Friday, December 28, 2007
The Algebraist's system is extremely advanced, but the extremely small has a walk-on as a variable component in an agent of control.
There are all sorts of great things about this book, which sometime you absolutely must read! Among others, there are elements of a theory of technology:
1. the most powerful is the most embedded. The species that has the highest-tech has also integrated it so completely into its cultural systems that it is most of the time literally invisible.
2. the best takes the longest. My late friend Freddie Payne used to say Thinking Takes Time. So does technology. We think of technology as the accelerator, or at least the fast. In the Algebraist, advanced technology takes forever. More to the point, it is the realm of the Slow.
3. good use is decentralized. Successful defense technology is entirely off the social grid and is controlled by unknown members of the Slow species who consult no one. But oddly it a different, highly structured social system that is despotic - the Mercatoria, which stratifies and maps everything and is oriented towards control. Something about the Slow species - trust, history, cultural telepathy, who knows - allows this completely diffused authority to work. It is the only kind of authority that does.
Good tech in this book comes from some new mixtures of social organization that we have hardly started to imagine. We can at least ask the concept - the inspiration - of nano to help with that.
Or as Banks puts it, describing the stories told by the Slow: "in all that flux of chaos, propaganda, drivel and weirdness, there were nuggets of actuality, seams of facts, frozen rivers of long-forgotten history, whole volumes of exobiography and skeins and tissues of truth."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
That stat isn't as stale as it sounds, and needs better interpretation. But Mahorum goes on to say something more surprising about Europe. Not only does Europe have higher rates of SE enrollments than the US (27 percent get SE degrees, vs 24 percent in Japan and 16 percent in the US), but its businesses invest more than their American counterparts on research and development - $232,000 vs. $180,000. And although the US spends a higher proportion of its GDP on R&D (2.5 percent vs. 1.8 percent for the EU), the 12 core EU countries have higher rates "when measured against the size of their workforce."
As the US "brain gain" ebbs, it will have a harder time even staying in place. The obvious solution - reinvestment in SE human resources - should not be delayed by the coming recession.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
"The challenge of regulating nanomaterials" by Rhitu Chatterjee
You can view the article here with a current subscription to ACS journals
Sunday, November 25, 2007
- One might conclude that some people are feathering their own nests...Do people at universities with research centers devoted to nanotoxicology (as well as NGOs which tout the associated uncertainty of this risk) have a vested interest in calling for more research on the subject?
- How will nanoparticles be regulated, measured, accounted for? This seems especially important if, as the article claims, the average person breathes in some 10 million of these a minute.
- Why, after nearly a decade of formal government funding, is there no clear international agreement on what nanotech is, as The Economist, claims, work is being done at the International Standard's Organization in Geneva but when will this be completed?
- Does anyone else see the problem in having the NNI both promote nanotechnology as well as the funding to mitigate its risks. I'm struck by a historical analogy with the early days of the nuclear power industry when the Atomic Energy Commission was tasked with both advancing and regulating nuclear power. And we all know how well that worked...
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Pianist blends nanotechnology with music
(Nanowerk News) If the hard science of nanotechnology took on the soft curves of classical music, what would it sound like? The two will come together at a concert Friday, under the nimble fingers of pianist Milton Schlosser, a University of Alberta music professor.
Schlosser, based at the U of A's Augustana Faculty in Camrose, is premiering a series of 'nanosonatas' written specifically for him by American composer Frederic Rzewski. The work, entitled Nanosonatas, Volume 1, was commissioned by Schlosser through the U of A's Humanities, Fine Arts and Social Sciences Research grant program.
The composition reflects Rzewski's interest in biomolecular nanomachines. He essentially compresses the form of 20- to 40-minute, 19th-century sonatas into seven three-minute segments which challenge music-lovers in exciting new ways, Schlosser said.
Read complete article
Doing a little more research I found some actual music clips of a pianist Michael Kirkendoll playing the Nanosonatas. Take a listen, they have a pretty interesting avante-garde sound remembering that the sound is a composer's interpretation of what nano-machines sound like. Note too the incorporation of the Book of Genesis - very interesting given our conversation last week.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
An interesting article came out today on Wired.com entitled Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: The Singularity. In the article, Ray Kurzweil discusses the plot of his upcoming docudrama concerning the future of rapidly accelerating technology and its inevitable impact on human beings (based on his book The Singularity Is Near: A True Story About The Future). According to journalist Eliza Strickland, "As a result of the exponential progress of technology, Kurzweil believes, we're racing towards a day when the power of the artificially intelligent machines we create will exceed human brainpower."
As this relates to nanotechnology, Eric Drexler and Bill Joy will make an appearance in the movie. Furthermore, the underlying narrative of the movie will be based on a "gray goo" attack with which the main character, Ramona the avatar, will have to confront. (see the following excerpts from the article)
Wired News: What's in the documentary part?
Kurzweil: It contains footage of myself, and also me interviewing 20 big thinkers, talking about their ideas, and their ideas about my ideas. We have people like Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotech; Aubrey de Grey, a theorist about radical life extension; Bill Joy.
Wired News: So in the movie's narrative, Ramona the avatar is the main character?
Kurzweil: It's a Pinocchio story. She detects a "gray goo" attack, an attack of self-replicating nanobots. The Department of Homeland Security is oblivious to this, and won't listen to her, so she gets her other avatar friends to work on this. But she breaks some homeland security protocols in the process. She's arrested -- and there's a discussion about how you can arrest a virtual person...
It is important to note that Kurzweil has some interesting connections to the nanotech discourse. Some of his viewpoints and affiliations are highlighted on his Wikipedia page.
For more information about the movie, visit the IMDb site.
Visit Kurzweil's website and talk to Ramona here.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Nanotechnology in Second Life
(Nanowerk News) You might have heard of Second Life, an Internet-based virtual world that has received quite a bit of media attention over the past year. A downloadable client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users, called "Residents", to interact with each other through motional avatars, providing an advanced level of a social network service combined with general aspects of a metaverse. Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items (virtual property) and services from one another. Companies and other organizations have set up a virtual presence in Second Life; Sweden has even opened an embassy.
Now there is a nanotechnology presence as well – Nanotechnology Island has launched in Second Life with the goal to establish a place for the Nano Science and Technology communities to come together and to bring key ideas and research into public discussion.
NanoLands the group behind the creation of Nanotechnology Island in Second Life (SL) has created a contest reminiscent of Feyman called the NanoLands Challenge encouraging Second Life users to imagine and build an virtual exhibit about nanoscience or nanotechnology within SL. Winners could receive up to $700 "real" US dollars. For more on the contest see: http://www.nanowerk.com/news/newsid=3174.php
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
When reading this article, you can't help but be hopeful about the future of nanotechnologies and nanoscience. The article clearly gives the impression that these miraculous inventions are just around the corner. What effect will these hopeful media frames have on public opinion? Does the hopeful frame of the nano-related medical stories transfer to the larger issue of nanotechnologies and nanoscience?
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Next was the Nano-Image meeting in Columbia, South Carolina. This meeting brought together scientists, nano & society people, and art historians to talk (in excruciating detail) about the various uses and types of images at the nano-scale. What I took away from the meeting was that even among people who purportedly study nano, understanding of the topic is often lacking.
I'm now in Princeton where I'm looking at the papers of a physicist who Eric Drexler worked with in the 1970s. Tomorrow it's on to DC(again) for the History of Science Society meeting and then back to California. Whew.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Read more on USC's Citizens School of Nanotechnology here and here.
Monday, October 15, 2007
The specific realm of nanotechnology-driven food may be one arena where the analogy is more apt; though if most applications were to be niche-marketed, to say dieters or non-cooks, as opposed to food supply wide, this could reduce the volume or scope, if not the voracity, of scrutiny directed towards nanofoods.
In terms of public perceptions of nanotechnology, is it an asset or disadvantage to have public discussions about the merits and risks of nanotechnology-enhanced food?
Friday, October 12, 2007
Brigitte Nerlich, from the University of Nottingham, gave an interesting talk earlier today on images of the nanobot. Her answer to the question, "why is the image of the nanobot perpetuated in popular culture?" is that there are numerous images of nanobot to choose from -- meaning that when media outlets want to publish some kind of nano-image, they often license an image from an image firm. Well, if the firm has a preponderance of nanobot images, it follows that media outlets will be more likely to select them, right? Though the supply-and-demand argument was not the focus of Nerlich's talk, it is the taken for granted assumption behind it.
Nerlich did more of a content analysis (using both quantitative and qualitative methods) of nano-related images available for license at Science Photo Library (www.sciencephoto.com), a leading science image firm. She found that of 363 nano images, 128 were of nanobots. Of those 128, most were fantasy and artistic renderings. Click here to see what comes up at Science Photo Library for the search term nanobot.
Some of Nerlich's findings include:
1- most images are positive and/or utopian while very few are negative and/or dsytopian.
2- many nanobots had some kind of pincer, claw, or hand.
3- backgrounds of renderings tended to reflect blood, space, or the sea.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Also known as Retin-A and RENOVA in the U.S., trans-retinoic acid is approved by the FDA as a treatment to give smoother, less pigmented skin but it usually causes skin inflammation and skin irritation as well. Studies using the NANOEGG show no skin irritation, less wrinkles and reversal of hyper pigmentation-overall a better treatment. (Yamaguchi, Y. et. al. J. Control. Release 2005, 104, 29-40)
In light of our research at CNS, two questions come to mind.
1.) Would this nano-enhanced product be more readily accepted than others because of the current obsession with looking younger?
2.) How does the cultural environment influence public acceptance of the nanotechnology?
I can't find any indication that the product is being commercialized in the U.S., but the NANOEGG website shows a picture of their product (shown) which promises in French to "restructure and alleviate your skin."
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
A quick online poll of news headlines reveals the following:
Nobel prize for men who made iPod possible
iPods, Better laptops Stemmed from Nobel Prize Discovery
Physics of the iPod awarded Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize for magnetism experts who helped spawn the iPod
and my personal favorite:
Like your iPod? Thank this year's physics Nobelists
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
As NPR reported this morning:
France's Albert Fert and German Peter Grunberg will share the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for a discovery that has allowed a radical reduction in the size and increase in the capacity of computer hard drives.The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its citation on Tuesday the technology was "one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology," which deals with extremely small devices." Applications of this phenomenon have revolutionized techniques for retrieving data from hard disks," the prize citation said. "The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics."
Fert and Gruenberg are two central characters in an article and series of talks I gave on the history of spintronics. "Spintonicists" see their work as marking the beginning of the field.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Monday, October 01, 2007
This article reminded me of the quote Patrick mentioned in class last Thursday regarding driving faster so that we can use up fossil fuels in order to move on to another source of energy. Seems that Mazada is motivated to use nanotechnology to cut heavy metal usage and thus reduce their overhead. Interesting. I can't remember if we put parsimonious down on the p-list of all things nanotechnology.
Mazda develops catalyst to slash precious metal use
From Reuters UK: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKT8936520071001
TOKYO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Japan's Mazda Motor Corp said on Monday it has developed the world's first catalyst for cars that employs single-nanotechnology to create a material structure that slashes platinum and palladium use by 70 to 90 percent.
The reduction results in no change in the performance of the automotive catalyst, which uses platinum, rhodium and palladium to trigger a chemical reaction with polluting nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons to clean tailpipe emissions.
Domestic rival Nissan Motor Co in July also said it had developed a catalyst for gasoline cars that uses nanotechnology to prevent clustering of the catalyst's fine metal particles under high temperature conditions. That would halve the use of precious metal components, it had said.
Single-nanotechnology can control smaller particles than nanotechnology.
Automakers have been burdened with higher-than-expected commodity prices, and are looking for ways to reduce material use to save costs.A Mazda spokesman said the company had not decided yet when it would first employ the technology on a production model. It also has no plan for now to share the technology with controlling shareholder Ford Motor Co.
While these suggestions are fine and no doubt useful for those concerned with promoting certain public perceptions of nanotechnology, Toumey’s adoption of Cubist techniques runs contrary to their Cubist intent. Cubists, unlike Toumey (c.f. 587), had no interest in improving the correspondence between an image and reality. Indeed, Cubism marked a tremendous social upheaval, manifested in a variety of social domains, and which centered on a crisis in traditional conceptions of reality and knowledge. Concern for the veracity of a representation is a preoccupation that Cubists directly questioned. Through the abandonment of classic techniques of painting, including representations of Euclidean space, and the refusal to view painting merely as a tool for the representation of nature, Cubism rejected enlightenment rationality. In turn, Cubism sought multiple modes of representation, resulting in fragmented objects unrecognizable to those who thought that painting should replicate nature. This constituted a profound loss of faith in the connection between knowledge and progress; between signified and signifier; between rationality and an objective reality.
Toumey hails Cubism to take us in the opposite direction: to better represent the empirical nature of nanoscale materials. This divergence is made clear by Toumey’s characterization of the goals of Cubists to enlarge “the viewer’s knowledge of the reality of the object in a picture.” I argue that the goal for Cubists was rather to challenge the very possibility knowledge as coherent and singular. This challenge and crisis manifest in the Cubist movement is forgotten in Toumey’s characterization. His application of Cubist aesthetics to representations of nanoscale structures is thus remarkably un-Cubist to the degree that it seeks to “add to our empirical knowledge of the objects that exist at the nanoscale” (589).
Thinking about representation at the nanoscale, however, does raise some interesting questions. What Cubism and Toumey’s invocation of it in the context of nanotechnology are grappling with are the limitations of representation in the context of shifting relationships between space and time. Following Harvey (1989), if cultural modernism sprang from a “radical readjustment in the sense of time and space in economic, political and cultural life” (260-1) then by analogy, we might see the problem of representation at the nanoscale as a similar readjustment of our sense of time and space – a radical continuation of time-space compression. If, as the forecasters suggest, we are on the front end of a major readjustment to the world economy and to our many manners of living as a result of nanotechnological innovation, perhaps Toumey is out front by hinting at a similar crisis in representation to that which began after the middle of the 19th century. As the commercialization of nanotechnology floods our lives with events, practices, and produts that may be undetected by human sensory organs, whose risks or benefits are frequently invisible, the understanding and expression of social meanings takes on new dimensions. How will we represent those aspects of human experience that are invisible, un-touchable, un-smellable but powerful, potentially dangerous, and highly profitable?
Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Toumey, Chris. 2007. "Cubism at the Nanoscale." Nature/Nanotechnology 2:587-9 (October).
Friday, September 28, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
I find it fairly interesting that the Lifesaver's website features a soldier. I have nothing against soldiers getting their clean water. But I hope that these water filter systems also find their way to others who desperately need clean drinking water.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Two points stand out - first, this article was in the Business section, not the Science Times. Of course, the Science Times is increasingly the "Medical Times."
Second, nanotechnology or nanoscale engineering itself appears only in very stealthy form, in discussion about nanoscale wires and nanosecond access time. This on a day when I received two posts from a DC-based non-profit about nano in cosmetics and sunscreens. So, what does it mean when nano in consumer products that actually matter (i.e. they are a significant part of the economy and are used, whether we like it or not, in daily lives...when I last checked, no one was forcing me to slather nano-sunscreen on my nano-pants) isn't referenced as nanotechnology anymore?
Letter to the editor of The New Atlantis in response to Adam Keiper’s Nanoethics as a Discipline?
As historians of nanotechnology (incongruous as that sounds), we read with great interest Adam Keiper’s recent article “Nanoethics as a Discipline?” Keiper’s article raises some excellent correctives to sloppy or hasty thinking that has characterized some work thus far on the social, cultural, economic, and ethical dimensions of nanotechnology. We suggest, however, that Keiper comes perilously close to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We by no means speak for all people in this field, but we have been associated, for the past three+ years, with organizations that have been heavily involved in bringing social science and humanities perspectives to the nanotech policy debate. Through our involvement in that debate we have seen that there is both demand for and, increasingly, a supply of, high-quality research on nanotechnology’s complex relationship to our wider culture.
Let’s start by asking what discipline (or “discipline?” as Keiper might put it) is in question here. Keiper begins and ends his article by discussing “nanoethics,” but the bulk of the piece is more concerned with an interdisciplinary farrago of sociologists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists, rhetoricians, philosophers, comp. lit. scholars, economists, management researchers, science and technology studies scholars, etc. This potpourri, as Keiper notes, goes by a number of different names, but we would call it “social studies of nanotechnology” or “nano studies” – that is, a field similar in make-up and intention to mature research areas like “Russian studies” or “American studies.”
We definitely would not limit this field to questions of ethics, on the model (which Keiper upholds) of bioethics. This is not because, as Keiper suggests, practitioners of this field are uninterested in the “deeper questions” of “great social goods.” Rather, we advocate this broad-based, interdisciplinary approach precisely to get at the deeper questions Keiper refers to. His article states that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to have any discussion, let alone serious ethical reflection, if there is not some basic agreement about the facts at issue.” While Keiper suggests that the only facts that matter here are “purely” technical ones revolving around which nanotechnologies are or are not achievable, we suggest that the posing of more penetrating inquiries is impossible if it is uninformed by empirical data contributed by a broad array of social scientists and humanities scholars.
Keiper lists four areas that concern nanoethicists: safety; social justice; dramatic social change; and transhumanism. We have no quibble with research in these four areas, and we wholeheartedly agree with Keiper that such research needs to be more mindful of what mainstream scientists and engineers agree is technically achievable. However, we also believe there are several other necessary areas of scholarly inquiry that Keiper neglects.
Consider this example: A great deal of the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) efforts are currently directed to reshaping the nature of the American science education system from kindergarten to Ph.D. One explicit goal of the NNI has been to establish institutions (such as university-based Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers) that will undo the quilt of disciplines present in most American universities and replace it with an almost completely unified, interdisciplinary mass. This means not just breaking down the barriers holding apart physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and biologists, but even integrating those fields as fully as possible with sociology, economics, legal studies, etc. At the same time, the NNI clearly aims to integrate universities in novel ways with more and more of the institutions of American society. These include business (through a plethora of Small Business Innovation Research grants and other incentives for professorial start-ups) and the K-12 education system (through public “Nano Days” for schoolchildren, through grade school classes taught by graduate students in various nano disciplines, and by encouraging high school science teachers to work in university nano labs over the summer).
Why should these activities be a concern for nanoethicists? Many of the most rancorous, divisive questions in American life are concerned with the training of future generations. School districts or university administrators across the country must continually deal with ideological tug-of-war that break out over new movements in pedagogy: in language training (phonics, ebonics, and language-of-instruction issues for immigrants’ children); in mathematics (student-centered learning); in history and social studies (how much revisionism is a good thing?); in literature; and in science (creationism and intelligent design).
Nanotechnology – whatever it turns out to be – will clearly both push and be dragged along with these national debates about pedagogy. Here, we think, is a prime example of a “deeper question” that many people value where nanotechnology offers both a distinct and broad case for exploring the ethics involved. We think there may, in fact, be ethical questions at stake if future generations learn that there is no use to distinguishing chemistry from physics from mechanical engineering and that these all are just nanotechnology. We think there are even more urgent and important ethical matters at stake if today’s students are trained to think of schools and universities as completely porous to industry or operating like any other for-profit business.
As individuals we may or may not agree with these changes. As historians, though, we strongly believe we and other nano studies practitioners can contribute empirical findings that should color ethical discussion of these shifts. Do enrollments in science go up as a result of nano-outreach? How does nano’s influence on the academy affect retention of women and minorities in science and engineering? How do graduate students and postdocs participate in the value chain extending from their professors’ labs to various companies? These are questions that need to be asked, and they are questions that historians, sociologists, economists, and other scholars can offer insights on.
Given, then, our commitment to a field of nano studies that is engaged with the “deeper questions,” we take some exception to Keiper’s characterizations of the field. First, we find very odd Keiper’s dismissive comparison (in his second paragraph) of nanoethics and bioethics. Bioethics, he claims, followed in the wake of biomedicine; nanoethics, prematurely, comes into being at the same time as nanotechnology. There are, we think, excellent reasons to be suspicions of comparisons between nano studies and bioethics, but this isn’t one of them. The constituent disciplines and industries of nanotechnology have been around for a very long time, as have many of the ethical issues today associated with nano.
Take, for instance, the microelectronics industry (one of our areas of research). The features of most commercial transistors are or very soon will be small enough that this entire industry will have to be categorized as part of nanotechnology. This is an industry that has been around for well over half a century, has spun off a very large proportion of the sub-fields and tools of academic nanotechnology, and contributes more than any other industry to US gross domestic product. It’s also an industry that pioneered out-sourcing and off-shoring, that was among the first to embrace the new business models of venture capital and the IPO, and is responsible for 29 (!) Superfund sites in Santa Clara county alone. Clearly, then, an industry where societal values and “deeper questions” point in lots of different directions, and where the ethical issues are particularly vexed. And yet, in those fifty years, no cohort of professional ethicists has stepped in to address and examine the material and cultural consequences, wonderful and not-so-great, of this giant industry. It is our urgent hope, then, that we can fold these broader existing issues into the purview of nano studies.
Keiper has a further litany of complaints about nano studies. It is, he says, the kind of field where every NGO and “liberal environmental group” has to pile in to have its say, whether they know anything or not. True, there are a lot of competing voices, some of them quite over-the-top – which can, we agree, be frustrating. On the other hand, we’d far rather that nano studies be the kind of field that keeps asking who the relevant constituencies are, rather than waiting fifty years to discover that our analysis is meaningless because we forgot to include some crucial perspectives.
Similarly, he complains that there is an endless succession of conferences and journals on societal issues in nano. We agree; in fact, one of us (Mody) recently organized just such a conference at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Here, several of the panelists expressed deep frustrations at the proliferation of such events. Yet we note that another panelist (Barbara Karn of the EPA) then asked the audience how many of them had never been to such an event before and felt their questions about nano had yet to be addressed – close to two-thirds (i.e. about 80 people) raised their hands. Too many conferences may just be something everyone involved in nanotechnology may have to endure for a while.
Keiper also protests that social scientists involved in nano use too much jargon, that they will probably just use government funding to test their own theories, and only talk to each other. True, these are real dangers – in any field. We can’t see any difference here between the natural sciences and the social sciences. The number of physicists and chemists using “nano” money just to test their own theories will always be orders of magnitude greater than the number of insular nano social scientists.
And, of course, every field uses jargon – though we are continually amazed by what, exactly, counts as jargon. At the same CHF conference one prominent chemist, in the course of a somewhat technical (one might even say jargon-y) talk, stated that she enjoyed working with social scientists but that they use off-putting terms like “social justice”. Social justice! If that constitutes jargon then it is surely (to borrow Morgan Phillips’ description of the British Labour Party) a term that “owes more to Methodism than to Marx” (and more to Martin Luther King than to Max Weber). We all use technical terms as shorthand. One challenge of nanotechnology will be to develop institutions that encourage us to point out each other’s opaque terminology and keep us from simply retreating to test our pet theories.
Keiper quite rightly, however, notices the self-absorbed, navel-gazing quality of much of today’s nano studies. Indeed. Our special pet peeve is the laboratory ethnography that ends up describing nothing other than the decision to allow the ethnographer to enter the laboratory. And yet, nano studies is trying to do something new and experimental. In any experiment, it pays to focus attention on your methods, to try and get the right process in place. Though Keiper upholds bioethics as a model for nano studies, we feel that bioethics probably could have used a great deal more methods-questioning early in its formation. As the call for papers of a recent conference on the “ethics of bioethics” puts it:
Professional standards guide the conduct of all healthcare professions – except bioethics. All healthcare professions have standards for addressing real or potential conflicts of interest – except bioethics. Critics from within and without the field have recently challenged the ethics and integrity of bioethicists, charging that these self-appointed watchdogs are little more than selfserving lapdogs.
We hope that by thinking carefully thinking about what nano studies is and how it should be done – and accepting that there are probably many different, useful answers to both questions – that we can mitigate such characterizations of our field in the future.
Prof Matthew Tirrell University of California, Santa Barbara College of Engineering
Chemical Processing by Self-Assembly: Let's Take It Seriously
Plenary Lectures at ECCE-6
Danckwerts Lecture 2007: Matthew Tirrell
Presentation time: Wednesday 19, 09:40 to 10:30
Self-assembly is a route to processing of chemical products that relies on information content built into the process precursors. A challenge for engineers is to develop the practical routes to technologically important self-assembly processes. Self-assembly occurs frequently in biology but translating that bio-inspiration to controllable chemical processing presents many interesting problems. The complexity built into self-assembled products is at the level of supermolecular structure. Complexity, in the sense of development of emergent properties of an assembly that cannot readily be envisioned from the constituents, can arise spontaneously during self-assembly and often does, especially in biological systems. We are only beginning to develop sufficiently sophisticated synthetic assemblers to mimic biology in this way. Other routes to self-organization may also be of interest for nanotechnology. Prospects for success and current efforts in biomaterials, porous materials, molecular electronics and other areas will be discussed.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
First, it bears noting that, since 1991, Scientific American has occasionally had an issue devoted to nanotech. For historical purposes, this present something of a "state of the nation" report on nano. Therefore, they are interesting and useful bellwethers as to what science popularizers think nano is about and how they wish to present the current status of nano-research.
The focus of this current issue is on, to a large degree, electronics. There is practically nothing at all on "faux nano" such as sunscreens, nanopants, and those other forms of quasi-nano which involve nothing more complex than nanosized particles. This is curious as the good deal of the handwringing inside the Beltway is about just this topic and how/who should regulate it.
This report from Sci Amer has articles on: nanofabrication; building nanostructures from proteins; nanofab using DNA; DNA-based computers; electronics using carbon nanotubes; plasmonics (more computers); and nanoelectronics. The final article is about the ubiquity of nano in science-fiction. This is the only place I have been able to find in the 88 page issue where Eric Drexler' s vision of nano is mentioned...and this was in connection to sci-fi. My, how the popularizers have been co-opted...
What I found most disappointing, though, was Michael Roukes' opening essay, in which the shibboleth of Richard Feynman is once again whispered, nay, shouted out. This serves the rhetorical purpose of tying current nano research to the "breadth of Feynman's vision" which Roukes calls "staggering," a product of the late Caltech physicist's "singular intellect." In other words - Ave Caesar...er...Feynman. Never mind that only a very few of today's active nanoscientists and engineers have any recollection at all of being inspired by Feynman. Forget the fact that the last nano-Nobelist, the late Richard Smalley, claimed (at least until 2003) that Engines of Creation was a major influence on him.
So...after more than a decade of real nanoscale research and some $8-10 billion of federal money, scientists and engineers still feel the need to tie their activities to an after-dinner speech Feynman made almost 50 years ago. Let it go, folks. And, for the sake of honesty, admit that a good deal of the initial popular and political interest in nano was stimulated by "visioneers, " people who promoted and popularized what nanotech might be able to do. Even if some of these dreams and thought experiments have not been realized or appear outlandish, own up to the fact that public policy and public imagination are closely linked.
US moves to reform patent laws
By Patti Waldmeir in Washington
Published: September 7 2007 23:37
Big US technology companies won an important patent reform victory on Friday when the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would bring sweeping changes to the way America rewards innovation.
The bill, which could significantly shift the balance of power between US patent holders and their rivals, must still pass in the Senate, and its prospects of becoming law remain uncertain. But opponents and proponents alike say on Friday’s vote was a milestone, bringing years of congressional debate over patent reform to a climax.
Supporters of the bill, including companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google, and many financial services firms, say it will improve patent quality and limit unnecessary litigation and excessive damages.
Jonathan Yarowsky of The Coalition for Patent Fairness, a lobby group of big technology companies, said after the vote: “The current patent system has become bogged down by delays, prolonged disputes and confusing jurisprudence. This comprehensive legislation...will help drive innovation.”
But opposition to the bill is widespread, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to big manufacturers like General Electric, 3M and Johnson & Johnson, small inventors, many venture capitalists, some small technology companies, labour unions and the White House.
The Bush administration said this week it opposed changes to the way patent damages were calculated, which would limit the discretion of judges in awarding damages to compensate patentholders whose patent rights are violated.
The bill would make it harder for inventors to win big damage awards against high technology companies whose products rely on hundreds of different innovations. It would make it more difficult for patentholders to win an award based on the total market value of the product – rather than on the value of one individual patented component.
The White House said: “Making this change to a reasonably well-functioning patent legal system is un warranted and risks reducing the rewards from innovation.” The Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, which includes companies like GE and 3M, criticised the bill, saying it “favours infringers over inventors”.
Stephen Maebius, a patent law expert at the law firm Foley & Lardner, said courts had already taken the initiative on patent reform, enacting several major changes, while legislation had been mired in debate. “Judicial developments have rendered portions of this legislation obsolete, because things have been happening so fast in the world of patent infringement case law,” he said.
He predicted a stiff battle to win passage in the Senate, but Emery Simon of the Business Software Alliance, one of the bill’s biggest backers, said on Friday’s vote “puts momentum into (congressional) patent reform”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2007.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Sunday, September 02, 2007
This year, he's more optimistic. No, the space elevator is still a no-go. But he does have high hopes for scaling walls Spiderman-style.
Why does Dr. Pugno catch my eye? His use of science fiction images is not likely to be an accident. When he writes about taking elevators into space or climbing up walls with special adhesive clothing, he invokes strong, myth-like, associations for a range of people- including many who probably don't spend lots of time trolling around peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The predicted result of the Oak Ridge work, however, is an 8% savings in energy bills. This is either a worthy return for lots of good science, or a disappointing return in an age where venture capital and nano-style expectations look for exponential improvements, or at least a "Factor Four" kind of leap, or, rock-bottom, a doubling of performance. Should we make ourselves happier by lowering our expectations? Nice research in any case.
We often say the future belongs to brainworkers,. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't agree. They say the big growth involves working with bedpans and brooms. But what about rapidly growing economies that simultaneously emphasize high-tech growth, like China's?
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting item today about China capping growth in master's programs for the next five years because even the booming Chinese labor market can't absorb them.
High-tech's employment impacts, nano included, can be overrated.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
While both Aaron and Dexter, the IEEE blogger, make some good points about government-supported research initiatives, I particularly support one of Dexter's secondary points, his take on nanotechnology as an enabling technology - meaning that nanoscale technological innovations are most likely going to be tools for other technologies.
** in reference to Aaron's blog entry: Interestingly, Biopolis (a huge science park in Singapore) was supposed to be the stem cell research center of the world by now...
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Ambient comfort pillows. This pillow can help increase oxygen levels in your body by up to 29 percent. "It uses a specific thing called nanotechnology, and what it does is it takes the ambient energy in the air and it pulls it in, and when you lie on it, it helps give it back to your skin which on your skin helps bring oxygen to it," he says. Ambient comfort pillows can be found in various department stores.
It's nice to see that "specific thing called nanotechnology" being put to helping America's 70 million insomniacs! This nano product is apparently fully compatible with its recommended companion products, the Indulgence Pillow, and Tempur-Pedic's Rhapsody Mattress.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
There are some odd things about Rosnanotech's structuring, and the article's author states that many people are worried that Rosnanotech will be used to launder money or just plain steal state funds. Probably. That's a time-honored Russian tradition, or actually, world tradition. There are different forms - sometimes the money just disappears and gets spent on villas and private helicopters for company officers, sometimes it just builds in large extra costs for services actually performed. Maybe Rosnanotech will be more the latter, and nano will move Russia towards a more Western-style corruption - unintended nano-societal consequences?
But the more immediate issues are:
- Russia intends to spend about $7.75 billion over three years, or, in very round numbers, twice the annual expenditure of the U.S.
- Russia doesn't have enough "men of science," as the piece puts it - their human capital problems will probably hold them back.
- Rosnanotech will have monopoly control over nanoscale product areas.
There is a problem that worries even scientists – the corporation is to form a monopoly in the nanotech field, which respectively limits opportunities of the free market to select the most competitive ideas. Today the Russian research centres work mostly on nano-materials, while such prospective and promising spheres as nano-biotechnologies and new nano-projects in the energy-producing industry are undersold.The confusions in this passage are pretty common in Western coverage of nano. Say "Russia" and most people will still think "planned economy" and "total economic disaster." (Say "Japan" and the story of big government is much more complicated and positive.) So this author focuses on planning failure, ignoring the other big story of early-stage tech development, which is market failure. Lots of great tech innovation goes begging for a market, and there are dozens of good books about "crossing the chasm" from technology to product, which is very very hard.
When you think about the history of information technology or biotech, you realize that the most reliable business model has been, well, think of Microsoft and Cisco, as opposed to say Seagate, and think of Amgen and Genentech as opposed to almost every single other bio tech company, all of which make very little money when they are not actively losing huge piles of it. (Remember Shaman Pharmaceuticals? No you don't, but I do, because it lost several thousand bucks of my just-tenured associate professor's salary back in the late-90s.) Think of the interest in California today in hitching nano to existing manufacturing platforms to avoid sinking those existing costs. The most reliable business model has been monopoly, though we have much nicer and more accurate terms for it, ones that reflect the need for ongoing flexibility and adaptation to protect a dominant market position.
So maybe Russia, with its large public investment; its great traditions in the physical sciences, engineering, and math; its history of successful public science (Vostok-1 beat Mercury 3 into manned orbit in April, 1961; its Soyuz series; and of course Sputnik, to which American public science owes its late-50s - early-60s 10x funding boost); and its monopoly goals - with all this, maybe Russia actually knows what it's doing. Given the troubles nanoscale research is currently having attracting enough private capital, why should we rule out a future Nano-gazprom?
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Also discussed in the article is the role of NASA's prizes in stimulating inventors and entrepreneurial activity. This reflects views put forth earlier this year by CNS-UCSB National Advisory Board chair Tim Kalil about the value of prizes in stimulating technological development.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
A few things caught my attention. One was the seeming hostility of the scientists there - mostly physicists - toward nanotechnology. I asked the group of about 200 people (students as well as senior faculty) how many considered the work they are doing to be "nanotechnology." Only a few raised their hands and these folks were mostly students. One senior researcher from UCLA even made a point of coming up to me after my talk and telling me that nano was a "hoax" which had been "hijacked" by other disciplines, especially chemistry. Another person felt obliged to comment - which simply echoed a point that I had made throughout my talk (weren't you listening??) - on the idea that much about nano wasn't new and that it was largely a re-branding phenomenon.
So...is spintronics nanotechnology?
Sunday, June 10, 2007
The reminiscences mostly revealed the power of the first movers: Jobs pointed out about the truest thing you can say about Microsoft: "Bill built the first software company in the industry before anybody really knew what a software company was."
I was bugged by the vision moment, where Walt Mossberg, the WSJ's tech columnist, asked Gates what he things his "principal device" will be in five years.
I don't think you'll have one device. I think you'll have a full-screen device that you can carry around, and you'll do dramatically more reading off of that.... I believe in the tablet form factor. I think you'll have voice. I think you'll have ink. You'll have some way of having a hardware keyboard and some settings for that. .... You'll have your living room, which is your 10-foot experience, and that's connected up to the Internet, and there you'll have gaming and entertainment, and there's a lot of experimentation in terms of what content looks like in that world. And then in your den, you'll have something a lot like you have at your desk at work. You know, the view is that every horizontal and vertical surface will have a projector so you can put information [on it]. Your desk can be a surface [where] you can sit and manipulate things.A tablet with a voice? Actual ink? And a 10 foot screen in my living room? I could barely stay awake to the end of the paragraph. We've gone from flying cars and moon shots to a life of PDAs and Orwell-sized living-room screens.
These kinds of comments raise not only the issue of Gates's personal lack of imagination, but the cultural question of the extent to which information technology has been shaped by white kids from the 50s suburbs who liked carrying electronic junk in their pants. And who spent a lot of time in their rooms, and worked all the time. Maybe IT exists to preserve the father- knows-best tethering of home to office. (For a good memoir about the suburban culture of high-tech, see David Beers' book on growing up in early Silicon Valley.) Maybe IT has helped us stay stuck in a vanishing world rather than build ones.
What will help nano is offering some horizons beyond those of the boomer moguls of IT.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The context for this legislation is recent Supreme Court decision that some have called the most important patent case since the 1952 Patent Act - KSR. v. Teleflex decision decided by the Supreme Court April 30th. Among other things, the decision, written by Justice Kennedy, would make it harder to patent incremental improvements, and would try to reserve patents for greater forms of originality. For an overview see Linda Greenhouse's good piece. She pulls out Kennedy's interesting coinage, "ordinary innovation," which is something that does not deserve a patent. Some worry that all sorts of patents could be challenged on this basis. Greg Aharanonian, editor of PatNews, rails,
The KSR decision is semantic nonsense, introducing yet more undefined terms (e.g., “real innovation”, “extraordinary”, etc.) to a statute that is constitutionally meaningless given the lack of definition for its key term, “obvious”. What’s a “real innovation” - one that occurs in a flash to a genius? That’s right, the Supreme Court has mastered general relativity and built a legal time machine to send all of us back to the pre-1952s!!!!"The IP world is confusing and stressful right now - that's one thing thing we know for sure.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Saturday, June 02, 2007
In our context, will the commercialization of nanotechnologies support lots of well-paid knowledge workers? Will future nano-related revenues pay for good skilled and semi-skilled blue-collar jobs of the kind that not only make companies function well but that helped create the American middle-class?
An article in today's Los Angeles Times is one of a growing series of reports that brainwork is following manufacturing jobs to countries with lower wage costs - in this case, China. The example is a San Diego biotech firm called Ascenta, which is following the now widely-discussed strategy of "creating a new breed of biotech start-up that marries U.S. and Chinese scientific talent with China's cheap labor and resources." The key detail here is that China appears in both terms of the low-cost equation - not only as cheap labor but as high-tech labor as well.
Business and educational leaders try to interpret these moves through the "work of nations" paradigm, which was the title of a 1991 book by the man soon to become Clinton's Secretary of Labor, Harvard professor Robert B. Reich. Reich updated Ricardo's classical idea of "comparative advantage" in international trade, in which countries should make only what they have a special advantage in making and get everything else through trade. If Brazil has lower labor costs than Germany, then Germany should design Volkswagens in Wolfsburg, Germany, with Germany's unique engineering expertise, and manufacture the cars in Brazil, with that country's cheaper labor. Germany and the world get brilliantly designed and yet cheaper Volkswagens, and Brazil gets new manufacturing income, which it can use to build new schools to train its own engineers. Ricardo's idea was that through free trade of goods made with careful calculation of each country's comparative advantage, everybody is better off.
Reich's wrinkle was to assert that brainworkers, or "symbolic analysts" - people who manipulated information for a living like medical researchers and architects - would thrive by creating high value that would support their high wages. Even if blue-collar workers were screwed - as they clearly were by the early 1990s - they could recover by becoming white-collar workers, or by making sure their kids became white-collar workers. The high-end brain workers, in Reich's model, would be just fine. And the whole country would be just fine by steadily increasing the brainworker share of its population.
That is the theory. But the theory has three major problems.
One is that the demand for brainworkers is limited - the U.S. won't soon need 17,800,500 patent attorneys, thanks be to Baal.
Second, training brainworkers is expensive, and the U.S. has not shown itself interested in the public outlays that are required to make brainworkers in large numbers. We spend a lot of money training a fairly small elite - on a per capita basis it's not as small as France's or Germany's but is in the ballpark - but over the past three decades have steadily cut the share of national income that goes into mass higher education.
Third, poor countries produce brainworkers that are pound for pound as good as ours. We have been renting them for years - from Taiwan, India, Hong Kong, Turkey, etc etc. - but now more are staying put or going back. Now U.S. companies are sending work to them offshore, where labor and resource costs are indeed lower.
Reich and the Clinton Dems have wanted to reconcile Ricardian "free trade" with increasing wages. But fifteen years later, it's still not clear how this can work, since brainwork can be outsourced and cheapened too. It's also not clear how nanotechnologies would change that equation.
Intellectual property and professional protections do work to some extent - American doctors make vastly more money than their Indian counterparts because the latter can't dispense direct advice in the U.S. without passing American medical boards. But these sanctioned monopolies don't fit easily with the free-trade "work of nations" paradigm.
Nanotechnologies thus are going to require a rethinking of a range of scientific and social policies.
The picture is of IBM's China Research Laboratory, in operation since 1995.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
To show people what sorts of products can be improved by nanotechnology, educators often use stain resistant pants and tennis balls that retain their air longer. My mom called the toasty feet insoles to my attention. Blogger Marlene Bourne ranked them as one of the top ten consumer products that make use of nanoparticles.
From the aerogel website, "Aerogel, the advanced nonporous material in Toasty Feet, has the highest thermal insulation value of any solid material available today, allowing it to retain heat efficiently, while remaining light and thin enough to fit comfortably in almost any shoe or boot."
I would lean towards calling this a clever use of materials science rather than nanotechnology. The lines between those fields are often quite fuzzy. In any case, they look like some nice insoles.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
While I don't agree with all of Keiper's comments, he does point out: the persistent confusion about what is nanotechnology; the divide between ho-hum nanoparticle research and more radical visions; the prevailing focus on EHS issue (partly as one of the few concrete areas where nanoethicists can get quick traction); and the rise of the nanoethicist.
It is perhaps on this latter point where Keiper is most harsh, referring to debates "awash in spin and misinformation" in which a recurring theme of "much of the social-science writing about nanotechnology is the importance of social -science writing about nanotechnology." Social scientists, he says citing researchers at CNS-ASU are full of self-pity and self-importance." Like I said, while I do not agree with all of his points, his observation that nanoethics (and here he seems to be conflating a wide range of methodological approaches and scholarly work) lacks humility and a "well-defined object of concern." If nothing else, this should give CNS folks something to think about.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
As with the New York Times piece from last week about IBM's chip improvements, nanotechnology per se wasn't given a major role in the story. Toward the end of the piece, Sir James Fraser Stoddart's work on molecular electronics and the possible use of molecules as transistors was featured. However, the NewsHour did not discuss other areas such as spintronics.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Have things returned to quantomania? The NSF is pursuing a new "science of science policy" initiative and there appears to be greater emphasis on the agency to quantify the output of its grants and awards. Within the nano-and-society sub-community, the focus also seems to be more heavily on quantitative social science with less attention to humanistic and qualitative research. Is this short-sighted? Is it an attempt to appear more scientific in the study of science and technology? Hoos, as one of her colleagues remembered, argued that for complex technological enterprises, one couldn't always rely solely on a systems-analysis approach.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Coincidence? Has the use of nano in electronics become so ubiquitous that it hardly bears mentioning? Or have companies like IBM ceded the n-word to the debaters about EHS issues while they continue to make advances in their nano products? Are they placing less value of labeling their technology as nano? Or was this simply a term Markoff decided not to use? What's going on?
Note: a follow up piece about the IBM announcement posted today by AP does make use of the magic n-word.