Spicy Nanogoo

Nano Car (Photo by Y. Shirai/Rice University)Nanopaprika could be the key ingredient for spicing up the nanoscience and nanotechnologies communities. Site editor Andras Paszternak asked me to join just before the scientific social networking site passed the hot point of 500 members. Whether or not that nice round figure really is key to online science remains to be seen but there is certainly a buzz about the place.

I had rather hoped to kick off a lively debate on nanogoo and the media hype and parallel scare stories that have emerged since K Eric Drexler’s first proclamations about nanobots following on from Feynman’s famous room at the bottom lecture.

We’ve all read the grey goo headlines but we’ve also seen the hype regarding what nano has to offer. I often tell people it’s nothing special, just stuff that happens to be a few billionths of a metre in scale. If it’s not grey goo and it’s not the Drexlerian promise of a decade since, then where is modern nanoscience and when will it truly beecome nanotechnology?

I also asked the same question, in time-honoured fashion, of my LinkedIn contacts and have summarised responses here.

Liam Sutton, a Business Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Polymer Centre and Technical Consultant at FaraPack Polymers had this to say: “Well, ‘nanoscience’ is such a broad area. After all, the term encompasses (as far as I understand it) anything physical with a characteristic length scale in the order of nanometres. So there are unpleasant stories to tell, like the discovery of penetration of the blood-brain barrier in rats by diesel smoke particles and, equally, there are billion-dollar nanotechnologies already out there like hard disk drives based on the giant magnetoresistance of synthetic nanoparticles.”

Suttons adds that the Sheffield answer to this sort of question is to direct people towards the Soft Machines blog of Richard Jones, who is Senior Strategic Advisor for Nanotechnology for the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. “It’s a very well written and authoritative source on the place and direction of nanoscience and technology,” Sutton says.

Tim Harper, a (nano)Technologies Entrepreneur, says that, “Most of the hype seems to have shifted to Cleanteach (along with most of the hypers) so the picture is becoming a lot clearer. The technology is now emerging in a number of areas although the majority of ‘nano’ is still nanoscience.” He points readers to a couple of white papers dealing with this on the Cientifica website. Harper is VP Business Development at PlayGen, Contributing Editor at The Real Nanotech Investor, and an Editorial Board member on NANO, published by World Scientific.

Philippe Bradley (no relation), an Oxford Uni student and founder of CivSpark.com, which is currently in development said: “Nanobiotechnology seems to be a very exciting field at the moment – because, behind the opaque name, it’s basically the science of beating nature at its own game. The body is full of amazing machines, nanoscience seeks to modify or emulate them – or create completely new machines that perform similar functions.”

“Nanotechnology, as far as theory goes for technology in the nano domain, exists very much today,” adds Santanu Ganguly, at Network Engineer at Swisscom. He points to quantum dots, electron spin dynamics, atomic clusters etc, which all lie under the nanoscience banner. “In terms of actually seeing the basic science become a ‘true’ technology, certain challenges still remain,” he adds, “most of which has to do with quantum interactions. The most promising part so far, from the point of view of applications and control over quantum interactions, seems to be quantum optics and manipulation of DNA.”

You can read other responses and follow additional resources via the LinkedIn answers page. What are your thoughts on nano hype and nano fears? Are we set to drown in nanogoo at some point in the future or will nano save the world? Surely, with all this paprika around it’s time for a pep talk…