, who have declared nanoscale self-replication (and I'm not certain that the projects cited delve into that) to be impossible.

To me, the separate issue is one of government vision and priorities. My main argument is that U.S. policymakers need to rise above the commerce side of the debate and help encourage development of nanoscience without letting business interests become the sole driver of the research. As this NNCO reader pointed out, that is not entirely the case, but reading the nanotech bill alone, you'd think that the government's central goal was to spin off companies and develop new products. Is that it?

The proposed center to study nanotech's impact on society is a step in the right direction, but with only one model of nanotechnology deemed legitimate, I'm not certain what exactly will be studied. Many of the "societal and ethical implications" research that I've come across either assumes that molecular manufacturing is feasible, or is concerned with how to fight negative or misleading images of nanotechnology.

In other words, is the study of "societal implications" another way to control the message by stamping out all "incorrect" images of nanotech? It's very bizarre. I hear all the time that the nanotech business community and the government want to avoid another "GMO"-type controversy. So, its solution is to create a center on ethics that will discuss how to manage and conrol image and public perception?

It was determined that a feasibility study on MNT was not the best use of government resources, but a center for image control was deemed money well spent.

As the NNCO reader pointed out, though, there is research going on in molecular manufacturing -- even government-sponsored research -- just as there are government-funded projects to study societal and ethical implications. As the nanotech bill was being formulated, though, it was determined that research into societal and ethical implications should come together into a new center, while research into nanoscale manufacturing -- for various reasons -- was determined to be too "out there," not the best use of government resources and certainly not worthy of a national goal.

Shameless self-promotion

First, you learn it here, then from every fool on the street.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Unauthorized uses of 'nano'

britneyCease and desist orders are being sent to the following perpetrators:

    Britney Spears' Nano-Nuptials

    The fruit passes under the Autoline, which needs barely a nano-second to identify each piece by size.

    Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the school, St. Catherine had a Nano Nagle celebration on Nov. 21.

    Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano

News in a NanoSecond


Friday, January 02, 2004

Love in the Time of Crichton

Michael Crichton's "Prey" is in paperback, and apparently available in Thailand. Here's a piece of a review from the Bangkok Post:

    "Authors are expected to exaggerate to make their point and Crichton is no exception. Having characters assume shapes of one another, change sex, appear and disappear, kissing the choice way of passing on infections are a bit much. Not least when bodies turn to dust, then reform.

    "Swarms of micro-processors and laboratory-developed molecules have intelligence and are able to reproduce, melting down micro-chips in human machines. They enter the engineers via kissing at the facility, with the exception of Jack and his assistant Mae."

Makes you wonder whether Rick Smalley's argument against molecular nanotechnology was based on a reading of "Prey":

    "You still do not appear to understand the impact of my short piece in Scientific American. Much like you can't make a boy and a girl fall in love with each other simply by pushing them together, you cannot make precise chemistry occur as desired between two molecular objects with simple mechanical motion along a few degrees of freedom in the assembler-fixed frame of reference. Chemistry, like love, is more subtle than that. You need to guide the reactants down a particular reaction coordinate, and this coordinate treads through a many-dimensional hyperspace."

Speaking of "Prey," I thought I'd make myself known on the Michael Crichton message board and see if anybody in that audience is interested in delving deeper.

And from NanoDot, comes news of a speech by Crichton at CalTech, in which he derides "consensus science." Crichton says:

    Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had. Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics."

Apparently, Mr. Crichton has been following nanotech nonfiction, as well.