Saturday, December 27, 2008

Where technology meets humanity

And so ends the single worst year in the life of your humble narrator.

But what is that old proverb? "May you live in interesting times."

With that blessing or curse as a criterion, 2008 has fulfilled wishes beyond reckoning. And not only for me, but also for my battered hometown of Detroit.

And it is in times like these that I remember why I enjoy learning and writing about nanotechnology. It leaves the future wide open for imagining. And I choose to imagine a better world. Before nanotech became my obsession beyond reason, I wrote about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No more explanation needed there.

I have alluded before to a better, nano-enabled future for my down-and-out Motown hometown, where the seeds of the new auto industry have already been planted.

The next age of the automotive industry has begun, and nanotech will fuel the innovation that will make possible the long-lasting, safe, affordable batteries that will power our automobiles.

And it is in automotive technology where nanotech will at last have its first real chance at making a difference in the creation of cars that are safer, more comfortable and more fuel-efficient.

In 2009, I plan on making this a major focus of my work and you'll see it reflected more on NanoBot and elsewhere.

The first major "elsewhere" will be back where my nano obsession began back in 2001, when I helped launch one of the first nanotech magazines and Websites. Small Times has asked me to return as a contributing editor and blogger. The focus there is broader -- nanotech and microscale technologies such as MEMS and microfluidics. So that will be reflected in my new blog, which will launch after the New Year.

For NanoBot readers only, here's a sneak peak at my first post, which centers on new signs of hope for U.S. battery makers.

If you could just tune your ears above the recent clatter and racket that passed for debate over a bridge loan for the Big Three, you might have been able to just make out the tiny baby cries of a newborn U.S. auto industry.

I live in Detroit, so I heard the slap on that baby's ass, followed by the opening shrieks of a brat already born into a disadvantaged, dysfunctional family.

You see, in the literal power struggle over the next age of the automotive industry -- the electric age -- the U.S. battery industry is arriving late.

Well, we'll see if they let that through. I'll link to it when it's posted. If not, it wouldn't be the first time my blogging has annoyed my employers.

So, look for signs of a better year in 2009 for nanotech and for me, personally. I will have new writing and editing projects to announce as new life is breathed into this old hack.

Longtime NanoBot readers know that this blog has my name on it for a reason. It's not only about nanotechnology, but also about some of my personal struggles in covering it. I have managed to retain and grow readership over the past 5 1/2 years of blogging despite force-feeding some of my own developing philosophies about technology's impact on culture, society and religion.

In 2008, I had some time -- a great deal of time -- to think about it. So my readers will be forced to endure more of it. The subject ties in perfectly with some of the major nanotech news developments this past year, including new studies on negative religious and cultural attitudes toward nanotech.

Almost four years ago, I wrote: "Religion. Superstition. Ideology. Dogma. Scientists can ignore them, mock them, place themselves above them at their own peril."

In 2009, this blog will take on an even more personal tone, since much of it is also my scratchpad for ideas. Many articles I have written over the years have been part of a larger narrative, with overlapping themes.

I will, eventually, gently ease into explaining why I disappeared for five months and what I accomplished during that time. I alluded to it cryptically here, but more will be explained as I am able to publish what went on that changed my life dramatically between May and October 2008.

In a way, it mirrored our times, since there was incredible pain mixed with a spark of hope.

It had nothing to do with nanotech, but it did follow the narrative of my life's work and solidified some fundamental ideas about technology and society that I have been thinking about for many years.

Here is where I begin to sound like I am completely out of my mind. But perhaps that is only because I lack the academic background to couch these ideas in the proper format.

You've read on these pages before some nonsensical rantings about how we are forcing the digitization of an analog world. When I say this, I mean it in both the literal and metaphorical sense. It is where I part ways with those who advocate molecular manufacturing. We cannot turn waves into particles, mold clay into golems, and mistake the metaphor for the object.

We are analog in a digital age, where we pretend reality can be segmented. I have seen victims of, become the victim of, people who live by machine thinking, who believe the law can handle essential human affairs, who believe they are doing right, who lean back with self-satisfaction that a scientific mind has captured an act, a thought, an emotion and found the proper hole in which to bury it.

What is lost in science, in all our attempts to segment, measure, adjudicate, is an essential humanity.

I have no use for scientists who mock the superstitious public. Superstition, religion, even metaphor, are part of our nature as humans. To deny that fact, or place yourself above it, is not even very scientific since it ignores important data about the people for whom technology is being developed.

In science, in all attempts to segment human affairs, all it takes is a little humanity, where our reactions to situations, to technological change, can be found on a spectrum and not segmented into bits. It is within that spectrum that we can solve misunderstandings between science and society.

Humanity dwells between the digits, between shadow and light, between beach and shore, between madness and sanity, where explanations can be found in the indescribable.

May the coming year be a time of peace, healing, success and humanity for us all. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The science of Hannukah 'miracles'

This Hanukkah, I celebrate my own personal "miracle" -- the simple freedom to be with my wife and children.

Yes, I know. No such thing as miracles, right? Well, I am a believer in science, too, but I choose to believe in miracles, as well.

I know there are rational, prosaic explanations for the "miracle" of my children and my ability to be with them, but I choose to turn on the portion of my brain that calls it a miracle.

What's that Arthur C. Clarke quote? "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Perhaps the Maccabeans were nanoscientists who discovered how to optimize each molecule of oil to make the menorah burn for eight days, rather than one? Miracle? Science? Does it matter? We make our own metaphors, choose our own symbols.

Happy Hanukkah.

Freedom is no small thing
The Case Of God v. Nanotech
Zeno, nano and quantum cwaziness

The B-movie sci-fi future is here

News headline that makes me believe I am living in a B science fiction movie:

British scientist warns we must protect the vulnerable from robots

'Star Trek' warps nanotech news

Sunday, December 21, 2008

NanoBot Defined

Apparently, "nanobot" is a corporate-speak term that has nothing to do with nanotechnology. According to the Wall Street Journal, "A nanobot is someone who operates autonomously from a company, probably telecommuting or on the road. They may have no ‘cultural’ or community tie to the company because they have so little interaction with it."

Yeah, that pretty much describes what I do, too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Future Fowl

In South Carolina, Clemson researchers are using nanoparticles to develop healthier chickens. There's really nothing else I need to say here. I'll let the chickens do the talking. Enjoy.

'Star Trek' warps nanotech news
'Transhuman cybersomething crazy ...'
HP teaches us the 'n' word

Friday, December 19, 2008

Don't end up like me; take online nanotech courses


Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is offering two new nanoscience courses on its OpenCourseWare site: Advanced Solid State Physics and Quantum Information Processing.

While I am certain my readers can take advantage of these free online courses, it all sounds too difficult for an undereducated writer like me.

Just this morning, I learned that I left my kids' lunchboxes at their preschool and I had failed to properly read a bottle of baby soap, mistaking it for baby lotion -- thus drying out my two young sons' skin even more during this cold winter.

Quantum information processing? I'd be happy with any information processing in my 43-year-old, ancient senile brain.

Nanotech for undergrads
High School Nails Nano
Penn State's Little Recruiting Video

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nano report tells us what we already don't know

In their 2005 book "Freakonomics," authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner wrote about the symbiotic relationship between journalists and "experts."

"Journalists need experts as badly as experts need journalists," they wrote. "Every day there are newspaper pages and television newscasts to be filled, and an expert who can deliver a jarring piece of wisdom is always welcome."

And the more "jarring," the better for both. Find a piece of news that creates conflict or goes against conventional wisdom or exposes an "outrage," well then the journalists gain readers and the "expert" or his organization gets to bathe in publicity.

Levitt and Dubner pointed out a problem with this relationship, using the example of a self-serving "expert" who cooked up his own "statistics" to be feasted upon by a gullible media.

The good news is that when it comes to nanotechnology, this symbiosis between journalist and expert cannot reach the level of that kind of deceit. The bad news is that it cannot reach that level because nanotech research and commercialization is in its infancy, and neither the "experts" nor the journalists can agree on what constitutes nanotechnology.

Still, the beast must be fed. And the next best thing to a real expert on nanotech is one who claims to be one based on his or her own agenda. So, the stories that see print and make the airwaves are the ones that focus on dreams or nightmares.

If you think politically, the religious right has a problem with "playing God," while the left does not want the corporate world messing with Mother Nature. Both sides take their lessons from science fiction: take a kernal of fact and extrapolate strange, new worlds via acres of "therefores."

And, meanwhile, in the world of real nanotech research, science advisory panels in both the United States and Britain have recently come out with more reports that pretty much say the same thing. We really need to study nanotechnology more.

There was something for everybody in the latest National Research Council report on nanotech.

From a scientific perspective, more study is good since, as British scientist Richard Jones put it so well in Nature, researchers are "fearing the fear of nanotechnology." They all remember the backlash against genetically modified foods in Europe. That's what happens when you let agenda groups claim the early mantle of "expert."

The nanotech business community, in a turnaround from their position a few years ago, is all for increased funding for environmental health and safety of nanomaterials.

Raymond David of BASF told Reuters that it's imperative that the U.S. get a handle on what's safe and what's not.

The alternative "puts a bit of fear in all of us that all of this effort will not be well received or may go the route of genetically modified foods in Europe," David said. "We certainly wouldn't want that."

No, we wouldn't. If we're going to avoid hysteria and ignorance on a massive scale, then we need to quickly fill the void with real knowledge. And quickly, before more "experts" talk to journalists.

The knowledge void: Here there be monsters
How PR 'spins' the atom
Wilson Center's nano numbers racket

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Nanocar' assembly worker wins Feynman Prize

Remember the "nanocar?" The guy who built the smallest vehicle in the known universe, James Tour of Rice University, just won a Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology. See? We do make small, economy cars in the United States.

Everything is Animated
NanoEngineering Puts On A Happy Face
This little joint is jumping
Thank you, Foresight

Legal corruption will road-trip to Russia

Siemens AG is, no doubt, bringing its Davis Polk & Wardwell lawyers with them to Russia as it invests in nanotechnology.

In Russia, bribery is often simply a built-in cost of doing business, and Davis Polk, among others, appears to be quite proud of helping Siemens get off a little lighter after a decade of corrupt business practices.

Update: At Siemens, bribery was just a line item

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Innovation in Detroit ... yes, Detroit

Lost in all the sickening political posturing in Washington over the lives and livelihoods of millions of human beings is the fact that innovation is indeed occurring in my hometown of Detroit.

It's just not happening at the Big Three.

But it is at companies like A123, which Seeking Alpha recently reported may not have lost out after all to rival battery-maker LG Chem for the coveted contract for GM's new electric hybrid Volt. (I covered the unveiling of the prototype Volt two years ago.)

As I have written before, both companies have ties to Michigan and both are using nanotech to develop safe, long-lasting lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

Japanese companies like Toyota develop technologies like li-ion batteries largely in-house. While in the United States much of the real innovation occurs within smaller companies or groups until it's ready to be bought or gobbled by the big guys.

Motown's old automotive manufacturing and supplier jobs are gone. They won't come back. But automotive innovation, where nanotech plays a key role, is still happening in my poor, maligned, slandered and libeled, blighted, poverty-stricken, homeless, foreclosed and repo'd hometown of Detroit.

Nano Powering The Auto Revolution
Big Three Are Dead; Long Live The Little

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Introducing NanoBot Media

Well, here in Detroit it is impossible to find a job in journalism. So, while I continue my science/technology freelance career, I am also doing some public relations on the side. The story above represents the first success of NanoBot Media (The unofficial name I've given to all my various attempts to pay my mortgage and keep my kids clothed).

I was able to generate some decent coverage for a local coffee shop's campaign to give a free cup of coffee to every customer who promises to buy an American car. More information here. If you look closely in the middle of the video, about the time the reporter talks about Drew Barrymore, you can see me hunched over at a table in the background.

And, speaking of me, tomorrow I'll have another announcement to make -- this one having more to do with nanotechnology. Stay tuned.

My other life as a nanotech pitchman

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Nanotech hair treatment just a trich?

The Times of London asks whether a hair-repair product from Nanomax is "Trick or Treatment?" The verdict from a trichologist: Trick.

The Times explains:

What is it? A permanent hair repair treatment that uses nanotechnology - the science of manipulating matter on a molecular level. Healthy hair is made up of 90 per cent keratin and 10 per cent moisture, but environmental or cosmetic damage can leave it split, with craters or minute cracks. Nanomax claims to penetrate the hair, duplicating its natural structure, helping to heal, repair, strengthen, protect and shine.


Trichologist's verdict: "It is not possible to 'heal' or 'repair' a broken hair, although remoisturising it is beneficial. ... There are more effective ways to remoisturise and condition your hair that don't blind you with (pseudo) science,” says Philip Kingsley, a trichologist. More here

The newspaper used a human "guinea-pig" for its nanotech experiments, by the way. I am proud to say that NanoBot and Small Times (back when I was news editor) bravely pioneered this method of using human test subjects.

... and I am a trivial boy
Don't hate me because I'm nano-beautiful
Nerd American Idol
Beauty and the Nano Beat

Monday, December 08, 2008

Putting the tech back into nano

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

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

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

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

This is how science works. Small steps, each study building on the conclusions of others. Nanotubes might, as the slogan goes these days, turn out to be the "next asbestos," but it is far too early to convict them of anything except being in the wrong rats at the wrong time.

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

Sunday, December 07, 2008

'Star Trek' warps nanotech news


This report from a Canadian TV station rates a Star Trek NanoWarp Factor of 4 (in a scale I just invented based on the number of times "Star Trek" is mentioned in a single nanotech news story).

The video alongside the news story does not mention "Star Trek" even once, which means one of their news writers decided that Web readers will understand the story better if they sprinkled in a few "Star Trek" references. It's an annoying distraction, since as TV news stories go it actually does a competent job of outlining the hopes and fears of nanotech.

As a former TV Web writer for WDIV Local 4 in Detroit, I understand the attempt to make a connection with the reader. But somebody should inform the writer that the Web no longer appeals only to "Star Trek" geeks, and has not for a number of years.

In fact, if you haven't noticed, local TV news audiences are disappearing. And you know where all your viewers are now? They're getting their news on the Web, where they can find in-depth, substantive stories.

Oh, and this blog post rates a Star Trek NanoWarp Factor of 5.

Antediluvian NanoBots
NanoBots control the horizontal and vertical
NanoBots are Needed

Friday, December 05, 2008

Teen Meets The Nano Clumps

Discover magazine profiles 17-year-old Philip Streich of Platteville, Wis., in its 5 Promising Scientists Under 20 feature. The homeschooled kid started playing with carbon nanotubes in ninth grade, when he met James Hamilton, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville.

Streitch and Hamilton tried to crash through one of the main barriers to marketing nanotubes -- the little buggers tend to clump together. The two tried different kinds of solvents to keep the nanotubes separated without the little guys losing all those superstrong superpowers we all read about. The solution, according to Discover:

geniusStreich custom-built a spectrometer to probe the chemical characteristics of the nanotubes. Using these data, he discovered that the solvent N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidinone would indeed dissolve nanotubes. Streich then went on to find more solvents with the aid of the spectrometer. The project won him more than $100,000 in scholarship money, and he and Hamilton published their results [subscription required] last spring. By June Streich was celebrating an additional $50,000 victory at a state business-plan competition for a nanotech start-up called Graphene Solutions, which he had cofounded with Hamilton. "I never dreamed any of this would be possible," Streich says. “I really credit my parents’ support for allowing me to try homeschooling. If I had been in the regular school system, I doubt any of this would have developed." More here

I'm not so certain I agree with his comments about homeschooling vs. public schools, but I'm impressed with the rest. Gosh, when I was 17 I was reading a lot of Philip Roth and Cervantes, and wondering whether I would grow up to become the world's first Jewish celibate monk.

Nanotech for undergrads
Nano Nerd 2.0
High School Nails Nano

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Penn State's Little Recruiting Video

My daughter's a senior in high school and has already chosen a college. I don't know how many of these videos she's had to sit through. Penn State's Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (say it five times fast, and you've passed half the entrance exam) has a recruiting video out on YouTube. Students, feel the nano love. Parents, grip your wallets. Enjoy.

Jim Carrey and Conan talk quantum physics: Part III
Welcome, Rice University students

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nanotech? Nahh, doesn't exist yet

UT Dallas and Zyvex, the only company I am aware of devoted to true molecular manufacturing, recently announced a partnership to work on a new technique to "build 3D objects atom by atom."

But, wait ... isn't that what nanotech is supposed to be about? And we can't even do it yet? I mean, Merriam-Webster defines nanotechnology as "the art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices (as robots)." And just about every news story you read about nanotech informs readers that it's about building new stuff atom by atom.

Well, this is why I've been hesitant to comment any further than I already have on the renewed debate over whether and how to "regulate nanotechnology." In my mind, we're not there yet, and the presence of nanoscale materials in sunscreens, socks and bowling balls does not mean we've entered the nanotech age.

Maybe we're partway there, at best, since the size of these particles does give them new properties that simultaneously create new benefits for the products and raise new fears over "tiny terrors" and other such alliterative nonsense we've been reading about lately.

But, to me, nanotech will have arrived when we not only can dump nanoscale materials into the soup, but we can precisely control their assembly and what they do once they go to work. The sunscreen with nanoscale ingredients you've been reading about is just that -- sunscreen with nanoscale ingredients. Not yet nanotech.

However, count on Zyvex chief James Von Ehr to keep his eyes on the prize during these cave-man days of nano.

"Our goal is to develop the capability to fabricate nanostructures in such a way that we can control position, size, shape and orientation at the nanometer scale, which is not possible today,” said Tom Kenny, DARPA program manager. “If we can demonstrate this, we will be able to truly unlock the potential capabilities of nanotechnology." More here

How PR 'spins' the atom
... and I am a trivial boy
Zyvex's Von Ehr on pixels, bits and stitches

Friday, November 28, 2008

Achieving NanoBliss

The Nanobama story made the big time a couple of weeks ago, but I failed to do justice to the University of Michigan's John Hart, who brought us this politically well-timed piece of nanotube sculpture. (Just as an aside, I wonder whether the EPA under Obama will decide whether carbon nanotubes are toxic?)

Aside from his page devoted to his little president-elects, you should also check out nanobliss, where he highlights more of his work, including the carbon-nanotube scramble you see above.

Those tubes, by the way, are said to be self-organized. If so, then they have much in common with the way I seem to organize my own life. Nanotubes: Me, you, same.

Hart writes:

The visualizations and the underlying fabrication techniques are new media for art, science, and architecture; and for promoting popular awareness and education about nanomaterials and related technologies. Forms under development include museum/gallery exhibitions and laboratory experiments, and advertising and informational pieces in scientific and popular literature. More here

Nanotubes gerrymandered into 'Nanobama'
Nanotube interconnects and hot Indian babes
Nanotubes and nanotox? Maybe not
Nanotubes and the tale of the rats
Nantero sings a happy tune
An armchair nanotube quarterback

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nanotech in Turkey

New nanotech centre attracts researchers back to Turkey

To mark the launch of the Turkish National Nanotechnology Research Centre (UNAM), a team of Bilkent University scientists presented the country's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the world's smallest Turkish flag. The lines on the flag are 100 nm thick (about 50 thousandths of human hair) and 2 nm high. More here

Emerging Turkish nanotech reverses brain drain

Advances in the Turkish nanotechnology industry have drawn a number of young scientists who studied in Turkey and are doing research abroad, mainly in the United States, back to the country. More here

DFI signs Agreement with Sampas Nano Expanding EU Market into Turkey

Diamon-Fusion International, Inc. (DFI Nanotechnology), global developer and exclusive licensor of patented hydrophobic nanotechnologies, announced on 22 February the execution of a sales representation agreement with Sampas Nanotechnology, a reputable and innovative Turkish nanotech consulting company. More here

Industrialists To Benefit From Nanotech Lubricants Produced By A Turkish Company

The NNT Nanotechnology Boron Company of Turkey has been producing "BOR POWER", the first nanotech lubricant of the world. More here

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mad Russians

Photographer Mike Rogoff posted this picture on Flickr, with the caption:

Christian fanatics picketing against nanotechnology, next to Marx monument, Moscow. I was nearly beaten by them as they were angry with me shooting. Crazy :) More here

Mike posted this interesting picture back in August. I lost touch with the nano news world last summer, so I don't know what this protest was all about.

I'm assuming they used the usual religious-fanatic logic about man "playing God?" Perhaps one of my Russian readers could translate the sign in the background.

The Case Of God v. Nanotech
Playing God with Monsters
A new wrinkle for Eddie Bauer

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big Three Are Dead; Long Live The Little

Commenting on my post, Nano Powering The Auto Revolution, Dexter Johnson at IEEE Spectrum writes:

The long-time nanotechnology blogger Howard Lovy at Nanobot presents some possibilities for how nanotechnology is fueling innovation in the auto industry. While it is good to have Mr. Lovy blogging again, and he is certainly someone who is uniquely qualified to write on both nanotechnology and the auto industry, I am hard pressed to extend his optimism for the automobile to the innovative sensibilities of Detroit automakers.


The problem is that the examples he cites in the article involve GE (while quite a large multi-national, it is not an automaker), A123Systems, and the all electric Tesla, the product of one man with a vision. All these companies are quite different than Detroit’s big three automakers. More here

First of all, thank you, Dexter. It's good to be back after taking five months off. You wouldn't believe the summer and autumn I've had.

I took time off for an experience that was eye-opening and life-changing. Even here in Michigan, in the heart of the Rust Belt, where we are being hit first and hit hardest by the worldwide economic slump, the poor just don't have a chance. They are cycled and recycled through a legal system where justice is for sale and only the rich, powerful and politically or legally connected come out unscathed. The problem is far worse, the system far more corrupt than I had ever previously imagined.

I will write much more about this in the future.

This is also related to the downfall of the auto industry that Dexter discusses. Here in Michigan, more and more of us are desperate ... and feel powerless and small. We see the captains of our formerly glorious automotive industry flying private jets to Washington so they can beg Congress for handouts.

The Big Three are dead, yet long live the auto industry. It's alive in the innovation coming not only from the small companies working on technologies like long-lasting, safe (and nanotech-based) lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles, but also divisions within the major auto companies and suppliers.

Toyota's doing it. Even General Motors is doing it.

But other companies, great and small, pick up where the major auto companies have failed miserably. I would argue, Dexter, that divisions within GE working on automotive technologies are, indeed, automakers. A123 Systems is an automaker. And that is true all the way down the supply chain to the companies and scientists supplying and developing the improved nanomaterials for catalysts and batteries.

If the auto industry were only the Big Three -- and not also the chain of innovation and manufacturing -- then my home state would not be in the horrible condition it is now (and even bottom-feeding writers like me would be able to find work).

Nano powering the auto revolution
Who's driving the revolution?

Site, and students, devoted to nanomedicine

Hello Mr. Lovy,

My name is Samir and I am one of the editors at, a website dedicated to nanomedicine and bionanotechnology. We are a group of students interested in nanotechnology in general, but especially in it's medical division. I came across your website and was wondering if you could include a link to our site there? It would mean a lot to us.

Thank you in advance.

Looking forward to your reply.

Best regards,


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weeding out criminal catalysts

When A Good Nanoparticle Goes Bad: Well, now that's the story of my life. I AM that nanoparticle.

Actually, it's more about detecting which nanoscale gold particles are good catalysts and which suddenly go bad. Separating good from evil will help create better fuel cells or more efficient cars.

You can't start the energy revolution without a nanoscale spark. All it takes are a few good particles.

As for the bad ones ... throw away the key.

From Wilkes-Barre to Wolfe
Philippines to launch NanoPower Revolution
Philippines to launch NanoPower Revolution: Part II

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Great State Of Nanosota

Up in the desolate, frozen wastelands of Minnesota, there arises a small ray of hope for the future at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, where students study for a big future in nanotech.

They have a blog that chronicles their struggles, large and ... small, including a sample class schedule in their two-year nanoscience degree program.

Maybe these smart engineers can help with the recount up there and finally send Al Franken to Washington. Perhaps a little nanoscale gerrymandering, Minnesota style?

Related News
Lansing Community College to help start scientific center in nanotechnology

High School Nails Nano

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nano Disease (Not Creep) Detectors

The Reuters video above frightened me for a moment. Judging from the title, "The Creep of Nanotech," I thought it might be about me.

Instead, I was relieved to see an interesting report on companies working on nanotech disease detectors, including one for MRSA, which I touched on previously here.

Nano shows no MRSA against superbugs

Friday, November 14, 2008

I read the e-news today, oh boy

When The Christian Science Monitor decided to discontinue its dead-tree edition and go Web only, there was a great deal of whining and wailing in the journalism world about the "end of an era" and other such nonsense cliches.

But the folks at Samsung Electronics and Unidym (owned by my old employers at Arrowhead Research) "have demonstrated the world’s first carbon nanotube-based color active matrix electrophoretic display (EPD) e-paper." The advantages, according to the companies:

EPDs have very low power consumption and bright light readability, which means that even under bright lights or sunlight, the user would be able to view the display clearly. Furthermore, since the device uses the thin CNT films, applications can include e-paper and displays with thin, flexible substrates. Power consumption is lowered due to the EPD’s ability to reflect light and therefore able to preserve text or images on the display without frequently refreshing. More here

Translation: Remember that scene in the movie "Minority Report," where newspaper advertisements are all animated and stuff? Yeah. This brings that world closer, for better or worse.

Translation 2: Don't worry about the loss of dead-tree newspapers and the rise of all-digital publications. You'll be able to take The Christian Science Monitor into your household "reading room" again soon.

Customers Googled while newspapers burned
Hope in paperless newspapers (Detroit Free Press)
Possible wireless newspapers? (BoingBoing)

Friday, November 07, 2008

High School Nails Nano

The "NanoAnalogy" above comes from the Web page for a nanotech course offered at Ballston Spa High School in New York, where visionary biology teacher John Balet understands the important role nanotech will play in his students' future employment opportunities, not to mention the pervasive role it will play in their lives no matter what their future careers.

And that reminds me, it's been months since I've clipped my nails ...

Nanotech for undergrads
Nano Nerd 2.0
Not your father's 'shop' class

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nanotubes gerrymandered into 'Nanobama'

Assistant Professor John Hart shows us that not all that spews forth from the University of Michigan is small time. Here, he gerrymanders some carbon nanotubes into ... what else ... Nanobama.

Freedom is no small thing

Freedom is no small thing

Your one vote is small, but not insignificant. You fail to vote and you take away your freedom. Without freedom, you are nobody, you are left to rot, you do not matter, your life is at the mercy of small men. I know this to be true. Do not let them get away with it. Vote.

Sakharov on Freedom
Feynman on freedom
'Freedom [is] the first-born daughter of science.'

Monday, November 03, 2008

Nano Powering The Auto Revolution

Nanotech continues to be the driving force behind innovation in the auto industry, where the biggest challenge right now is providing those plug-in hybrids with enough long-lasting power to make them more than fancy golf carts.

GE recently made another investment in battery maker A123Systems, which "uses nanotechnology to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with a combination of greater power density, lower weight, lower cost and improved safety than other battery types, based on materials licensed from MIT. Unlike standard lithium-ion batteries, A123's batteries are not prone to overheating."

I wrote a little on the advantages of nano-enabled Li-ion last year:

Current NiMH technology - the one powering the Toyota Prius, for example - is guaranteed to keep a car running for seven or eight years, he says. The next generation will go as long as a decade. But automakers are asking for 15-year battery life, and NiMH can't do that. Li-ion, once perfected, will.

Plus, Li-ion will do it cheaply once production is ramped up, since the material is not as price sensitive as nickel. And Li-ion is two to three times lighter than NiMH. More here

Technology Review gives us a little more on A123 and its competitors and partners:

A123 uses a new lithium-ion chemistry that allows its batteries to be much lighter and more compact than the nickel metal hydride batteries in existing hybrids today, and safer than the conventional lithium ion batteries found in consumer electronics. In June GM announced that it is working with the South Korean company LG Chem, and its subsidiary Compact Power, based in Troy, MI, to make both battery packs and the individual cells inside them. They also signed an agreement with an LG Chem competitor, the Frankfurt, Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems, to develop battery packs. Continental had planned to use A123 as a subcontractor to supply the batteries for these packs. The new agreement puts A123 in direct contact with GM on the Volt project. More here

I covered the unveiling of the Volt concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show a couple of years ago (PDF 219k) and interviewed the creator of the all-electric Tesla (PDF 197k).

The story of battery development appeals to me because it hits on the two primary topics I've been reporting on these past few years: nanotech and the auto industry.

Related Patent
Nanoscale Ion Storage Materials

March goes out like a Li-Ion
Who's driving the revolution?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Blues to News?

My old Rust Belt Blues blog fell upon the sword about five months ago, but with the help of a Knight Foundation journalism grant, it will hopefully live again as Rust Belt News. Read and rate my proposal here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Nano shows no MRSA against superbugs

Superbad superbugs are invading. They're in our schools, hospitals and our filthy, overcrowded jails. The criminal is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and I've seen the general fear it causes in closed-in populations.

Fortunately, nanotech is coming to the rescue against this villain. The London Center for Nanotechnology reports on how nano is boosting the war on superbugs:

Scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) at UCL are using a novel nanomechanical approach to investigate the workings of vancomycin, one of the few antibiotics that can be used to combat increasingly resistant infections such as MRSA. The researchers, led by Dr Rachel McKendry and Professor Gabriel Aeppli, developed ultra-sensitive probes capable of providing new insight into how antibiotics work, paving the way for the development of more effective new drugs. More here

Dendrimers: The unpublished story
pSivida's biosilicon does its job, then goes away
Diseases betrayed by cantilevers of love

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jim Carrey and Conan talk quantum physics: Part III

I apologize for horribly neglecting this blog during the past few months. I see, though, that a great many NanoBot readers are searching for a video I posted last year of Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien discussing quantum physics. It's a classic moment in the geek world. My previous posts here and here now lead to video dead-ends, so I found another source for the discussion (which also includes E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg). Just click the video above (or go here) and enjoy.

Einstein's dice and the nano Sopranos
Space Elevator: The Music Video

Friday, October 24, 2008

Biden our time for cleantech

Longtime nanotech venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson poses with Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden. Jurvetson writes:

When I mentioned that we are one of the most active energy and cleantech VC investors, Joe Biden quickly replied: "Well, then you are going to love what we are going to do." More here

As we know, nanotech is the primary technology that makes cleantech possible, so anybody who is interested in how nanotech develops should pay close attention to what the new administration is "going to do" if the Democrats win.

The U.S. government's push for nanotech funding began with Clinton and continued under Bush, so this should remain nonpartisan. And, of course, thank goodness for folks like Jurvetson, who uses his wealth to push mankind forward -- regardless of who's in power.

Who's driving the revolution?
The business of imagination
Cleantech's the new nano; nano's the new dot-bomb

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How PR 'spins' the atom

Here's an excellent piece by my colleague Alex Schmidt, who explains why "nano" is not appearing in the fine print on product packages these days.

A few years ago, plenty of companies hopped on the “nano” bandwagon, using the word in advertisements and product names. In some cases, the word "nano" was used to brand products that didn’t even contain nano-scale particles! Apparently, marketers imagined that the word would trickle into the mainstream to mean something vaguely cool, mysterious and futuristic. But those vague associations don't make for a particularly meaningful branding concept. You may have bought the iPod nano, but probably not because of its name.

Now PR folks have gone so far as to invent a new investment sector for companies that use nanotechnology: Cleantech. It’s a word meant to suggest an innovative, environmentally friendly product that won’t be associated with “nano” if it loses its good name. More here.

Alex is an excellent radio and print journalist who, like me, discovered the hard way that it's tough to sell a nanotech-themed story to the mainstream media because after all the hype and the scare-mongering are weeded out, real nanotech is, well, kind of hard to wrap your brain around. So, the stories that see print and make the airwaves are the ones that focus on dreams or nightmares. Or, like Alex's story, how companies choose to "spin" their atoms.

I spoke with Alex sometime last year, when she was attempting to sell her piece. She wrote to me about how publications that are already biased for or against nanotech development are the ones that are most likely to buy a nano story.

"These are the only types of magazines that will cover nano, because they're the only ones willing to be completely biased on the topic," she said. "That is, other publications that are more level-headed would never cover the topic because the "gray area" truth about nanotechnology just isn't sexy enough."

Higher journalistic standards, it seems, brings out those "gray areas" and make for a less-sexy story with no definitive conclusions about whether nano is "good or bad."

One national publication killed her story outright after a frustrating back-and-forth with an editor. Why? Well, to paraphrase her editor: It was not as provocative as it could have been and he became confused about what nanotechnology really is. There was no central thesis over whether we should worry about nanotech or not.

In short, it was killed because nanotech is still, essentially, a basic science story with an awful lot of hype, fear, hope and hucksterism surrounding it.

She sounded a lot like me after having covered nanotech a few years longer than she has.

"I reported the *&^% out of my piece and feel I have lots of good info in my head at this point," she said.

I know. I know. Maybe we'll start a support group.

But with The New Plastic, Alex, you done good.

The Case Of God v. Nanotech
Cleantech's the new nano; nano's the new dot-bomb

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Watch This Small Space

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: I was "off the grid" and not blogging. Yet, writing continued through the use of old fashioned pen-upon-paper technology. Watch this small space for more from "the little guy."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

... and I am a trivial boy

Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in Washington, honored me with a footnote in his blog post on Elle's recent coverage of nanotech in cosmetics (You can download the entire Elle feature here).

Well, not exactly a footnote. Actually, it's under the subhed "trivia." Maynard writes:

In 2004, nanotech commentator and fellow blogger Howard Lovy drew a link between Madonna and nanotechnology in the Salon article Nanotech angels.

I thank Andrew for the mention, despite our difference of opinion on other issues -- mainly his organization's overuse of the "nano" label on questionably nano products.

Maynard recognized our differences in an e-mail to me recently.

"I suspect you will find the context of allegedly nano consumer products a little tedious, but I thought the Elle nanotech story that I kick off with was interesting - as was your 2004 piece, which I stumbled across while researching the entry," Maynard wrote.

Thank you, Andrew. But, you know, I am certainly not like a virgin in the subject of nanocosmetics. I've been writing and assigning stories on it for years, including recruitment of the very first nanocosmetics guinea pig back in 2004.

And I've been looking at the issue since 2003.

NanoKabbalah in Salon on my birthday: Coincidence?
Kids grill scientist dad (with ketchup and mustard)
Nerd American Idol
Don't hate me because I'm nano-beautiful
Wilson Center's nano numbers racket
Indigestible nanotech claim

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NanoEngineering Puts On A Happy Face

A great deal has been written about Nokia's nanotech-inspired Morph concept on display at New York's Museum of Modern Art and online at MOMA'S Design and the Elastic Mind.

But I am more interested in another item in the MOMA display: DNA Origami, featured here in Scientific American.

The smiley-faced DNA above (and, yes, looking at it does put me in a better mood) is the work of Paul Rothemund of CalTech. In March 2006, Rothemund achieved what became known in the science world as "DNA origami." He discovered how to synthesize one DNA strand that acts as a "scaffolding" for hundreds of other short strands microscopically "stapled" to it. The result is a 3-D shape that can be formed into literally anything.

Mark Sims, CEO of the nanotech computer-aided-design company Nanorex was so inspired by the breakthrough that he decided to change his company's mission to focus his company's first product, NanoEngineer-1, on designing DNA structures for research and education. I wrote about his company for a Detroit-area tech magazine (PDF 158 KB) a little while ago.

Mark recently contacted me to let me know that the first public release of NanoEngineer-1 is only about a week away. You can see some screen shots here.

I first met Mark on the plane ride home from a Foresight Institute Conference in Washington back in 2004 (when I won the Dork of the Year Award) and we have been in touch on and off ever since.

I know this achievement has been a long time coming for Mark and his little company-by-the-lake, so I wish him all the best as more users take his DNA design CAD for a test ride.

Everything is animated
This little joint is jumping
DNA's Fellowship of the Nanorings

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Case Of God v. Nanotech

Blogger's note: Here's another freebie. It's an article that I wrote a month or two ago. Then it sat in my files, doing nothing, as I became distracted with other concerns. So, unfortunately, this one never saw the light of day. It's too outdated to sell now, but I think there are still some worthwhile points in here about public and media perception of nanotechnology. Enjoy

By Howard Lovy

It took almost literally an act of God to bring the confusing subject of nanotechnology into the mainstream media the past few months. A nanotech-themed survey found that a "significant percentage of Americans" do not find nanotechnology "morally acceptable" because researchers are viewed as "playing God."

It's a good story, since it brings the subject to at least one level where nanotech meets the public. Unfortunately, most media coverage of God v. Nanotech ended up as confusing as the survey, itself, and as convoluted as most nanotech media reports tend to be.

It's partly the fault of a survey that asked for moral opinions about a technology that is not any single technology at all, and is so undeveloped that much of the "information" circulating about nanotech is based on hopes and fears rather than actual science. Media coverage generally reflects this, with different definitions and perceptions of nanotech sometimes even contradicting themselves within the same story. It's what happens when you mix a sprinkling of real science with popular opinion.

I don't mean to pick on science writer Lee Dye, but his coverage of this story on the ABC News Web site, Big Debate Over Small Science, provides us with a good Rosetta Stone to help us translate nanotech from myth to reality. Dye writes:

If scientists could produce a tiny robot that could travel through your body and heal damaged tissue, eradicate disease-carrying microbes, and even wipe out a cancerous tumor, would you support their efforts?

Biotechnology promises to ease our suffering, but many fear the real goal is to create super-humans, and super-warriors.

Nanotechnology comes with great hype, much promise, and some risk. Machines built to operate on such a small scale could be engineered to self-replicate, like human cells, thus raising the specter of a world run amok."

What Dye is describing is a vision of nanotech largely shaped by Hollywood and the writings of futurists, but has little to do with nanotechnology as it is being developed today. In this case, nanotech is being defined as biotech-plus -- meaning, take anything hopeful or frightening (curing disease, horrific warfare) and then take it a step further.

This vision of nanotech was likely what the survey participants were thinking when they answered that they had a few moral problems with nanotechnology. Qualms about biotech are transferred to nanotech.

This problem of "definition" has far-reaching impact on how nanotech is perceived and covered. It is such a broad term that it does not mean any one thing even to companies and researchers developing it. It could be semiconductors, advanced materials, cancer drug delivery vehicles, cosmetics, stain-resistant fabrics.

On top of that, reporters and editors covering nanotech are working with their own definitions. Often, these differing definitions of what nanotech "is" and what is "is not" have a number of different players talking past each other: reporters and sources, reporters and editors.

Here's a good illustration of this definition problem -- again, with the same God v Nanotech story. It comes from Katherine T. Phan of The Christian Post under the headline Americans Reject Morality of Nanotechnology on Religious Grounds.

She goes with what you'd think would be the safest route in defining nanotechnology: directly to the dictionary. But old reliable Merriam-Webster completely flubs it, defining it as "the art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices."

Well, the first part represents one vision, one ideal of nanotech, but current technology is not quite up to manipulating atoms in any meaningful way beyond the laboratory in small quantities. In fact, IBM only recently discovered a way of measuring exactly how much force it takes to manipulate an atom. For more on that, read this excellent report by Kenneth Chang of The New York Times.

Yes, companies pushing nanotech will attempt to achieve this as part of their long-term goals. But the sloppy solution they come up with in the meantime, they will still call nanotechnology.

Phan's report also illustrates how nanotech and biotech are confusingly intertwined in public and media perception. Phan works for a Christian publication, so her "localization" of the story for her audience has to be from the Christian perspective. Trouble is, there is a well established body of opinion on biotech issues for conservative Christians, but nanotech appears to be on the radar as simply biotech redefined. Phan writes that nanotech's "application to controversial fields like embryonic stem cell research is where it draws its critics."

Well, no. Nanotech has little to do with embryonic stem cell research. In fact, nanotech is the way around the need for embryonic stem cell research. Repairing cells and killing diseases within damaged organs removes the need to use stem cells to repair or replace them.

Phan almost rises to the task to inform her readers, but it turns out that her mention of stem cell research is cut-and-paste boilerplate for her niche audience.

"Many Christian advocate groups have asked the U.S. government to instead provide further funding for adult stem cell research, which has resulted in numerous therapies whereas research involving embryos has produced none. They have also asked the scientific community to explore non-embryonic alternatives for stem cells including a recent breakthrough technique that re-programs an adult cell to possess embryonic-like qualities."

Many of the recent breakthroughs Phan is referring to involves nanotechnology. One example can be found here.

Some of the best reporting on this story came from blogs, and my favorite came from Ben Worthen of the Wall Street Journal, who wrote:

"Our first reaction was that 70% of people must not know what nanotechnology is – President Bush, who has openly relied on moral views to shape his scientific agenda, has made nanotechnology one of his scientific priorities, after all."

Wired's Rob Beschizza got it right, too, in his blog entry:

"I think he's hyping an angle: religious belief merges neatly into irreligious fear of the new and other objections to science. He specifically chooses to forget about the science-skeptical nature of postmodernists, feminists, environmentalists and countless other non-religious factions."

So, with nanotech comes these issues of perception, myth and definition, how exactly is a responsible journalist supposed to cover the topic?

All too often, nanotech stories begin with what is not known -- usually the dreams of futurists or the nightmares of alarmists. That's going backward. Begin, like any good reporter, by confirming what is known.

We know that most nanotech research focuses simply how materials behave at the nanoscale -- or "fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes." Along with that, an industry is being built around developing the tools and measurement devices to manipulate and see at the nanoscale. And more is being learned about environmental health and safety of nanomaterials.

None of these elements are ready to have a moral value placed on them yet -- and certainly not a negative one.

How do I know this? I start with what is known.

All three of the categories named above are central focuses of the recently released proposed 2009 National Nanotechnology Initiative budget.

It's not the most exciting document in the world. No predictions of doom, no cryonically perserved heads in stasis waiting to be reconnected with young bodies in 500 years. Not a document that you'd wave in your hands as you interrupt a news meeting. However, journalists who are interested in telling the real story -- where the science and business of nanotech actually is at this point, might want to start there.

It's not all there is, but it is a good place to start.

As for those who contemplate the societal, ethical, religious and moral aspects of a technology that has not yet developed into anything outside the imagination of its proponents and detractors, you'll get studies like God v Nanotech – further contemplation of a navel that is still obscured by its umblical cord.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Little Blog Attracts Big Media

Read NanoBot: Because it's really, really important.

Uh-oh ...

Friday, March 21, 2008

'An Atom In The Universe'

A poem -- part of Richard Feynman's address to the National Academy of Sciences in 1955. And still inspirational today, even though I loath poetry in general.

Standing at the feet of giants
Feynman on freedom
Feynman's missing pieces
Driving under the influence of Feynman

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Standing Up For Nanotech

Yet another reason why I sometimes wish I lived on the West Coast. I think I would enjoy this event a great deal. I really, really would.

Odd Comedy - Stem Cell Research / Nanotech Stand-up (Berkeley)

Controversial comedy on the subject of life-extension and physical immortality. Followed by open audience discussion. Hear the particular viewpoints of comedian Ira Brightman presented as stand-up comedy on the above topics then have a chance to present your viewpoints (or just listen to those of the other audience members).

Areas to be covered include: extreme life-extension as possible, perhaps inevitable — and desirable or undesirable, technological vs. natural, the morality of using modalities such as embryonic stem cells to save lives, creating new body parts, nanotechnology, the latest advances in biotechnology." More here

Berkeley to play with tiny tinkertoys
'Transhuman cybersomething crazy ...'

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Dogs of Nano

I don't make this stuff up. Just reporting the facts, misplaced apostrophes and all ...

Nano Dogs the Movie (2009) Nanobots - /nan'oh-bots/ n. Robots of microscopic proportions. The future of computer science with astronomical potential. As of yet, only used experimentally. -Until Now! Nano-scientist Richard Spano has them, and his competitors will do anything to get them, but when his twelve-year old son, Matt, toys with a nano-solution, the family dogs ingest them and become the "talk" of the town. The nanos give them super abilities allowing them to speak and ultimately increasing their brainpower to telepathic levels. Matt tries to keep them a secret from everyone; until his next-door friends, Peg and Brandon, inadvertently find out and a couple of bumbling techno-spies steal one of the dogs, it's up to Matt and Peg to find his dog, Ozzy, before he becomes another casualty of the science lab. In the first film of it's kind, set in the science-fiction world of nanotechnology, "Nano Dogs the Movie" is a comedy caper-esque adventure that will be a journey of fun for the entire family! More here

Now, your NanoBot is working, so you don't have to, and some far-fetched claims need to be "checked out." If this little film does, indeed, make it to the big screen, it would not be the first of "it's" kind, or even its kind. Don't ask me why I remember this, but 1989's fantastic voyage into the nanorealm, "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" featured a dog named Quark.

But next year's small release does have one thing going for it. The writer involved, Michael David Murphy, apparently has a long rap sheet when it comes to making movies with mutts.

This Just In! We go now to Richard Jones in England, with some breaking news. Richard? Scooby Doo, nano too

(Sorry, my day job these days is in TV news)

Government Created Killer NanoRobot Infection
Roxxi the Foxxi 'Bot has the cure -- Part II
Antediluvian NanoBots
'When Pants Attack'

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Blogging from the Detroit Auto Show

Autos are another area, like nanotech, where technological innovation meets market realities. My coverage can be found here.