Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Nano is different from Fuel Cells...

Chris Toumey, in his 4S talk, "Dialogues on Nanotech," reported findings based on USC's Citizens School of Nanotechnology. One set of comments that struck me as particularly interesting addressed the difference between public perceptions of nanotechnologies and fuel cell technologies. Overall, participants could envision a future with fuel cell technologies more easily than they could a future with nanotechnology: compared to fuel cells, nano has ambiguous outcomes, is not well-focused, and seems to be part of a far distant future whereas fuel cells are more clearly framed in terms of goals and definitions and have been effectively billed as a near-term technology. Thus, participants could see fuel cells as a means for their own personal prosperity - or at least for the prosperity of their local communities.

Read more on USC's Citizens School of Nanotechnology here and here.


  1. Hmmm...fuel cells. Perceptions vs. reality of what is possible in the future and what already exists.

  2. the fuel cell backstory: according to Toumey, Columbia, SC, has embraced fuel cell technologies as a regional technology initiative. Local media, industry and university experts, and government officials, have promulgated fuel cells as a future track for regional economic prosperity. Though the same has been done, at least to some extent, for nano, participants in USC's Citizens School for Nanotechnology expressed a greater understanding and anticipation for fuel cells. They could see them on the horizon in a personal way.

  3. Fuel-cells are still many years away from any sort of meaningful commercial deployment. The comparison by the USC people seems to be an unfair one. While the science and technology of fuel-cells are well understood, they are one simple instance of a very specific technology. The potential impact of nanoscience is much greater reaching than simply using fuel-cells as replacements for internal combustion engines.

  4. Justin, I think you've hit the main point. Fuel Cells, while still an emerging technology, are more easily understood by the participants representing the larger public of Columbia, South Carolina. The local media, gov't, and experts have made it a priority to make fuel cell technology extremely clear to the public. Conceivably, this might have been done with a more specific form of nano (like nanotubes, nanoelectronics, or a particular nano-medicine device).

    If you want more than my sound bite about the talk, check out Toumey's short article in Nature Nanotechnology here: http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v2/n7/full/nnano.2007.204.html