Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ongoing R&D Debate

The Financial Times has run a piece by a senior analyst at the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts. He says that while the US has appeared "to be attracting the world's next generation of scientists and engineers . . . there was one country whose citizens did not find the US attractive enough to pursue a career in science and engineering: the US itself." The author, Sami Mahroum, offers the familiar statistic that one-third of SE doctorates in the US go to foreign-born students.

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

Another Good Article

Nice to see some more activity here. For those interested in the nano -- sci-fi connection, look at Daniel Patrick Thurs's piece in the September 2007 issue of Science Communication. Entitled "Tiny Tech, Transcendent tech," it offers an excellent look at the various ways sci-fi has been used by various communities to promote (and sometimes oppose) nanotech. It also has some trenchant points about how science communication with the public, especially when it comes to trying to make science noteworthy, now often relies on sci-fi imagery despite the problems this may pose.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Good Article- "The challenge of regulating nanomaterials"

The online version of the journal Environmental Science and Technology has a great article on regulation of nano-enabled products.

"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

Risky Business

The November 24, 2007 issue of The Economist has a very good article about the current state of discussions in the U.K. and the U.S. about the risks posed by nanoparticles. Some thoughts.
- 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...

Show Me the Data

One thought for a research project - track the number of undergraduate and graduate courses at research universities that deal with nanotech. As one of the premises of the NNI is that it will help foster a revolution (yes, one of those) in interdisciplinary research, this should be testable. And one of the signs of this should be an increasing number of nanaoscience/nanotech classes which are cross-listed. If nothing else, it would be interesting and useful to survey the pedagogical basis of these courses...what is being taught, what texts are used, how is nano presented?

Any takers?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I came across the below article today. It made me think about how nanotechnology while still in its nascent stage of scientific and technological development has had such a wide influence on the imagination of individuals across disciplines.


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

Gray Goo on the Big Screen

An interesting article came out today on 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

Nano and Second Life

Given our discussion yesterday about the messianic nature of nano pre-history when I came across the below news tidbit I stopped and thought how strange nano is across so many dimemsions. First of all the "creation myth" surrounding nano with Feynman's role and Drexler's proselytizing makes for a good story and I'm sure when someone options the movie script it will be an instant science-fiction classic. Add to this surreal story a virtual online dimension and you have the makings for a real mind-bender a la the Matrix.


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:

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nano Origami

After today's talk in Patrick's class, I was curious to find who should claim the credit for the creative metaphors of nanotechnology... I came across this TED talk from Paul Rothemund who fancies himself a "magician with DNA" who folds nanoparticles much like origami. Also of note is that at a website that claims to hold the top one-thousand thinkers, Hod Lipson of self-replicating fame and the nano-visionary Ray Kurzweil are featured.

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?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nano news from ACS

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a new website for the nanoscience community, Nanotation
(link here)

There is also an article in the C&E News "Challenges Of Risk-Based Nanotech Research"