Friday, November 02, 2007

Nanoscience and Hope

Friday's LA Times featured a front-page story on John Kanzius, the man who developed a system to kill cancer tumors using radio waves and nanoparticles. Two things stand out in this inspiring narrative. First, Kanizius is an engineer who worked in television and radio broadcasting with no experience in the medical field. He had been developing the radio transmitter himself while undergoing chemotherapy. He later collaborated with Richard Smalley, including nanoparticles that attach themselves to cancer cells. The system essentially heats up the nanoparticles, killing the cancer cells while leaving the healthy tissue unaffected. In other words, chemotherapy would be a thing of the past. Second, the article points to at least one other potential use for Kanzius' invention -- distilling hydrogen from salt water for use in fuel cells.

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?


  1. For every inspiring story involving nanoscience, I see another dealing with the difficulties in working at these scales. For instance, take the issues at work with Moore's law and the development of new advances in semiconductors. For every new iteration in the advancement of technology, now moving as small as 32-nanometers, companies are increasingly finding the investment in time and resources difficult.

    For instance, yesterday Sony was reported as getting out of the advanced semiconductor business largely for reasons associated with resources and expense. There appears to be a paradoxical shift at work here. The smaller the scale, the greater the amount of resources are required to sustain development.

    In some measure, the wild Utopian promises of Drexler and company are unfulfillable with the confines of current technology.

  2. Are the media frames different for nano & medicine than for other applications? Is this something worth looking at?

  3. I don't think the media frames are that different. I suspect that these frames are familiar ones that accompany even military technologies (we will be safe/victorious), information technologies (we will have a more egalitarian society), etc. But what makes nano (and atomic energy) so different is the belief that *everything* will be changed by its arrival. Therefore the hope frame has a different effect on the audience because it is not bounded.