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« Before the Awakening | Main | Molecular manufacturing organization suggestion »

September 11, 2005

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Niels Boeing

I just stumbled over your remark "Their definition of nanotech is the broad small-interesting-stuff definition, not molecular manufacturing" in this post. I think this should be nothing worth to be mentioned anymore, because you just mirror the kind of reasoning of the anti-MNT camp.

In fact what is hampering a debate about the pros and cons of NT right now is that the different fields never get started because they say "oh you guys are not doing NT, you are doing [chemistry, biotech, sciencefiction... whatever you want to put in]".

Why not getting over it by accepting what NT really is: not the technology OF nano-something, but technology in general ON a nanoscale. So it's perfectly right to include colloid chemistry as well as molecular manufacturing.

This usage is not just a theoretical thought. It's a necessity when we face a public debate not yet here but soon to take off about what people expect from NT. Everyone in this field - from chemistry on the one end to MNT on the other - is responsible to engage in this debate and let his/her specific field of research be questioned.

By arguing about whether a certain field is part of NT or not and whether it should deserve being mentioned or not, the research community gives the impression of deliberately evading responsibility and clouding the issues.

Having just been to two conferences in Europe where risks and regulation of NT were central topics I got really tired about seeing researchers on stage and doing exactly this, lamenting "the term NT is much too broad, we cannot build a debate on this". That's too late. The nano-meme is already out there, and it's got several incarnations like nanoparticles and molecular fabricators.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Neils, NT is not simply technology on the nano-scale. It is as diverse as sand, soap bubbles, steel, celery, and computers. And those aren't randomly chosen examples: nanoparticles can be mineral (like sand) or macromolecular (like soap bubbles); some nanotech aims at structural materials; another few branches of nanotech blend with biology; and some of it even tries to build general-purpose intricate structures.

The nano researchers and administrators are largely to blame for creating this confusion, having broadened the original meaning of nanotechnology far beyond any possibility of meaningful categorization. As far as I can tell, they did this because it was a convenient selling point (e.g. for funding from the National Nanotechnology Initiative).

To some extent, I agree with you that nanotech has to be treated as a lump concept, since that's how people see it. But those who want sane discussion and regulation will get nowhere if they don't realize that it is like trying to lump together gasoline and water for regulatory purposes, just because they are both liquids.

Having said all that, even if nanoscale technologies can be lumped together for some purposes, there is still a purpose to distinguishing molecular manufacturing from nanoscale technologies. Molecular manufacturing expects to have impacts qualitatively different than other nanotechnologies. Even if you think it makes sense to lump together nanotubes and nanodots, it cannot make sense to lump together nanotubes and nanofactories. They are more dissimilar than copper and computers.

I'm not trying to minimize your frustration. I have often been frustrated by the confusion created by the nanoscale technology pushers. (Whoever decided that MNT should stand for Micro-Nano-Technology when it has for years meant Molecular NanoTechnology deserves a special place in journalistic hell.) But that confusion cannot be improved by lumping all nanotech into one conceptual box.

Chris

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