Sunday, October 21, 2007

Little art, big production

Turn up your speakers, open your windows, don your Viking hat and click the "play" button!

Pretty little things
Time for a little art
A little splash of color

Cleantech's the new nano; nano's the new dot-bomb

Here's a quick follow-up to the "nano bad, cleantech good" portion of this post.

Just as Lux Research is dropping its nanotech emphasis in favor of cleantech, Lux's pioneering parent (or whatever) publication Forbes/Wolfe is laying down its nano burdens to rebrand itself the "Forbes/Wolfe Emerging Tech Report (covering nanotech, cleantech, and all physical science breakthroughs)."

One analyst I talked to (a tech biz analyst, not a shrink!) finds the rush away from nano somewhat amusing.

"I find it interesting that all of the folks who hyped nano in the first place are scurrying away from it just when it’s really starting to get interesting."

I'd also repeat a point I've been making for, oh, about five years now: Nano is not any one technology. It does, however, enable the next generation of pretty much every technology -- including the "cleantech" flavor of the day.

False claims inform consumers as they 'talk nano'

Recently, a fellow journalist asked my advice on how to pitch a consumer-oriented nanotechnology story to an editor of a mainstream publication.

I told her that it's certainly a timely story, since consumer nanotech information will be all over the news this coming week because of a major online event Oct. 23-24. ConsumersTalkNano, is a collaboration between the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports magazine.

Well, that got me going again on the Wilson Center and its highly questionable "consumer products inventory," which claims that 500-plus nanotech products are already on the market. Close NanoBot followers already know my thoughts on the Wilson Center's nano numbers racket. Nevertheless, this next week will see these numbers repeated often in the mainstream media.

I then burdened my colleague with the following rant on "consumer nanotech" and the mainstream media. I'll reprint most of it here:

Now, here is where my own opinions kind of get in the way. I consider the Wilson Center an "interested party" in the nanotech toxicity debate. Even though they are doing a great job of bringing the issue to the front-burner, I find their claims about how many consumer products are already out there to be highly inflated, since they are based on questionable manufacturers' claims.

I've always had trouble trying to explain my feelings on this, so this will be a good exercise for me:

I've been covering nanotech since it first emerged as a "business" rather than a pure science, and from the beginning the so-called nanotech "industry" has been exaggerating, well, first of all, its status as an actual industry, but also how much real "nanotech" is embedded inside consumer products. The interest they have had in exaggerating the claims is simply to make it appear to potential investors that they are not throwing their money away if they invest in nanotech companies, since nanotech is already inside many everyday products.

The sunscreen and cosmetics example is always given, yet I reported a few years ago that, in fact, these nanomaterials have been a part of L'Oreal's line, for example, since back in 1994 or '95. It wasn't until later that anti-nano activists noticed it and publicized it as something new and untested. It has, in fact, been tested thoroughly inside consumer products for more than a decade. It hasn't been labeled "nano" until now, though, and has not been the subject of scare-mongering until very recently.

OK. So, you have the nanotech "industry" exaggerating the degree to which it is already a part of the consumer landscape in order to attract mainstream investment -- in some cases, taking a look at the ingredients of many long-established products, noticing particle size and declaring it "nanotech." A few years ago, this was a good thing, since there was a brief period of investment hype over nanotech, and many companies were remarketing their stuff as nanostuff.

It was so bad for a while, that the nanotech "industry" actually believed their own press releases and, most importantly, so did the anti-nanotech activists. It's marketing vs. marketing.

The truth, however, is practically none of the nanoscale ingredients in existing products have been specifically engineered for any purpose, thus in my mind have nothing to do with the manipulation of "atoms and molecules" to create new and improved products (or even dangerous ones). However, in every single mainstream news story you read, you'll see some kind of sentence defining nanotech as the "science of manipulating atoms and molecules to ..." And then alongside that sentence is the Wilson Center's list of 500-plus products.

The truth is, practically none of those products are the result of any sort of nanoscale engineering and manipulation -- much less, bottom-up assembly. But what is left in the readers' mind is that some mad scientist at Sunscreen Central is manipulating atoms to see how they can poison sunbathers.

Now, however, enough doubt has been placed in front of consumers by those with a stake in raising those doubts, that the "nano" prefix has fallen out of favor. Names are changing again. And even Lux Research, which started out as a nanotech analyst firm, has rebranded itself with the latest trend: yes, "cleantech."

Nano bad. Cleantech good. In fact, however, some of the real nanotech emerging -- the true products of bottom-up assembly and manipulation of atoms and molecules -- are enabling cleantech. It has always amazed me how the image of a truly green technology like nanotech has been manipulated by green activists as somehow being unnatural and dangerous. If they actually looked at the real nanotech research happening, they'd see that these technologies are what they have been calling for for decades to help us get out of this mess.

DuPont, in fact, has always taken the bull by the horns and has actually lead research into nanomaterial toxicity. Recently, they partnered with an environmental group to come up with some guidelines on developing nanomaterials. Here's a recent story on that.

OK. That's my rant on that. Probably went too long, but I think it needs to be said because it gets at how this story can be pitched to a mainstream publication in any kind of thoughtful way. Most will go the easy route and simply do the competing press releases -- that scientists and businesses are jumping into nanotech blindly and consumer-product companies are using poor unsuspecting customers and guinea pigs for untested substances.

Easy story, kind of sexy in a geeky way, and it involves fear of the unknown. Great headlines, and journalists don't need to put much thought into it because the "statistics" are being supplied for them by interested parties such as the Wilson Center.

Now, when it comes to selling a nanotech story to a mainstream editor, good luck with that, since every editor has his or her own notion of what nanotech is based on their own personal interests, what they've read recently or focus of their publication.

The semiconductor industry sees nanotech only through their prism. Same with biotech. Hell, even wastewater treatment. And within that, you'll have various editors who run the spectrum of belief between "nanotech is this cool scifi thing that will allow me to download my brain onto a computer chip or revive me in the year 3067," to "nanotech is simply chemistry renamed and there's nothing new here at all."

That is why I have, for the most part, remained safely behind niche publications and my blog when it comes to nanotech.

And I have probably not helped you at all.

Actually, she said that the info. provided in my rant above was, in fact, helpful. OK. Well, I wish her luck.

Indigestible nanotech claim
Nanostuff vs. nanotechnology
Perception is de facto nano fact

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dendrimers: The unpublished story

Here's a freebie for you. I spent a great deal of time on this one, on and off, during the past year or so. But, for various reasons that are really too boring to go into, it never saw the light of day. I'll only say that scientists have disagreements (shocking, yet true), but they do not like them aired publicly. My role is different, however. What I do, is tell true stories.

So, here's the raw, unedited copy. Some of this you'll recognize as having been published in other work I've done, but most of it is new. Enjoy. And, if you really enjoy it, donations to my kids' diaper and daycare fund are welcome and appreciated.

By Howard Lovy

The tiny dendrimer, nanotechnology’s tendriled, tattered and almost forgotten starlet, is at last emerging from nearly 30 years of patent-filing and science-paper purgatory and into the light of real-world products and partnerships. In 2007 alone, dendrimers have attracted about a million dollars in DARPA funds for research into a device that would automatically keep wounded soldiers free from pain on the battlefield; they have come to the apparent rescue of a company that had been having trouble getting its soft-tissue cancer treatment device to stop leaking radiation; and after success as MRI contrast agents, dendrimers are now being taken seriously as a candidate for a long-sought delivery agent for siRNA (gene silencing) therapy.

And by the time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives its anticipated 2009 or 2010 approval to the first dendrimer-based pharmaceutical, the former Dow Chemical Co. scientist who invented his pet molecule will have counted 30 years since he first synthesized this “beautiful” (his word) molecule in his Midland, Mich., lab. But Donald Tomalia says he doesn’t mind the nearly three decades in the cold. In fact, he says, the pattern for any “disruptive” technology is to first pay its dues for about 20 years before general acceptance. “We’re kind of on schedule there when you think about it,” Tomalia says.

Yet, even though an FDA nod for the dendrimer-based HIV microbicide VivaGel would place the stamp of government validation on concepts Tomalia has worked for a generation to prove, the journey itself has ripped the dendrimer’s reputation so ragged that skepticism still prevails in the financial and scientific communities.

Long, fruitless periods of development, intellectual property quaqmires, questions over toxicity, skepticism about cost and scaleability have reduced the once-darling dendrimer to the status of merely the first of many nanotech disappointments. The years since the dendrimer’s sensational arrival have seen the invention or discovery of many other “miracle” nanomaterials that would go through a cycle of hype, disappointment and, ultimately, cynicism and even boredom that would typify the new science/marketing phenomenon eventually known as “nanotechnology.”

Nanotech’s many-armed goddess

But Tomalia has always seen his dendrimers as different from all the exotic nanomaterials discovered later. Much-discussed buckyballs and nanotubes, for example, could carry their payloads in their bellies. But dendrimers have many arms. And it is what Tomalia has called those “beautiful” branches that first made him see what many of his contemporaries could not back in 1979 – the potential to custom-engineer one molecule to perform as many tasks as the laws of chemistry and physics would allow. Each appendage could have a separate task – one to sense disease and another destroy it, for example.

VivaGel, produced by the Australian pharmaceutical firm Starpharma, does a modest task if compared with some of those longer-term dendrimer dreams. Still, those talons of Tomalia’s appear to have come through.

“The specific chemical structure of a dendrimer and the fact that it binds at multiple active sites on the HIV/HSV-2 virus simultaneously … is a critical component of VivaGel's activity and the feature of dendrimers,” says Starpharma CEO Jackie Fairlie.

Dendrimers deployed against HIV

Anti-HIV microbicides are a target of opportunity for dendrimers because their development is being promoted by the world health community worried about the spread of HIV among women in the developing world. Microbicide gels are seen as a way to give women a better measure of protection against the disease, yet only a few have made it to clinical trials. The trials involving VivaGel are spearheaded by the Microbicide Trials Network, established in 2006 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to help develop and evaluate anti HIV microbicides for the developing world. The group expect to conduct 17 clinical trials over the next seven years in Africa, India and the United States. VivaGel is now undergoing expanded safety trials at the University of South Florida in Tampa and the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.

Public Enemy Number One for these new microbicides is a protein called GP120, which acts as a kind of docking clamp for HIV, seeking out and binding to healthy cells. All the microbicide candidates attack GP120 and try to gum up the works enough to prevent binding. But VivaGel stands out as more effective because the many-taloned polyvalent dendrimer is able to stick to HIV at multiple points simultaneously. Yes. It’s those dendrimer appendages.

But there are still many barriers to widespread commercialization, the main one being the high cost and length of time it takes to produce them. Ask any scientist, entrepreneur or venture capitalist who has looked at dendrimers and most will say the same thing. They are too expensive and time-consuming to produce. And they have gone practically nowhere after two decades of development.

Priostar and the dendrimers of tomorrow

Starpharma is using polylycene dendrimers, which according to Tomalia is now very old-school compared with what he’s got cooking with his new line of Priostar dendrimers. Not coincidentally, Tomalia says, that 20-year time period to general acceptance of disruptive technologies is also about the time it takes for an invention to go off patent. So, a couple of years ago, he decided that it was time to address cost and scaleability concerns while at the same time create a new class of dendrimers that give him a proprietary edge on the stiflingly overcrowded dendrimer patent landscape.

Tomalia’s company, Dendritic Nanotechnologies Inc., recently produced a new generation of dendrimers that many analysts say just might live up to the molecule’s original potential. DNT says its new Priostar dendrimers are not only less expensive, but less time-consuming to produce. Tomalia says the product will “beat the pants off” any rivals.

Since the Priostar family was announced more than a year ago, though, skepticism has remained high since he has released very few details about them. Tomalia is doing this on purpose. He said sharing his first series of dendrimer inventions far and wide lead to too many academicians filing his or her own "blocking patent" and pretty much stifling commercialization for two decades.

It’s an interesting statement, considering it is an academician who is among Tomalia’s chief critics.

Collaboration turns into rivalry

James Baker, a leading nanotech researcher and entrepreneur based at the University of Michigan is the brains behind Avidimer Therapeutics (formerly Nanocure Corp.), which is considered one of the few direct competitors to Tomalia’s company. Not only that, Baker is planning on using Tomalia’s soon-to-be-off-patent IP as the basis for dendrimer-based anti-cancer applications – the first of which is expected to go into clinical trials in fall 2007.

Together, Tomalia and Baker control most of the intellectual property behind dendrimers and represent two of the brightest minds and bitterest rivalries in the nanotech world.

Vahe Mamikunian, who has looked closely at nanotech IP as an analyst for Lux Research, says he knows of no other platform of material in the nanotech space that is as interesting as dendrimers. And he is not necessarily talking about the material, itself, but rather the “characters involved and what has happened to them in their efforts to commercialize them.”

Tomalia’s and Baker’s collaboration in the ’90s was a category-defying partnership between chemistry and biology – the kind of convergence that’s necessary as both of these disciplines reach the nanometer scale. But just as their partnership dissolved due to personality differences and priority disagreements, other classes of nanomaterials grabbed the spotlight from the dendrimer. Nanotubes, buckyballs, biosilicon and an increasing arsenal of other newly invented or discovered nanomaterials have grabbed the spotlight and imaginations of those who follow nanotech developments. And that is what seems to frustrate Baker the most – more than 20 years of lost opportunity. As for who is to blame, Baker is about as clear as U-M’s lawyers will allow him to be. “Unfortunately, the folks up in the center of the state have controlled dendrimer IP and that really stagnated the growth in the technology.”

Both Dow and DNT are located in the “center of the state.” It has been about seven years years since Tomalia and Baker went their separate ways, and Tomalia says he just does not want to be drawn into a public fight. So, he responds with a simple: “I think that sounds like Jim’s perspective.”

The Tomalia/Baker story was quite different a decade earlier. Their collaboration in the ’90s was a category-defying partnership between chemistry and biology – the kind of convergence that’s necessary as both of these disciplines reach the nanometer scale.

Baker was one of Tomalia’s few contemporaries to see the possibilities within dendrimers. But Baker, the biologist, saw primarily one thing: its wonderfully small size. Baker, when he met Tomalia in the ’80s, had been frustrated with viral-based vaccines that just could not get tiny enough to really go after disease.

Together, Tomalia and Baker broke new ground in dendrimer discoveries right up until the late ’90s. But from the beginning, Baker thought like a healer, not a chemist. And because dendrimers can get smaller than 5 nanometers and penetrate cell membranes, he always thought of dendrimers as potential anti-cancer delivery agents. Any other use seemed a waste of time. In fact, Baker hints, biology in the hands of a chemist could be quite antithetical to the concept of better living.

“My line to the materials science folks is, ‘Biology always trumps chemistry, because no matter how clever you think you are in doing something, in modifying something, you're putting it into a complex system, like biology, where the implications are just multiple,’ ” Baker said during an interview in June 2005. Baker gave the interview shortly after he demonstrated just what a skilled biologist could do with a dendrimer. He made international headlines when he used a classic “Trojan Horse” trick on cancer cells – essentially using their own receptors against them. Cancer cells crave folic acid more than healthy cells. So, using folate for bait, the dendrimer is sucked inside the cancer cell’s membrane. But the dendrimer also carries in its tendrils the anti-cancer drug methotrexate, which is released with disastrous consequences for the cancer cell. This method can be used also to simultaneously label the cells for fluorescent detection.

This technique, Baker says, delayed tumor growth in mice for 30 days, which is equivalent to about three human years. Baker licensed the technology to Avidimer Therapeutics.

There is a tinge of bitterness in Baker when he talks about his plans to, as he sees it, take more than two decades worth of dendrimer IP and finally put it to work for cancer therapeutics. Baker believes that Tomalia wasted time by playing chemist, rather than biotech entrepreneur, and true progress did not occur until Baker launched his nanotech institute at the University of Michigan about eight years ago, resulting in breakthroughs like the one he’s licensed to Avidimer. Tomalia, at Baker’s invitation, was scientific director of the Center for Biologic Nanotechnology from 1998 until 2000, when the collaboration went sour and the two went their separate ways.

Tomalia sees it differently. He says he left Baker back in 2000 because he knew he would need to launch a new platform. And to do that, he needed a fresh start at the newly created Michigan Molecular Institute at Central Michigan University. And it was there that he confidently says he “began our mission of reinventing what I would call a disruptive technology.”

The Model-D of nanotech?

And in the middle of Michigan, two figures loom large when it comes to disruptive technologies. One is H.H. Dow, who is often quoted as saying “If you can’t do it better. Why do it? And, of course, the other is Henry Ford. Tomalia was raised on a bedroom community to the General Motors’ plants of Flint and his neighbors, relatives and friends all worked on the assembly lines.

“And I think many of these ideas did get themselves into my thinking not only about entrpreneurship of Henry Ford but about the way he disrupted the automobile industry by coming up with these modular assembly lines,” Tomalia says. “That basically was the driver behind this Priostar platform for making dendrimers.”

Using the famous Ford assembly line as a model for how to take a luxury item and mass-produce it for the people, Tomalia and colleagues at DNT have produced Priostar. “This platform really is based on some very straightforward, simple chemistry that I’ve had experience in for many, many years.”

“We feel, with this assembly line, we’re going to make dendrimers available to the masses, if you like, the way Henry Ford … made automobiles accessible to everybody,” not just the very wealthy, not just the very top of the life science application area,” he says.

‘Click chemistry’ and Priostar

The first hint of what exactly is meant by Priostar came in a paper published recently in the New Journal of Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Tomalia reports “a versatile new strategy” for producing dendrimers involving modular “click chemistry.”

“We’ve kind of standardized certain components that we are able to click together, if you like, or hook together very simply and very quickly and so we basically can have a dendrimer factory with all of these parts sitting right next to an assembly line,” Tomalia says. “So, if we want to assemble a dendrimer that had this feature in the core and this feature in the interior and this feature on the surface we can start clicking these parts together.”

Tomalia says this paper is the first of many that will trickle out on Priostar, but he’s not going to give away the store this time around.

“It’s a red-hot area right now, so we’re taking a totally different tack, and that is we are only sharing samples and a lot of deep knowhow with customers that are committed to us, that we have some kind of collaboration going with.”

“There are plenty of dendrimers out there for people to play with and they don’t need our Priostar.”

Government funding and private partnerships

Jack Uldrich is a nanotechnology consultant, columnist and author of the book, “Investing in Nanotechnology,” released in 2006 by Platinum Press Inc. He evaluates nanotech companies primarily on the basis of their business models. Uldrich gives the advantage to DNT because the company’s focus on near-term applications.

“I think that’s how dendrimer technology is going to move into widespread use: First preventative applications, then diagnostics and then treatment,” Uldrich says. “Baker’s just going for treatment, which is fine, but I think that, at least from a business perspective, DNT is better positioned.”

It also doesn’t hurt, Uldrich says, that Dow has about a 30 percent equity stake in Tomalia’s company, giving DNT nice, big corporate shoulders to rest its head on if things ever get ugly. And then there’s Australia’s Starpharma, which owns about 33 percent.

DNT is working with the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) – established just late last year by the National Cancer Institute – on developing dendrimers as MRI contrast agents. The partnership will help speed time toward approval for the agents as an Investigational New Drug (IND), a precursor to clinical trials.

Uldrich says these kinds of government partnerships, combined with a focus on generating revenue and keeping dendrimer costs down, makes DNT more of a potential winner than Avidimer.

Baker dismisses the cost issue as less important to the pharmaceutical industry than issues of biocompatibility and safety. Pharmaceutical companies, they say, understand that a biological manufacturing process is always going to be more expensive than any synthetic process.

“If you focus on cost, you miss the whole point of the fact that people are dying and we have a health system that really does promote the use of expensive therapies in order to save lives,” Baker says.

Lux analyst Mamikunian warns that it would be foolish to disregard cost – especially for other more cost-sensitive products such as electronics, photonics, catalysts and even printer ink toner – all possible dendrimer applications, but ones that are not likely to capture the attention of the biotech-focused Baker.

Mamikunian sees Tomalia’s Priostar as the last potential “saving grace” for dendrimers after two decades of development and thousands of research papers, yet few real-world applications to show for it and a graveyard full of companies lured in by the “promise and the hype.”

“This could be the architecture that really makes dendrimers a viable drug delivery mechanism,” he says. But, Mamikunian says, with little publicly available, independent validation of Tomalia’s claims for Priostar, he is not yet ready to declare the dendrimer completely resuscitated. At the very least, he says, it’s more economically viable than the old polyamidoamine (PAMAM) architecture – first invented by Tomalia and still used by Avidimer -- that he believes has been developed to its limits since 1979.

But, even assuming a marketable dendrimer-based drug-delivery vehicle is forthcoming, the parking lot in front of the FDA has become a great deal more crowded since the late ’70s.

“I think explicitly in the area that they are playing, it’s going to be a tough battle, not only with other dendrimers but with the other treatments that are being developed,” he says. Iron oxide or gold nanoparticles are examples of other engineered nanoparticles that show promise.

So far, so good on toxicity

And, still more tricky for regulators, nanomaterials are coming under scrutiny from an increasingly cautious or even fearful general public and a relatively new “nanotox” research community that is only beginning to understand these new materials’ properties, along with coming up with standard methods of testing them.

One of the first studies undertaken by the newly created NCL was on dendrimers synthesized by DNT’s staff. Tomalia says they were “practically dancing on the table” early this year, when dendrimers were found to be "incredibly benign … no immunoresponses, no acute toxicity responses of any kind."

NCL Director Scott McNeil confirmed those results, but cautioned that the dendrimer tests were performed in vitro and the results do not say anything about in vivo toxicity or biocompatibility. But, McNeil says, the trend looks good for dendrimers when it comes to toxicity. They appear to be fairly benign and biocompatible. Early work (about five years ago) on “naked,” or untreated, dendrimers were found to be somewhat cytotoxic, McNeil says. But the newer generations are more functionalized. Surface charge and surface chemistry, he says, are more important factors than size. The notion that dendrimers and other nanomaterials can just be attached or filled with therapeutics “is not holding up to in vitro scrutiny,” he says. “Immense difference” occur when surface charge is altered.

Nanotech analyst Mamikunian says that these differences between dendrimer types – not only in surface charge, but also the polymer strands that make up the “branches” make dendrimers “open to the highest degree of customization than any nanomaterial.”

And it appears that it is these branches – these “beautiful” branches – that are making the difference in the VivaGel trials.

In that way, the dendrimer might just be a first tentative showing of “real nanotech” that manages to crawl its way out amid the wreckage of sci-fi fantasies, investment hype and unfulfilled marketing promises.

What makes 'nano' technology?
A fat Pfizer pushed away the pioneers
Dendrimers could have cancer in their clutches

Blogger's note: If this report on dendrimers was useful to you, please consider making a small donation by clicking the button below. Thank you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nanotech to put rust to sleep

Maybe this bit of news belongs on my other blog, where I chronicle how economic corrosion is both consuming my home state and creating opportunities to begin anew. But one of many ways nanotech can help communities rise from rotted 20th century infrastructure (both physical and economic) is through new methods of preventing rust.

In the U.S. Department of Defense, the folks in charge of maintaining equipment are well aware of the dangers they face from their invisible, corrosive enemy. A new portal has just been launched, called CorrDefense, to gather and disseminate information on the topic, and on Nov. 13, the Stevens Institute of Technology and NACE International are scheduled to hold a symposium: Nanoscience/Nanotechnology & Corrosion.

I did a little research on rust a couple of years ago when I co-wrote a report for the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) evaluating MEMS and nanotech companies for partnerships in unarmed land vehicles.

Back then, I found out that corrosion of military equipment costs the Defense Department billions of dollars in maintenance and repair every year. So, the Pentagon was placing a priority on funding new technologies to prevent it. For military vehicles, that may mean new, engineered surfaces that protect not only the vehicle, but also the systems that they carry.

Corrosion, of course, is more than skin deep, so the military is seeking new kinds of preservative oil additives that can protect the engine, transmission and drive components during long-term storage.

In the longer term, an ideal coating would not only contain anti-corrosive properties, but also may be embedded with nanoscale sensors that can detect corrosion as it happens, or contain a self-healing coating. While much has been written about this kind of technology, it's not quite ready for prime time.

With the focus of attention and funding these days on "cleantech," maybe some of these applications have progressed further in the past few years.

Related links
The nanoworld of corrosion

Nanotech's cleanup crew
NanoLife vs. NanoDeath
'Integration' and 'Vision' at Michigan Small Tech

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nobel? Yes; Nanotech? No

Timeout, everybody. Yes, it's wonderful that the folks who "made the iPod possible" have won the Nobel. But the headlines that say their early ventures into magnetoresistance represents the first applications of nanotechnology are jumping the gun. It's complicated, but the best way I can think of describing it right now is that the Nobelists have shown the way toward true nanoscale MRAM and spintronics, but we're not quite there yet.

Will NVE get your Moto working?
Spintronics pioneer teaches online class
Cypress: An also-MRAM
Spin there, done that

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who can save science journalism? Readers

Online Journalism Review writes about the disconnect between scientists and journalists, with the former rarely able to connect in an understandable way and the latter focusing purely on conflict. I think this is generally true, but not always.

And what the article suffers from, in an otherwise fine report, is the generally false assumption that readers are unable to weed through the competing voices in science and science journalism on their own to arrive at their own conclusions.

Can science blogs save science journalism? (By Jean Yung, Online Journalism Review)

Due to traditional media's budget considerations, a science reporter is often responsible for several scientific disciplines, and that inevitably leads to a lack of intelligent, dependable coverage, or worse, over-coverage of wacky, pseudoscientific studies such as Jessica Alba's score in an index of female desirability.

On the other hand, many scientists cannot talk in layman's terms about what they do. Neither are they trained to do so. 'No effort has been made to help us reach out or learn to talk to the media and to the public,' Johnson said, admitting that scientists as a group are 'very bad' at communicating. More here

Nano memory: 30,000 movies and nothing on
Serious nanotox reporting, for a change
Wilson Center's nano numbers racket
Nanotech's real danger is the nano con
A response to 'I, Nanobot'

Monday, October 08, 2007

Nanotechnology gets a Second Life

Welcome to Nanotechnology Island on Second Life, where all the geeks are as good-looking as they've always fantasized and those pesky laws of physics need not apply.

Total immersion in Second Life story

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Just sitting here watching the wheels

I turned 42 today and, in the words of some folk song I've heard somewhere between Oct. 7, 1965 and now, "all my life's a circle ..."

Proof: A little more than three years between here and here.

All the other Small Times founding editors are gone now, after having left it a shell of its former self. Now, it is just another freelance gig for me, but one that I view as a lost child come home.

Who is the lost child? Me? Or the publication I had poured my life into from 2001-2004? Not certain.

Take it, Harry:

All my life's a circle
Still I wonder why
Seasons spinning 'round again
Years keep rolling by

Happy birthday to me ...

NanoKabbalah in Salon on my birthday: Coincidence?

Friday, October 05, 2007

A place for all your little crap

It's about 2:30 a.m. and I'm all pooped, but just got all flush with excitement over this pico-potty, courtesy of Gizmodo.

But, alas, I see that it is an old commode from '05 being passed as new by Wired, the little shits.

But, I do have to give the headline writer credit when he asks: "Does the Electron Nanotoilet Contain Schrödinger's Scat?" Poetry.

OK. Gotta go drop the boys off at the pool now.

Play 'Freebird'!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

'Transhuman cybersomething crazy ...'

Warning: Do not sip your coffee and watch this video at the same time, unless you'd like to give your desk a wide caffeine spritz.

I have seen the future of science journalism and her name is Madeline Minx. Here, she interviews Ben Goertzel, research director for the Singularity Institute. This is Episode One of her video podcast, The Minx Mandate

Thy nanorod and staff they comfort me

Here's an intro to a press release worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille production, courtesy of Laura P. Wright of Blabbermouth PR:

But lo, aspiring nanotechnologists! Though ye may wander the Valley of Death, the Nanomaterials Application Center art with you!

Entrepreneurs among you know the "Valley of Death" as more than Davidic metaphor. It is a very real place, where businesses caught in its shadow do fear evil -- it is where good ideas die for lack of funding.

Still, Laura informs us that our cup can runneth over at NanoTX '07, going on now at the Dallas Convention Center. The event is featuring a Business 101 course designed to shepherd entrepreneurs through this Valley and into green pastures or still waters.

A PDF of the course can be downloaded here -- all 94 pages of it, which is considerably longer than the 23rd Psalm. But, then, King David probably had a better editor.