Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Toasty Feet another Nano Product

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

Nanoethics a No-No?

The most recent issue of the conservative-leaning magazine The New Atlantis has a very interesting article by editor Adam Keiper. Entitled "Nanoethics as a Discipline," it raises a number of provocative issues about the broader 'nano-and-society' undertaking.

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

Silicon Spin

Today's issue of Nature has an article about the first demonstration of the transport and coherent manipulation of electron spin in silicon. Previously, researchers studying spin were limited to other semiconductor systems. This new discovery might enable spintronics to be seen as a more serious contender to take over CMOS reaches scaling limits as engineers have decades of experience working with silicon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nano on the News-Hour

On tonight's PBS show The NewsHour, there was a thought-provoking segment about how engineers at companies like Intel are re-designing computer chips using variations of nanoelectronics technology to make chips faster and more powerful. This is essentially the technology that I blogged on here earlier with the use of exotic materials like hafnium to improve performance.

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

Technology by the Numbers

Ida R. Hoos, a critic of assessing technology solely in quantitative terms, died in late April at age 94. Trained as a sociologist, Hoos resisted the "quantomania" that "prevails in the assessment of technologies" during the heyday of the OTA.

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

The N-word

In yesterday's New York times (p. C3), reporter John Markoff wrote about an advance announced by IBM (Almaden lab) to make faster and more energy efficient chips. I found it curious that, despite the article's reference to "atomic scale holes," "ultrathin wires," and the use of a "self-assembly" technique, the word nanotechnology never appeared.

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.