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« Working Within the System | Main | Risks and Rewards »

November 21, 2004


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Last week I heard a lecture in our "Studium Generale", which is lectures about different topics open for the general public; it is mainly visited by elderly people. They have a physics series, one of which was a lecture about "Nanotechnology - Blessings and Dangers". Judging from the title, it could only be about molecular manufacturing I thought, so i was eager to hear it.

It started out very promising, with a short recap of the Industrial Revolution, a quick mentioning of the Luddites and a smooth transition to nanotechnology. The speaker presented "the 3 most important pioneers in nanotechnology". Sure enough, Feynman and Drexler were the first two. But who could be the third? Smalley? Well, that choice would have been acceptable, him being the discoverer of Buckyballs. But, of all possible candidates, he chose MICHAEL CRICHTON. At the same time he admitted he rejects Drexler´s ideas because he personally doesn´t like Drexler´s PR, although he said Drexler does good at PR (which I again doubt).

From then on, the quality of the lecture pretty much went downhill. He implicitly equated Drexler´s physics with Crichton´s (at least I was the only one who has read Prey at all, or at least the only one to admit it). He presented the nanofactory movie with any meaningful comment, instead he chose to repeatedly ridicule it, clearly and admittedly lacking any knowledge about the background of the video. Needless to say, there were no technical arguments, not even formulated in general. After some more ridicule he quickly left MNT and went into his field: He, being a practical physicist and specialising in GaAs semiconductors, dug deeper into the exciting world of, well, GaAs semiconductors. No blessings, no dangers.

Then the question round began. Naturally, my first question was about his opinion of Nanosystems. His answer? "I haven´t read Nanosystems". I then spared him the question of what he found wrong with the molecular bearings proposed by Drexler. Also I told him that there indeed are calculations of molecular bearings and other devices, contrary to what he said before. He didn´t really seem to care. Maybe we were speaking of two different kinds of "molecular amnufacturing", since he insisted that there is world-wide and extensive research on it. Correct me if I´m wrong, but I don´t think that´s true for mechanochemistry.

In conclusion, even I would have done a way better job of presenting MNT to the audience of about 200. As long as uninformed people like him shape the opinion about MNT, you will never get a talk about MNT.

Mike Treder, CRN

Matt, do you know of anyone in or near your city who could deliver a more informative talk in that venue on MNT? Perhaps yourself?

How did the other members of the audience respond? Did anyone else ask questions?


I misspelled above: he presented the nanofactory movie withOUT any meaningful comment.

do you know of anyone in or near your city who could deliver a more informative talk in that venue on MNT?

No, I don´t. Very few I know have even heard of Drexler, let alone of the whole idea of MM. Then again I can only speak for the computer sciences department, I don´t know about the physics dep.

Perhaps yourself?

In fact I already have. It was a first attempt in front of maybe 30 people I knew. I think it was too long and maybe too detailed, but I could and would do better next time. The audience was part with technical, part with non-technical background. My biggest handicap is my lack of physics education I think.

How did the other members of the audience respond? Did anyone else ask questions?

Yes they did, the questions were, however, not about MM, since the speaker delievered short of no background info at all to discuss about if one didn´t already know about the topic. For the same reason there was no reaction, those who didn´t know probably thought "Well he´s a professor, so he can´t be that wrong when he makes fun of Drexler and his ideas." Typical case of "The experts speak" I´d say. At least he openly admitted he rejected Drexler´s ideas because of the way Drexler handles PR.

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