Decoupling “nanotechnology”

May 17, 2008

“Nanotechnology” as an overarching concept is great for sweeping statements and sound bites, but falls short when it comes to real-world decision-making.  As nanoscale technologies are increasingly used in everything from antimicrobial socks to anti-cancer drugs, perhaps its time to rethink how we talk about the myriad diverse technologies that ...

Enough meetings already!

May 8, 2008

My worst nightmare—I’m sitting at the back of a small plane (by the bathroom), my knees up round my ears (because someone else with a bigger case got to the overhead storage before me), and a small child screaming its head off two rows down.  But unlike a nightmare, this ...

Nano-silver: Looking a little tarnished?

May 2, 2008

The author Neal Stephenson got it wrong—at least, if this week’s nano-news is anything to go by!   In his landmark 1995 novel “The Diamond Age,” Stephenson described a future built on nano-innovation.  But thirteen years later, nanotechnology seems to be ushering in “The Silver Age.”  And to some it’s looking ...

Nanotechnology—in bed with Madonna?

April 25, 2008

If you want proof that nano is mainstream, just pick up the U.S. May edition of fashion magazine “Elle.”   Sharing cover-space with Madonna is the latest article on nanotech and the beauty business. Elle might not be your first choice of reading for cutting edge science, but Joanne Chen’s article “Small Wonders” is ...

U.S. nanotechnology risk research funding—separating fact from fiction

April 18, 2008

The most recent estimate from the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) puts nanotechnology risk research investment at $68 million for 2006 (the only year complete figures are currently available for—apparently).  Yet theProject on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has just completed its own assessment—and could only find $13 million associated with research projects primarily focused ...

Of jellybeans and buckyballs…

April 13, 2008

Here’s a small diversion for a slow Sunday afternoon:  Take sixty jellybeans and ninety cocktail sticks, and try to construct a model of a buckyball—a carbon-60 molecule.  It’s tricky, but not impossible. Constructing a candy buckminster fullerene is one of ten nano “experiments” in a new nanotechnology education kit from nanobits. ...

I’m breathing in nanoparticles, so why aren’t I dead already?

April 5, 2008

Read some accounts of nanotechnology risks, and you might be forgiven for concluding that a single engineered nanoparticle can kill you.  Of course, a little critical thinking soon dispels this notion—we are constantly bombarded with incidental nanoparticles from sources that include cars, incinerators and fires; we have been since birth.  ...

US town faces nanotechnology crisis

March 28, 2008

The small American town of Sunnyville is a town in crisis.  Against a backdrop of job losses that have decimated the local community, citizens are struggling to decide whether to welcome two major nanotech-enabled industries into the town, or whether to reject them because the new technology might create more ...

The passing of a science hero

March 19, 2008

On March 18th, the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died in his home in Sri Lanka at the age of 90.  A master developer and assembler of ideas, Clarke will be remembered fondly by many for igniting their enthusiasm for science, and how it might be used to better ...

Smart science for the 21st century

March 6, 2008

Can current approaches to doing science sustain us over the next one hundred years?  An increasing reliance on technological fixes to global challenges — including nanotechnology — demands a radical rethink of how we use science in the service of society. Over the next century we will perhaps be facing the ...

Communicating nanotechnology: Image counts!

February 8, 2008

What determines your view of nanotechnology—the message, or the messenger?  Most of us would like to think it is the message that governs our internal risk-benefit analysis.  But research published this week suggests other factors may be at work. Dan Kahan at Yale Law School and his colleagues are shaking up ...

Labels of contention

February 1, 2008

Labeling – is there anything more contentious in the safe nanotech debate?  Some are fearful that too much knowledge will confuse and worry muddle-headed consumers.  Others can only see the marketing opportunities of a “nano-inside” label. Then you have the nano-doomsday merchants, who seemingly would like nothing better than to ...

Synthetic biology and nanotechnology

January 26, 2008

The popular computer game “SimLife” allows users to create and manipulate virtual people.  But what are the chances of us one day being able to do the same with real organisms: building new life-forms out of basic chemicals, so “SimLife” becomes “SynLife”? This week’s announcement by J. Craig Venter’s team (and ...

Nanotechnology and the God of Small Things

January 12, 2008

With apologies to Arundhati Roi for “borrowing” the title of her moving book, what—if anything—has nanotechnology got to do with religion? Barnaby Feder of the New York Times takes on this issue in his latest posting to the Bits blog: “There may not be a lot of agreement among the world’s religions ...

Nanotechnology: The cause, the cure, and the spin-off product

January 11, 2008

What do Alzheimers and body armour have in common?  The answer could lie in the structures formed when proteins self-assemble at the nanoscale. At the end of last year, The Daily Telegraph Science Editor Roger Highfield wrote in an article: “The protein linked with Alzheimer’s disease has inspired the design of “nanoyarns” ...

$7 billion on nanotech R&D, and what do we have to show for it?

January 4, 2008

In 2004, the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) had a strategy – and it was OK.  But what has happened since then?  Has progress been made against planned actions?  What have been the major challenges to progress?  Have effective solutions been found?  And how have the lessons and experiences of ...

Nano’s silver lining is… Blue?

December 22, 2007

So you’ve developed an obsessive nano-silver Benny the Bear paw-chewing habit, and on the advice of your hairdresser, you’re quaffing silver nanoparticle suspensions by the pint.  What do you get? Well, according to a story airing on CNN this week, what you get is… blue skin! According to the article, Paul Karason ...

Benny the Bear, and the case of the disappearing nanoparticles

December 15, 2007

Let me introduce you to Benny the Bear. Benny is a rather cute cuddly toy sold by the U.S. company Pure Plushy—we met at a meeting of the U.S. Congressional Nanotech Caucus a few weeks back. His claim to fame is a resistance to moulds, mites and bacteria. To quote Benny’s ...

Drinking at the champagne bar of modern science

December 8, 2007

A trip through the newly refurbished St. Pancras station in London this week, and home to the widely-proclaimed “longest champagne bar in Europe”, prompted the following thought: At the champagne bar of modern science, are risk researchers the cappuccino drinkers tucked away in the corner? I’m not sure how far I ...

Animating the small stuff

December 1, 2007

Are nanotechnology Grand Challenges too grand for you?  Do Strategic Research Frameworks lead to you contemple a strategic withdrawal?  Have you prioritized just one too many research needs?  You are clearly in need of The Adventures of Nanoman—now available on YouTube. Nanoman was created last December as an antidote to what ...