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If you’ve reached this page, you have reached the old 2020science blog site.
Please follow this link to the new (and considerably improved) blog: http://2020science.org
See you there!
As Barack Obama takes the oath and is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, many are anticipating a new era of socially relevant science and technology. Having run one of the most technologically savvy campaigns in recent times—possibly ever—Obama’s transition teams continued to break new ground in using technology up open up the process of government. And throughout the campaign and transition, there has been an emphasis on scientific integrity, and using science and technology in the service of society.
The trick is going to be to maintain this momentum in the new administration. Obama has surrounded himself with a top-notch group of science and technology advisors, and this, combined with a desire to get science and technology back on track, bodes well for the new Presidency. As BBC News reported this morning, scientists are optimistic that Obama has what it takes to reposition science and technology within government and society. And yesterday’s USA Today noted that “Scientists are hopeful that Obama, who has called for increased research spending, will bring a new dawn [to science].”
Of course, realizing the promise of a new scientific dawn will not be easy. Where will the money come from? What should the top priorities be? Will robust long-term science strategies be established? How will citizens be effectively engaged in the science and technology enterprise?
The USA Today piece explores some of these concerns (and does it well), and in the weeks and months to come, these and other issues will be aired more fully as the euphoria of Obama’s election dies down and reality sets.
But today, it’s time to celebrate the inauguration of a new president who has repeatedly emphasized the importance of science and technology for everyone.
On that note, rather than continuing to pompously pontificate on science and technology in the new administration, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the historic events of the day.
And in the spirit of a social media-savvy [soon not to be] president-elect, I will be eschewing the crowds of DC, and following the inauguration on the web. You can follow 2020science and others on Twitter as the day proceeds—just use the tag #inaug09.
Have a great inauguration day!
A note on the image.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to use the Nanobama image since it hit the headlines some weeks back. The image, made by John Hart, Sameh Tawfick, Michael De Volder, and Will Walker, was constructed from an etched “forest” of carbon nanotubes. Given the science and technology focus of the new administration, this seemed a great reminder of the potential of emerging technologies, and the challenges of translating that potential into safe and successful solutions to real issues.
This emphasis on open government, citizen engagement, and the use of enabling web-based technology, is expected to spill over to the new administration big-time. And as it does, the public discourse will inevitably encompass science and technology—it already has on the incoming administration’s website. But this raises serious questions: How do you pull people from all walks of life into conversations about science and technology—which are often complex—and how do you empower them to participate in making effective and influential decisions?
These are questions that have been grappled with in the US for some time—not least in the area of nanotechnology. The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 for instance had specific provisions
“for public input and outreach to be integrated into the [National Nanotechnology] Program by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions, through mechanisms such as citizens’ panels, consensus conferences, and educational events, as appropriate.”
This resulted in two academic Centers for Nanotechnology and Society being established—one at Arizona State University and another at the University of California Santa Barbara. But apart from the research conducted by these centers, there has been little in the way of true public engagement on nanotechnology in the US, in terms of enabling citizens to enter a two-way dialogue with decision-makers.
I know this because I have just read a fascinating assessment of nanotoxicology publications by Barbara Harthorn and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
You should read it.
Except that you can’t—unless you subscribe to the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, or work somewhere that does. Or you are willing to fork out $34.00 for the paper.
Since leaving the lab nearly four years ago, my empathy with those without ready access to the scientific literature has grown. With the exception of a pitifully small handful of publications I subscribe to, I now have to beg copies of interesting-looking papers from better-connected colleagues. And I’m not alone in this… Read the rest of this entry »
A new year, a new leaf—time for five more eclectic (some might say eccentric) book recommendations to see you through the hangover and into a brighter future.
As in the previous five good books blog, I’ve eschewed the conventional to provide as unusual a potpourri of literary delights as you will find anywhere. And as before, I’ve tried to inject a little method into the madness—spot it if you can!
I should first apologize because this was supposed to be a quick blog, rushed off before the New Years festivities began in earnest. But it turned into a veritable “slow blog!”
So for those of you impatient to read the recommendations and move on, here they are:
But please do read on, and discover the why behind the what… Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe it was just a slow news day. Maybe the subject had substance. Either way, a story posted yesterday by the Associated Press on home-style genetic engineering has attracted quite a bit of attention over the new services.
The story revolves around Meredith L. Patterson—a 31-year-old computer programmer who is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that glow green to signal the presence of melamine—that most recent of food-contaminants. According to the article, Patterson
“learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.”
And if you think that sounds far out, try the group DIYBio for size. Co-founded by Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, the Cambridge Massachusetts group is setting up a community lab where people can use chemicals and lab equipment according to AP—including a used low temperature freezer, scored for free off Craigslist! Read the rest of this entry »
Revisiting Sheila Jasanoff’s Technologies of Humility
Sitting down this morning, I had intended to write about three papers recently published on-line in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The papers (by Kahan et al., Pidgeon et al. and Sheufele et al.)—which were widely reported on a few weeks back—consider factors influencing “public” responses to nanotechnology, and challenge long-held beliefs that knowledge leads to acceptance.
However, I became distracted! Searching for an original frame for these studies, I returned to Jasanoff’s 2003 paper “Technologies of Humility: Citizen participation in governing Science,” published in the journal Minerva (Minerva 41:223-244). Reading it, I was struck afresh by how germane Jasanoff’s ideas are, how completely they seemed to have been ignored in US policy making, and how important they are to the science and technology agenda of the incoming Obama administration.
Rather than read a re-hash from me of what is an eloquently written and very accessible paper, I would strongly recommend you pour yourself a glass of good wine (a cup of coffee or fine tea will do just as well), carve out some quality time, and read the original—which is downloadable from here [PDF, 120 KB]. It is after all the holiday season, and what better than a good read to fill the long hours before the grind of work begins once again!
But just in case you are in a hurry and care to put up with my crude and flawed overview, here you are: Read the rest of this entry »
John Holdren is confirmed as the next Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
Barack Obama is serious about science and technology. It was clear in the campaign; clear in the President-Elect’s policies, and doubly clear in the speed with which he has established scientific leadership for the incoming administration.
Today’s official announcement that John Holdren is being appointed Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (which in addition to re-establishing a cabinet-level S&T asvisor, includes Hodren being Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology), puts the finishing touches to what many would consider a “dream team” for leading science and technology that serves society.
But just as important as the team is the philosophy behind it. In today’s address (which as usual is viewable on YouTube), Obama emphasized clearly the importance of science and technology in tackling national and global challenges: Read the rest of this entry »
Policy, public perceptions, and the opportunities and challenges of synthetic biology
Synthetic biology—a supreme expression of scientific hubris, or the solution to all our problems?
Like everything in life, I suspect that the answer to the question is far from black and white. Yet what is clear is that this emerging science and technology that merges evolutionary biology with systematic engineering raises many exciting new possibilities, together with a heap of complex social, ethical and even religious questions.
Striking the right balance between these opportunities and challenges will require people working together in new and innovative ways—especially those involved in researching, developing, using and overseeing synbio. If the emerging technology is to reach its potential, some tough decisions are going to have to be made at some point on what is developed, how it is used, and how it is regulated. And the more these decisions are based on sound science and informed thinking, the better.
This is the challenge a new initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has set its sights on. The just-launched Project on Synthetic Biology aims to foster informed public and policy discourse concerning the advancement of the field, working in collaboration with researchers, governments, industries, non-government organizations and others. Supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the project will draw on experience gained in addressing science and technology policy issues by the Project on Emerging Technologies—so you can expect to see some familiar faces here ☺
Rather than write a tedious infomercial for the new project, I would suggest instead that you check out the snazzy new website at www.synbioproject.org. Having said that, there are three things worth highlighting: Read the rest of this entry »
Introducing MINChar—a new community initiative to support effective material characterization in nanotoxicity studies.
Here’s a tough one: Imagine you have a new substance—call it substance X—and you run some tests to see how toxic it is. But you’re not quite sure what substance X is.
You know that it is a powder, and it is supposed to have chemicals x y and z somewhere in it. But you don’t know how small the particles are, what shape they are, whether chemical z is on the surface of the particles or inside them, whether the particles all clump together when shoved into the test system or whether they can’t get far enough away from each other after being administered, or whether there is something else present in substance X that really shouldn’t be there.
Now imagine your tests show that substance X looks like it could be rather dangerous. How do identify which aspect of the material is causing the problem, so you can go about fixing it?
Or imagine someone else wants to repeat your work. Or they want to compare your data with another study. How do you know that the substance being used in other studies is the same as substance X, and not simply a crude approximation?
The scenario is somewhat hypothetical, but the issues are very real. And they have dogged the field of nanotoxicology for over a decade. Read the rest of this entry »
The pains and pleasures of tweeting science and technology innovation, 140 characters at a time.
Five days, 539 words and 3,447 characters later, the Twitter experiment is over. Did I succeed in communicating on emerging science and technology in 700 characters a day? I’m not sure. The whole exercise was harder than I expected. Trying to come up with something interesting and relevant five times a day was a challenge. Thursday was a particularly tough day—and the entries show it!
But at the end of the exercise, I must admit it was fun. And even though tweeting will never supplant full-on blogging for communicating stuff in depth, it clearly has a place.
I’m not sure I would do a five-day stint like this again, but the medium is clearly open to innovative use. And with some thought, could be used to convey more complex information than trivial thoughts and web links. Personally, I think my writing-style took a dive with the constraints imposed by the character-limit and serial-posts. But I was surprised at how much could be crammed into 140 characters, with some thought. And while the experiment had many flaws, I think there is scope to use Twitter and similar formats in ways that lead to engagement on issues with some depth. Read the rest of this entry »
The National Research Council of the National Academies releases its review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research. And it’s not pretty.
Most people acknowledge that innovation is vital to economic and social prosperity. But what do you do when science and technology innovation are in danger of being stymied by bad habits and misguided thinking? One solution: apply a little tough love. Something a new report from the US National Academies does in spades.
By the end of the next US administration, there will be an estimated seven billion people on the planet, all wanting food, shelter, and water, and most of them striving for a first-world quality of life. With dwindling natural resources and an environment struggling to absorb humanity’s assaults, old technologies are coming to the end of their shelf life. Energy security, curing cancer, quality of life in old age, plentiful clean water, climate change—none of these challenges will be met without science and technology innovation.
More to the point, without a constant stream of science and technology innovation, the economy will be starved of the knowledge-capital so desperately needed for stability and growth.
Given this backdrop, you would think that the US federal government would be on top of spotting and navigating around potential barriers to innovation. Yet according to a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies, the feds seem to have their collective heads in the sand when it comes to ensuring investment in science and technology research delivers sustainable results… Read the rest of this entry »
Getting serious with Twitter
I’m gutted. I thought that blogging was where it is at—the cutting edge of the “new media” wave transforming modern communication. But I now discover that I’m at least four years behind the times—a veritable dinosaur in the world of “Web 2.0!”
Which is why I’m pushing myself out on a limb with a bold experiment in social network communication this week!
November’s edition of Wired Magazine ran a story entitled “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004.” And just in case you didn’t get the message about blogging from the title, the opening paragraph rammed it home:
“Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.”
The blogosphere is being deluged by a stream of “paid bilge” according to the article… Read the rest of this entry »
Navigating the minefield of airborne nanoparticle exposure
The issue is raised in the current edition of Nature Nanotechnology by Vladimir Murashov of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and former NIOSH-director John Howard. But the question has been bubbling along for some time.
And it’s an important one. Uncertainty over safe workplace practices is bad news for nanotech businesses trying to do the right thing—especially small start-ups that don’t have the resources to work out their own bespoke solutions. It’s not much better for regulators—as the gap between emerging technologies and solid information on their safe use widens, how do you craft new approaches to protecting people’s health and the environment? Read the rest of this entry »
A nanotechnology fix for high-end audio addicts?
I’m sitting at my computer watching a surreal balletic movie—a sheet of highly aligned carbon nanotubes is being slowly stretched, then allowed to slowly contract. In the background is a soundtrack of traditional-sounding Chinese music.
At least I think the soundtrack is over-dubbed, until I realize that the music is coming directly from the nanotube sheet itself, which has been attached to a small amplifier.
First impressions of the ICON EHS Database Analysis Tool
What do you do this holiday season when the turkey’s lost its appeal, you’ve seen every movie worth watching ten times over, and conversational déjà-vu sets in? If you are really desperate, you could play “nano-trivia”—and thanks to the fine folks at the International Council On Nanotechnology (ICON) you now have the perfect widget to help craft those cunning questions that will have your nearest and dearest wracking their brains.
Questions like “between 2000 and 2006, what percentage of scientific papers addressing the toxicity of carbon-based nanomaterials considered exposure via mucous membranes (or the skin)?”
OK, so maybe playing “toxic particle trivial pursuits” is the last resort of the desperate, and likely to result in an ever-decreasing circle of close friends. But for all that, the new ICON Environmental Health and Safety Database Analysis Tool has its merits… Read the rest of this entry »
Stephanie Meyer, blockbuster movies and emerging technologies
If you are a teenager, or have teenage kids, you are probably keenly aware that the movie of Stephanie Meyer’s best-seller “Twilight” opens this weekend. (At least, if you live in the US—readers elsewhere have a few more weeks of nail-biting anticipation to go.)
Being something of a cynical opportunist when it comes to blogging, I’ve been wracking my brains for a plausible link between the movie and emerging technologies.
Trouble is, I haven’t read the book, and it’s one of those scary ones that is thick enough to build houses with!
So, I compromised, and asked my thirteen-year-old daughter Bethany—and long-time fan of the Twilight series—to write the blog for me ☺ Read the rest of this entry »
Do emerging technologies have a place at the table?
As world leaders congregate in Washington DC this weekend for the G20 summit on the global financial crisis, discussions will be informed in part by what has been described as the “biggest brainstorming on the global agenda that has ever taken place.” I mention this because a small but nevertheless significant part of that brainstorm involved nanotechnology.
The brainstorm in question was the inaugural Summit on the Global Agenda, organized by the World Economic Forum and held in Dubai last weekend. The summit brought together “the 700 most knowledgeable people related to 68 global challenges” (WEF’s words) to address two questions… Read the rest of this entry »
Looking back to chart a course to the future
This coming lunchtime*, former New York Times columnist Denise Caruso will discuss the promise and pit-falls of synthetic biology with Center for American Progress senior fellow and former Washington Post science reporter Rick Weiss. Given the track record of both participants, I’m anticipating a stimulating and spirited discussion, which will draw on Caruso’s just-published article on an overview and recommendations for anticipating and addressing emerging risks from synthetic biology.
But rather than focus on Denise’s piece [which as you would expect from a talented writer, speaks quite eloquently enough for itself], I thought I would provide a slice of back-story to synthetic biology. And to do this, I want to use a rather good paper published last year by Brian Yeh and Wendell Lim (of the University of California San Francisco)… Read the rest of this entry »
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report on Novel Materials
Imagine for one naïve moment that we have a pretty good handle on managing the environmental impact of existing manufactured “stuff”. Then someone comes along and invents some “new stuff” that behaves very differently from the “old stuff.”
How can we be sure that the frameworks and mechanisms in place for preventing harm to the environment will work for the new stuff? And where they are strained to breaking point, how do we go about fixing the system?
These are two questions addressed in a new report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution—an independent British standing body established in 1970 to advise the Queen, government, Parliament and the public on environmental issues… Read the rest of this entry »
Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse on his hopes for the future
Amidst intensifying discussions over what the incoming Obama administration will mean for science and technology, an opinion piece in today’s Telegraph caught my eye this morning. Written by Sir Paul Nurse—Nobel Laureate and president of the Rockefeller University in New York—it provides a clear articulation of Obama’s campaign pledges, the challenges he faces in realizing them, and impact they could have on the US and beyond if he succeeds.
I usually eschew reproducing other people’s stuff here without adding my own perspective, but in this case, Nurse’s words speak for themselves… Read the rest of this entry »
Making sense of scientific information
While I was in the UK recently, I picked up a copy of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science on a tip from a friend. Ben is a medical doctor and writer for The Guardian newspaper—and a vociferous crusader of what he sees as the misuse and misrepresentation of science. And when he comes to communicating why science matters in a highly accessible way, he has few peers.
If you read my recent “Five Good Books” blog, you will already have seen a micro-review of Bad Science, which can be summed up pretty succinctly in three words: “buy this book.”
Bad Science is a great read… Read the rest of this entry »
UK Consumer Organization Which? Releases New Report
Who needs an emerging technologies blog when you have The Daily Mail? For those of you that missed it, Wednesday’s on-line issue of the British tabloid newspaper highlighted
I’m so glad someone’s tracking this issue, while us folks over on the other side of the pond are dealing with the considerably less-interesting issues surrounding the incoming Obama administration. The only trouble is, the Mail didn’t quite get it right. In fact on a scale of 1 – 10, I’m not even sure they even make it to first base… Read the rest of this entry »
Obama and science – Essential bed-time reading for the next Administration
Finally, the campaigning is over, everyone knows more about fruit flies than they ever wanted to (thank you Sarah Palin), and on an historic day America has “voted for change.” As the country looks forward to a radical change in leadership, the coming weeks are going to be wall-to-wall analysis of what an Obama administration will mean for everything from the economy to energy. And 2020science.org will be there in the thick of things. But after a heavy night of vote-watching, I thought something a little lighter was in order.
So here as an antidote to election fatigue are five good books every “convalescing campaigner” should have by their bedside as they work on regaining their strength. And as you might expect, I’ve thrown in a subtle but nevertheless significant emphasis on good science policy. Read the rest of this entry »
Twelve months ago today I held a bag of multi-walled carbon nanotubes up before a hearing of the U.S. House Science Committee. I wanted to emphasize the discrepancy between the current state of the science on carbon nanotubes, and a tendency to classify this substance as the relatively benign material graphite from a safety perspective. So it is perhaps fitting that on the anniversary of that congressional hearing, the US Environmental Protection Agency is making it clear that carbon nanotubes are in fact, a new substance—and should be regulated as such. Read the rest of this entry »
With just over a week to go before the 2008 US presidential election, there’s no shortage of opinions floating around on the key science and technology-related challenges facing an incoming Obama or McCain administration. But while advice swirls around issues like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, the environment, and establishing a top-level presidential science adviser as fast as possible, there is less talk about overarching goals that will underpin the science and technology policy agenda for the next four years… Read the rest of this entry »
Is the RBC Life Sciences® nanotechnology product Slim Shake approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? According to the BBC Radio 4 science program Frontiers—broadcast on Monday evening—there may be some doubt. But I get ahead of myself.
The US-based company RBC Life Sciences® sells a range of dietary supplements and food products allegedly based on nanotechnology—8 of them are listed in the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies public inventory of nanotech-enabled consumer products. As with many of the products in the inventory, it’s hard to tell whether they are truly using nanotechnology, and even harder to tell what steps have been made to assure their safety. But Monday’s edition of Frontiers shed a little light on this issue… Read the rest of this entry »
Whoever would have thought a science juggling act could be so much fun? Or so informative? Yet a couple of weeks back I found myself grinning like a ten year-old as I sat reviewing a new set of nanotech DVDs. The culprit: “The Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show;” one of the highlights of Talking Nano-a just-released set of six professionally produced educational DVDs on nanotechnology from the Nanoscale Informal Science and Engineering (NISE) Network.
After three years of hard work, International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee TC229—set up in 2005 to develop nanotechnology-related standards—has finally begun delivering the goods. And the first documents off of the blocks tackle head-on the challenges of working safely with engineered nanomaterials.
September saw the publication of the Technical Specification 27687—“Nanotechnologies—Terminology and definitions for nano-objects—Nanoparticle, nanofibre and nanoplate” (ISO/TS 27687). True to its title, TS 27687 does exactly what it promises… Read the rest of this entry »
Sitting here absorbing the atmosphere at the Synthetic Biology 4.0 meeting in Hong Kong, I have the strangest feeling of being transported into a Kim Stanley Robinson novel. It’s not the cutting edge science being presented that is responsible, exciting and innovative as this is. Neither is it the spectacular and futuristic setting, high above Clear Water Bay at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Rather, it’s the sense of a community that has come together to redefine how science and technology are developed and used within society; coupled with the possibility that they might just succeed! Read the rest of this entry »
Nanotechnology may be about engineering materials at a nanoscopic scale, but it is also about making a big impact through small changes. Both aspects of the emerging technology are exemplified in a new breakthrough from Shinshu University in Japan and the oilfield services company Schlumberger—a multi-walled carbon nanotube-rubber composite that has the capacity to help double the amount of oil that can be extracted from some oil wells… Read the rest of this entry »
The silent rave might seem a rather bizarre social phenomenon; a group of strangers converging in a public place and dancing to their own individual iPod soundtracks. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the emerging technology community has been indulging in the new tech-equivalent of silent raves for some time now.
These suspicions are probably the delusional by-product of jetlag. But travelling back from the latest in a long line of multi-stakeholder nanotechnology meetings last week, the analogy hit a chord… Read the rest of this entry »
The October issue of Esquire magazine is remarkable. Not for the world’s first e-ink cover (appearing on limited special editions of the magazine). But because three of the five scientists featured amongst the seventy-five most influential people of the twenty first century are synthetic biologists… Read the rest of this entry »
So, you have a cool new science that could make a major impact on global challenges like energy, disease and pollution and you want to make sure it reaches its full potential. What do you do? At some point, having a heart to heart with “the public” might be a good idea. Especially if your “cool new science” involves playing around with the very building blocks of life! Read the rest of this entry »
Forget the economy, healthcare, the war in Iraq. For some, the next President of the United States will need to rise to a far higher bar: Is he an e-mail junkie, or still stuck on snail mail?
John McCain’s lack of e-mail-savvy was the butt of recent Obama/Biden campaign ads. “Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn’t” goes the refrain. The subtext: if voted in as leader of the free world, could he actually lead in a technology-dependent society? In contrast, Barack Obama’s online social networking campaign-orchestrated by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes-promises a truly plugged-in president.
Yet strip away the superficiality and there is something missing in both campaigns-where is the science that will support the technology needed to keep America great in the 21st century? Read the rest of this entry »
I’m sitting here putting the finishing touches to 2020science.org—a new science blog—and having the latest in a long stream of panic attacks: What on earth am I doing? Who wants to read yet another tedious list of personal musings, what makes me think I have anything interesting to say, and where did I get the delusion that I can actually write anyway?
As I type this, the answers are crystal clear: Everyone’s surely too busy to read yet another blog (especially one biased towards responsible science and technology); in the cold light of reality I most likely have the wit of a 5 watt light bulb; and I should have listened to my freshman college tutor, who was definitely under no illusion about whether I could write!
Yet under the remote possibility that my perception is temporarily impaired, it’s worth examining exactly why I am putting myself through this ordeal. Read the rest of this entry »
The blogging community is no stranger to the use (and possible abuse) of nanometre-scale silver—products ranging from silver-enhanced socks and toothpaste to plush toys and cure-alls have all appeared in the spotlight recently. With each passing month, the number of nano-silver gizmos on the market is growing.
Back in March 2006 when the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Consumer Products Inventory was launched, there were 25 products claiming to use nanoscale silver. In contrast, the August 2008 update of the inventory brought the number of nano-silver containing products to 235—an increase of nearly ten times over two and a half years!
If you evaluate the toxicity of an engineered nanomaterial, how far can you trust your results? If someone else repeats your tests and gets a different answer, did they do it wrong? Did you? Or was the material used different in some subtle but nevertheless important way?
These are questions that have dogged nanotoxicologists for years, and have undermined many a study. But help is at hand—a group of scientists have decided to grasp the nettle and start working together to unravel these rather knotty challenges. Read the rest of this entry »
Amidst the cacophony of debate swirling around the true meaning of nanotechnology, I head a voice or reason last week. The voice was that of Dr. Bernd Sachweh of BASF, speaking at the European Aerosol Conference in Thessoloniki.
I paraphrase, but the essence of Bernd’s point was this:
‘Nano’ is not a thing or a product. It has no intrinsic value. Rather, ‘nano’ adds value; it changes the properties and the worth of something that already exists.
I must confess, I rather like the idea of ‘nano’ as adding value, rather than being an entity in and of itself. It’s hard to come up with of an example where engineering something at the nanoscale leads to behaviour or functionality that is independent of the starting material. Rather, the great potential of nanotechnology would seem to be in taking raw materials and engineering them in ways that lead to the emergence of novel scale-related properties, which can then be used in new and innovative ways.
But what I really like about the concept of added-value is that it provides insight into how nanotechnology might be approached from an oversight perspective. Read the rest of this entry »
How cool is this: A nanotech-enabled labcoat to protect the user against… well, nanomaterials presumably, amongst other things!
The labcoat—which uses Nanotex technology to make it stain resistant—is part of a major update to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Consumer Products Inventory that tracks manufacture-identified nano-products. Other eye-catchers in the update include a hunting shirt that resists bloodstains, a nanotech-based adhesive for McDonald’s burger containers, and an oven-like device for sanitizing whiffy shoes.
Of course, there are plenty of people who feel that consumer products represent an altogether too trivial side of nanotechnology. And I have to agree that on the scales of virtue, a nano-silver bidet would find it hard to compete with the next generation of nano-enabled solar cells or targeted cancer drugs. Yet trivial as many of the 800+ products in the updated inventory may seem, this is where most people will probably first come across the technology, and start to form their early opinions on whether it’s a good thing, or not so good.
And in this bizarrely-connected world within which we live, good experience with nano-bidets (for example) are more likely than not to make the introduction of nano-cancer drugs go just that little bit smoother. Read the rest of this entry »
As the rate of technological progress advances, are we learning the lessons of past successes and failures? And are we applying these lessons successfully to nanotechnology?
In 2001, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a seminal report on developing emerging technologies responsibly. Through a series of fourteen case studies spanning the past century, a panel led by the late Poul Harremoës examined what has gone right and what has gone wrong with the introduction of past technologies, and what can be learned about introducing new technologies as safely and as successfully as possible.
The resulting report, “Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000” (PDF, 1.7 MB) draws twelve “late lessons” for decision-makers faced with addressing emerging technologies . Read the rest of this entry »
Last December I highlighted the case of Benny the Bear—a soft toy using nano-silver to give it antimicrobial properties (Benny the Bear, and the case of the disappearing nanoparticles). It appeared at the time that the manufacturer was being rather coy about the use of nanotechnology, leading to me suggesting: “perhaps it’s time for Benny to come clean.”
Well, come clean he has. And the revelation: Benny really is silver-free—uncertainty over risks, regulation and public acceptance led to the manufacturer to find a non-nano alternative.
Painted metal roofs are cheap, convenient, and usually very durable. But over the past two years, a rash of accelerated ageing has blighted pre-painted steel roofing in Australia. And intriguingly the ageing—which affects the coating—seems to be localized to small patches, taking on the form of fingerprints, handprints and even footprints.
The culprit it seems is sunscreen that is spilt or otherwise transferred to the roofing by construction workers during installation. And not any old sunscreen—this would appear to be a uniquely nano phenomenon. But I get ahead of myself… Read the rest of this entry »
Read Thomas L. Friedman’s “The World is Flat” or Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon”, and you get a glimpse into how the hacker culture that emerged at the tail end of the twentieth century revolutionized the digital world. Will a confluence of emerging technologies—including information tech, biotech, and nanotech—lead to a similar revolution in the biological world? Read the rest of this entry »
Why nano? Why care? For non-nanotech initiates, an obsession with nanotechnology must sometimes seem a bizarre occupation of the sad and lonely. And even within the nanotechnology community, who hasn’t had occasional doubts over the legitimacy of singling out “nano” as something special? Yet occasionally a piece of work comes along that helps put things back into perspective. For me, a paper just published on-line in the journal Nano Letters did exactly that. Read the rest of this entry »
Mix carbon nanotubes and asbestos together (metaphorically) and you get an explosive mix—at least if news coverage of the latest publication coming out of Professor Ken Donaldson’s team is anything to go by. The research—published on-line today in Nature Nanotechnology—is the first to explicitly test the hypothesis that long carbon nanotubes behave like long asbestos fibres in the body.
In brief, the study (which I was a co-author on) used an established method to test whether a fibrous material has the potential to lead to the disease mesothelioma—a cancer of the outer lining of the lungs that can take decades to develop following exposure. In the method, samples of material are injected into the abdominal space of mice, where inflammation and the formation of granulomas in the lining tissue (the mesothelium) are studied over a seven-day period. Previous research has established that the combined presence of fibres, inflammation and granulomas is a very strong indicator that mesothelioma will occur in the long-term. While the method uses lining of the abdominal space, it is highly predictive of what happens in the same tissue surrounding the lungs, if it is exposed to durable fibres. Read the rest of this entry »
“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 fall, slip or are forcibly squeezed under this all-encompassing banner. Read the rest of this entry »
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 is reality, and waking up to a better life is not an option! What did I do to deserve this? The polite answer—agree to speak at yet another nano-meeting! Read the rest of this entry »
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 a little tarnished.
First we had Cal Baier-Anderson’s entry on the Environmental Defence Fund nanotech blog, calling claims that bacteria cannot develop resistance to silver “not only false, but dangerous.” Two days later, the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) filed a petition with the USEPA requesting the agency regulate nano-silver products as pesticides. And to top it all, Washington Post science writer Rick Weiss completed the hat trick with a story on nano-silver in Friday’s edition of the paper. Read the rest of this entry »