Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nanomedicine story: The writer's cut

Wired News ran my profile of Dr. James Baker, a leading nanomedicine researcher at the University of Michigan. The editor I worked with on this was great, and very patient as I juggled this story with a string of job interviews, the duties of daddyhood and an increasingly pregnant wife.

But Wired pays by the word, so some of my story had to be cut. I understand. I've been on the other side of that editor/freelancer relationship before and I've had to strictly enforce word-count limits.

So, I'll briefly interrupt my blogging sabbatical to give you some passages that did not make the final cut.

What sets Baker apart from many academic researchers is he is not too concerned with whether his solutions defy conventional wisdom. And, as the proud papa of two spinoff companies, and a third about to be hatched, he's not just doing research for research's sake. If you understand Baker's decade-and-a-half journey you can get a pretty good idea of how nanotech, itself, has traveled from sci-fi fantasy to FDA trials.

Yet the 52-year-old former immunologist with the gentle voice does not come across as a guy who collects accolades. Baker is simply a researcher who has made it a point to cut through barriers … relentlessly … until problems are solved.

The first Gulf War is what did it. Like many returning veterans of any era, Baker came home with the conviction that life is precious, so let's not waste any time. "I decided that if I ever got back here … I was just going to do things that I felt were important and the hell with it," Baker says. "I'm not going to worry about, 'will this get me this grant' or whatever."

Baker spent about 15 years chipping away at the two main barriers to success in bringing nanobiotech out of the lab. We'll call them "shrinkage" and "linkage."


Nanotech is not only about size, but also the ability to engineer the nanoparticle to do what you want it to do and when you want it done.



U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative officials often talk about "converging technologies," that is, connecting all the sciences – physics, chemistry, biology, information technology – and making connections as all these disciplines converge at the nanoscale.

That's the thinking behind the University of Michigan's new Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and the Biological Sciences, which Baker will head. "I think any university that doesn't develop collaborative centers like this is going to be frozen out," he says.

Hopefully, Baker says, that will solve the problem of engineers, for example, pushing one of their innovations as a cancer therapy without ever really checking with the biologists. "Because if the people who made the material put it into biological models, they were simplistic ones that really don't have relevance to therapeutics."


"Celebrex, Vioxx, all of these drugs that popped up here recently with problems, are whole-body administered. They go everywhere," (nanotech pioneer Donald) Tomalia says.

And these scandals are part of the reason nanotech entrepreneur/researchers like Tomalia and Baker are finally coming in from the cold. Or, Tomalia puts it, "there's a lot more sunshine up here in our life lately. And I think it's because our time is finally coming where the world has gone through all of these other options and they're looking at what is available out there in the nano field as nano building blocks. And their aren't any, in my opinion, that have the versatility and the systematic control that dendrimers have to offer."

Tomalia, of course, is not an objective observer. He's banking on the success of the nanobabies he's nursed for two decades through his company, Dendritic NanoTechnologies Inc.

The full story is here.

Dendrimers could have cancer in their clutches
Living on nano time
The Tao of Dow
The Tale of Tomalia

Friday, July 15, 2005

Little NanoBot in the big world

I'm going to use this top space now to emphasize the first two words in this blog's title. Here's a partial list of positions I've applied for so far. I'll update it from time to time. I figure I have a few thousand references out there in my regular blog readers, so if you happen to be affiliated with any of the organizations listed below, please bother the hell out of your recruitment office until they agree to take a look at my resume. Your incentive? My eternal gratitude (I never forget my friends), I can get back to writing my NanoBot book and a possible return of this NanoBot blog -- that is, if my new employers are OK with my blogging on the side.

  • Associated Press: Online Business Editor (Editor responded, and we're making a phone date)
  • Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition: Teacher Guide Editor (Taking a test, of course, before an interview)
  • Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle: Copy Editor (Going to beautiful Northern Michigan for an interview next week. I suppose when it's "game over" after 20 years of career progression, you just have to start back at Level 1.)
  • MIT: Senior Writer (No Response)
  • Caltech: Senior Science Writer (the ad for this job stresses "sense of humor" and weekend availability in case of an earthquake, no response)
  • CNET Networks: Senior Editor, (no response)
  • Small Business Editor (ignored)
  • The New York Times: Copy Editor (sound of crickets chirping and tumbleweeds tumbling)
  • Microsoft: Technology Blogger (No kidding! No response!)
  • The Associated Press: Night Supervisor, Detroit, and "business newsroom" position with the AP's Young Readers premium service (sound of silence)
  • The Ann Arbor News: Education Reporter (nada)
  • Dow Jones: Auto Industry Reporter (nil)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Feynman on freedom

'So I have just one wish for you -- the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.'
-- Richard Feynman, from a Caltech commencement address given in 1974

No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.
-- "The Uncertainty of Values" (in the collection "The Meaning of it All")

Feynman on the uncertainty principle
Feynman was not for first-timers
Driving under the influence of Feynman
Feynman's missing pieces