Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Standing at the feet of giants

Did you ever get the feeling you're not exactly the most brilliant LED in the display? Nevertheless, here I am at Caltech, attempting to learn from the learned. All the while, I'm on the lookout for the ghost of Feynman mischievously picking the locks, banging his bongos and laughing his ass off at the likes of me.

Update: Sept. 1, 2005 -- And here, gazing at the gates of Caltech, is where I exit NanoBot. It has been the most rewarding, most stimulating, and most emotionally and financially draining two years and two months of my life. And I regret very little of it.

It is best to let the 'Bot remain frozen in its own time -- July 11, 2003 - Sept. 1, 2005. But please continue to use these pages to help spur thought and debate.

I'll leave you with what I wrote on Day One:

    "Like the technological gods that came before it, nanotech is perpetually being assembled, reassembled (and perhaps self-assembled) in our own images."

What it means is that we are lucky to have been born in an era of possibility. We stand at the gates to a new epoch, one that promises new horrors and new wonders. It is not too late. We can create the god or demon of our choice.

What is nanotechnology? Well, what do you want it to be?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

These 'bots are made for walkin'

dna1   dna2

Do you remember the "DNA walker" that made headlines last year? (Stories can be found here, here and here)

I hadn't gone through recent nanotech patents and applications in a while, so when I was browsing through them yesterday I was pleased that New York University chemist Nadrian Seeman and his colleague William Sherman had filed a patent application in June.

Seeman is one of the rare working, grant-getting, patent-producing nanoscientists who believes that nanotech will eventually progress beyond building better tennis rackets and create useful things from the bottom up -- at least, one of the few who can openly admit it without jeopardizing his ability to get government grants.

Just last June, Spencer Reiss of Technology Review asked Seeman whether nanomanufacturing was "imminent" and how he would respond to "nanotech's skeptics" (read "molecular manufacturing"). The professor did not take the bait and responded that it's not going to knit sweaters anytime soon, but:

    "Everything we're talking about is doable. Is it doable on a scale that's going to be worthwhile? No one knows. In 25 years we've taken something that was in my imagination to the point where we can take out patents and where there are now whole conferences devoted to the topic."
And of course his patent application is winding its way through the system now.

I'll lay aside the question of molecular manufacturing for now, since that often turns too emotional and unproductive. However, even other scientists who don't really care whether nanobots will someday knit a sweater or cure world poverty can look at Seeman's DNA walker and see what's there for them.

The walker was made of fragments of DNA that strolled on two legs just 10 nanometers long. The little beast took two steps forward and two back.

Obviously, there isn't much use for DNA walking around. But it served its purpose -- it made headlines and drew attention to his research. Seeman acknowledged that the DNA walker is not going to be next holiday season's must-have toy. The point, he said, is to design molecules and get them to assemble into specific three-dimensional structures. In Seeman's mind, that could lead to some kind of nanomanufacturing application much like a Detroit-style assembly line, but with DNA robots pushing it down the track.

Now, here's where the process gets tricky and can break down. As I've written before, these basic researchers do not necessarily know what exactly it is that they have. That's where entrepreneurs or other specialists can come in. You don't like molecular assemblers or think they're impossible, or too long-term? Well, don't use it for that. I don't know. Maybe you have no use for walking DNA robots at all. However, they also link together into scaffolds, which might be of more use in assembly of nanoparticles of the type you desire. DNA was born for self-assembly. So, if you could get DNA to bend to your will by programming it to assemble into any structure you want, what would you do?

Oh, one more thing about that patent application. I had not known that the research was funded, in part, by the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Air Force. Hmmm. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that both branches are planning on some pretty fantastic voyages.

Further Reading
Not Your Daddy's DNA
Smallest Robot (with a video link)

Friday, August 26, 2005


"Moving round the many and varied merchandising outlets, you will find racket manufacturers claiming to use 'nanotechnology' and inviting you to 'Choose Your Weapon' from frames called 'The Terminator' and the 'iRadical'."

Columnist Judy Murray
Writing about the U.S. Open for the Telegraph

Nano Product Radio

Nanotech tree huggers

Partnership would link Purdue, Forest Service (boilerstation.com)

    purdueA high-ranking member of the U.S. Forest Service wants to partner with Purdue University to create a forest product nanotechnology center.

    Michael Ritter, assistant director of the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., thinks Purdue's unique emphasis in nanotechnology and hardwood research could be a good fit for the future of forestry.

    "The federal government spent $985 million on nanotechnology in 2005," said Ritter, who toured the university Thursday during a two-day visit after an invitation from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

    "This is the wave of the future. There's a lot of money going into it, but the forest product industry has been ignored." More here

A longing for paradise regained
Return of the Cave Capitalist

No more dust storm blues

oniSeptuagenarian Oklahomans have lived to see the Dust Bowl turn to Smart Dust.

Oklahoma, you're going to be OK.

Son of Massachusetts Miracle
Nano Bacon Brought Home
Maryland's nano dream deferred

Nano Tech EnTrancement


Ladies, germs and mad scientists, I give you the trance sounds of Tribal Maker, a compilation by Tribal Records, and a cut by Zion and Insert Silence called "Nano Tech."

RealPlayer      MP3

Grindcore nanotech
Musical proof of entropy
Space Elevator: The Music Video
Rachmaninoff's Nano Concerto No. 2

Good nano jobs at so-so wages

Speaking of jobs, I've noticed that more nanopeople are in demand in government, business and academia. Here are a few random postings I've found recently:

  • The National Cancer Institute is looking for a Health Scientist Administrator for $74,782 - $114,882 a year. Say what you will about "government waste," but any qualified candidate for this job could probably make a great deal more in the private sector. It's a pretty important job for the nanotech world, since this administrator will be in charge of administering and evaluating grant proposals for "nanotechnology approaches to cancer research." And, as I've noted before, the NCI is looking more and more like a Nano Cancer Institute. Read all about the job here.
  • Turns out, if you're director of the Heart Research Program at the Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases, you can command an annual budget exceeding $1 billion dollars, boss around a staff of 62 and pull in between $103,947 and 135,136 a year. Take THAT, NCI person. But to qualify, you have to be up on all the cutting-edge cures for a bad ticker, including "genomics and proteomics, nanotechnology and bioengineering." Read more here.
  • Ph.D candidates might want to hop a lorry to the University of Sheffield for a full, three-year ride into the land of self-assembled quantum dots. Cool. Sorry, you greedy Americans. Brits only need apply. Jolly well click here.
  • But back in the United States of Texas, Zyvex Corp. needs to rustle up an applications sales engineer for government accounts. This person is going to leave no grant unturned in the quest for revenue at one of the very first nanotech companies ever. Times have changed at Zyvex. At one time, the company did not need to depend so much on tax dollars, thanks to the personal fortune of founder James Von Ehr. Read all about it here.
Workin' in a nano mine
Work in the Great White Nano
Nano sure is a piece of work

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Nano hauls me back from the abyss

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to give up my nanotech writing career – such that it was – and let myself fall back into my old safe and familiar newspaper world. It wasn't so much me giving up on nanotech, but I had thought nanotech had given up on me. Writing about this technology – no, more than that – completely immersing myself in learning about it was the most exhilarating experience of my otherwise average journalism career.

But it had been long past time to come back to earth and start earning a decent living for my wife and three kids (after Sept. 19, four kids!).

So, I was about to formally accept an offer to become the new business editor at the Lansing State Journal – a paper I used to deliver as a boy – and pick up my career arch about where I left it when I bailed out a few years ago to specialize in nanotech. It's a fine paper, a perfectly acceptable job and one that could have sent me up the Gannett ladder if I did a good job and managed not to rub too many people the wrong way.

I don't know if this is a corollary to Murphy's Law, the Peter Principle or "a watched pot never boils," but as soon as I had turned my back on nanotech, those mischievous little buggers decided to swarm around me and drag my wimpy ass back into their world.

OK, yeah, I'm getting way too metaphorical here for a man in my new position. In fact, I should probably drop the nanobot references for now and start thinking of more references to, say, the leading edge of an arrow. How about this: The tip of an arrowhead pierced my back on my way to Lansing, knocking me off that respectable career path once again and back into the exhilarating world of nanotechnology.

I'm the new communications director for Arrowhead Research Corp.

I'll write more about the job and the company later, but I do need to be more careful about what I say. Arrowhead is a public company and this blog, while not affiliated with Arrowhead, is written by its PR person. So, obviously, I need to talk to my new employers a little more. If anybody out there has any thoughts or experience with blogger/public company relations, please let me know. I'd love both of my roles to exist in peace and harmony, of course.

There are downsides to leaping over that wall and going into what journalism purists would call "the dark side," public relations. To some, I automatically lose credibility. But it also helps that I know the journalism profession inside and out, and know how to help reporters tell a story.

But, yes, some opportunities are closed to me now. I can no longer freelance for Wired News, for example. Understandably, they don't want a nanotech PR person writing news stories about nanotech. However, I can probably help nanotech even more by helping publications like Wired News with background material and sources, so they can cover what we do more accurately.

Those who know my work also know that I'm not a slick salesman who would write what he does not firmly believe. My new employers at Arrowhead know about my reputation for fierce independence and hired me either despite or because of it.

For me, I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to expand my knowledge of nano and have greater access to scientists (especially at CalTech and Stanford) and business leaders who might have been closed to me as a lone freelancer.

So, that's the news from NanoBot for today. Now, let's get back to discussing nanotechnology.

Flirtin' with Freelance Disaster
Straight into my nano heart
Innovation knows no regulation

At last, I'm in a peer-reviewed publication

nanodummiesI don't think I'm quoted or referenced in any major nanotech publication, but -- wouldn't you know it -- here I am in the index and "further reading" of (what else?) "Nanotechnology for Dummies."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BioTechniques Action Cards!


One of the many trade publications I subscribe to is BioTechniques. It's really aimed at life science researchers a lot smarter than I am, but I enjoy looking at the pictures and trying to pronounce a few of the really big words.

Maybe I'm the only one who finds this humorous, but along with my August issue I got a silver package. I'm attracted to shiny things, so I immediately ripped open what the package promoted as BioTechniques Action Cards.

I thought perhaps there'd be a genetically modified superhero or two that I could trade with my friends. But, oh well, just ads for biotech tools and other products. I still think they should create a Captain Clone or Microcentrifuge Man.


"God, Rice really IS a cult. And on the subject of the Space Science building, it says NANOTECHNOLOGY in big letters, and that fucking scares me, just for the record. Also, isn't it counter-intuitive? Shouldn't it be in really tiny letters? And what the hell am I doing in that building anyway, I ask you? The amount I know about this technology is indeed nano. Seriously nano."

Alexandra Eleni
Rice University student

Nano dream cruiser

nanocarI fled to Northern Michigan last weekend to escape the Woodward Dream Cruise, which pretty much turns my neighborhood into a parking lot. But then I found this beaut over at Misfit Toys in Suttons Bay.

The Nano Autos' "pull back and go action" works quite economically, which is very important with today's fuel prices. Plus, put a coin in the back slot and it pops wheelies.

This may not involve actual nanotechnology, but it's more real than, say, Draper Fisher Jurvetson's NanoCar or this rather creative piece of fiction.

This baby, of course, can slip into the parking space beside the NanoTruck just outside the NanoHouse. Act now, and this little racer could be master of her own domain.

Moment of NanoZen

Nano might be today's "cyber," but today's cyber has finally become yesterday's "cyber."

Nanotech insider information
Irresponsible NanoHype
'Crain's-ing' my neck to see the hype
NanoSight, NanoScheme and NanoHype

Nice nanowork, and I got it

Well, it's been a long, strange trip, but I have a new job that might surprise a few folks. It's an end to the most difficult, most humbling, most humiliating year of my life and the beginning of a promising new chapter. My new role in the nano world comes just in time for the arrival of my new baby next month. Can't give you a hint yet (I've learned my lesson the hard way about blogger/employer relations), but expect an announcement soon.

Flirtin' with Freelance Disaster
NanoBot needs you
Escape from my own private Pennsylvania

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Recombinant controversies: bio and nano

What Can Nano Learn from Bio? Lessons from the Debate over Agrifood Biotechnology and GMOs (Society of Environmental Journalists)

    Starts: 10/26/2005, Ends: 10/27/2005, East Lansing, MI -- This conference will look at what scientists, engineers, technology developers, policy makers and research administrators in the emerging fields of nanotechnology can learn from the international controversy over the use of recombinant DNA techniques in agriculture and the food system. More here and here.
Related News
Nano Risk and Benefit Database (WorldChanging)

Nano's 'No GMO' Mantra
Are nanoparticle studies 'one decade late'?
Creating a monster

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Headlines aiming badly

OK. OK. Everybody's having so much fun writing headlines for this story about pee-pee powered batteries, I just had to yank my blog out of its temporary slumber to add my contribution to the ... um ... pot. Here's my best shot after thinking about it for about five minutes:

Urine the money, Singapore

Piss and chips

Catheter to cathode

I dunno. Best I can do for now.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cranky Crichton hasn't a Hollywood 'Prey'er

In a convergence of coincidences that can only be described as quantum kabbalistic, I found myself on a surprise flight to Los Angeles on Friday (more on that later).

Seated next to me on my return trip to Detroit was a person I will only call a "Hollywood insider" (I've always wanted to write that!) I told him I would go to jail rather than reveal him as my source, so you'll have to trust me that this is a true insider who would know the answer to the following question:

Is there or is there not a movie version of Michael Crichton's nano nightmare book "Prey" in production?

The answer is "no."

So, as I've written before (scroll to the end here), everybody in the nano business can just calm down for a while and let's give the "movie version of 'Prey' is coming soon" stuff a rest.

In fact, said my extra-super-double-secret Hollywood insider source, Crichton is quite a cranky character who was not at all pleased with the film treatment of "Timeline."

Even during summer blogging recess, your NanoBot is still working for you. Stay tuned for more news.

What, Prey tell, are you talking about?
'Swarm,' 'Prey,' whatever ...
Antediluvian NanoBots
NPR can't tell Crichton from cosmetics

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When in roam, phone the dome

capitol_1   capitol_2

I wandered Michigan's capital city twice in the past couple of weeks and used my Motorola V330 cameraphone to snap these pictures of my state's Capitol Dome on separate visits just before stepping into job interviews. More later.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Another Lovy in the news

This has nothing to do with nano, yet it looms large in my life. My baby brother is serving in Iraq and, in Lovy family tradition, can't seem to keep himself out of the news. I love you, Mickey. Now, stop showing off and come home!

Michigan Marine continues family’s military service tradition (Marine Corp. News)

    AL ASAD, Iraq (Aug. 8, 2005) -- Ever since Cpl. Mickey Lovy’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Hungary, military service has been a family tradition. His grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II and his father was a U.S. Army doctor during the Vietnam War.

    Lovy, the supply noncommissioned officer in the logistics department of Marine Wing Support Group 27, picked a different service, but he’s keeping the tradition alive.

    A graduate of Holly High School in his native Holly, Mich., Lovy joined the Corps in September 2002. “After high school I worked odd jobs until I realized I needed a change and went full blast into it,” he said. “I decided to go for the real deal and join the Marine Corps.”


    “I joined the Marine Corps to make my family proud,” he said. “I wanted my life to go in a different positive direction and I knew the Marine Corps was the most extreme change I could do for the better.”

    According to Lovy, out of his parents’ seven offspring he is the youngest and only to join the military. He said that his father, who left the Army’s 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) as a captain after serving in Vietnam, is proud of him regardless of having joined a different service. More here

My Yankee Doodle Daddy
Let's trade a 'bot for a bro' on the battlefield
Operation Love My Brother