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Heroes Community > Other Side of the Monitor > Thread: The Science of Small
Thread: The Science of Small This thread is 4 pages long: 1 2 3 4 · NEXT»
Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 22, 2009 06:36 PM bonus applied by Mytical on 23 Oct 2009.
Edited by Corribus at 23:11, 04 Nov 2009.

The Science of Small

Some time ago at the Round Table, I started, at Winterfate’s request, a thread about nanotechnology which was entitled “The Science Thread”.  The thread came about because nanotechnology had been mentioned elsewhere and Winterfate had wanted to know more about it.  The thread enjoyed some moderate success, but because the Observatory forum over there was in its dying days, and because I elected to start with a more technical approach to the topic, it petered out after a few pages, well before I actually got around to actually talking about nanotechnology.

Well, Winterfate recently renewed his request, and I was thinking about starting something here anyway, so with that in mind, I welcome you to my second attempt at a thread about nanotechnology.  However, I will be taking a different approach here, which I hope will make the thread more accessible to the average reader.  First, I'm going to start with nanotechnology, rather than building up to it from other topics.  Second, and more importantly, I envision this thread – at least at the start – being less about how nanotechnology works (i.e., the underlying physics) and more about what nanotech can be used for.  Thus, I will be talking more about applications of nanotechnology, what the advantages are, and how it will affect your life.  Winterfate said that I should “Cater to the inner scientist in everyone”; well that’s what I’m going to try to do.

Before getting into the meat of the matter, a few administrative details:

(A) I would like this to be a little like a college seminar.  For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, it goes like this.  Seminar courses are generally small, 8-10 students, plus the professor, who leads the class.  The professor usually has a daily topic, but it is presented more like a discussion than a formal lecture.  I.e., the professor usually presents the topic, but students are encouraged to discuss the topic together; the direction of the course is determined as much by the students as by the leader.  

(B) I don’t want to make any formal rules for discussion, but as a general guideline, let’s try to refrain from excessive quoting.  Though I don’t have official moderator powers here, I would also ask that you grant me imaginary moderator powers.  That is, if I sense that the discussion is going off on an unproductive tangent, and I request that the tangent be terminated, you will please respect my request or take it to a new thread.

(C)
The purpose of this thread is to learn, not to argue.  Keep it civil.

(D) Questions and topic suggestions are welcome!  Feedback is also encouraged.  We don’t have to stick to nano.  We can branch to other areas of science as well.

(E) The way I plan to do this is to offer periodic “chapters”, where I present a short article on a specific topic related to nanotechnology.  I hope to intersperse these articles with case studies, where I will take interesting articles from the literature and present highlights, so people know what is going on in the field of nanotechnology.  This is actually a pretty unique opportunity to a lot of you who don’t have access to the primary scientific literature.  In between postings, I hope we can have some discussion.

(F) Frequency and continuation of postings will obviously depend on the level of interest.  So if you do read the articles and find them interesting, do drop a note and say so.

(G) Ultimately, I hope this thread can serve as a model for other education threads here at HC which may help to change the current atmosphere at the OSM.  Most of us here have either professional expertise or just hobbies or areas of interest that could be developed into interesting education threads.

Ok, that’s about it.  I will post the first article soon.  I will also maintain a table of contents in this post, as articles are added.  The first two planned articles are already listed below.

Table of Contents

1.   Perceptions of Nanotechnology, Part A: Grey Goo
2.   Perceptions of Nanotechnology, Part B: What do people really think?
3.   Perceptions of Nanotechnology, Part C: The Fishberry: A Lesson from GMO
4.   What is Nano?
5.   Quantum Dots, Parts 1 and 2.
6.   Applications in Food (Forthcoming)

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Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 22, 2009 07:07 PM
Edited by Corribus at 20:01, 22 Oct 2009.

Perceptions of Nanotechnology

As stated in the introductory post above, the purpose of this thread is not necessarily to educate you in the physics of nanoparticles, but to give you a sense of what is going on in this revolutionary new field of science, and, more importantly, explain how it impacts you, and why you should care.  Like any new field of technology, nanotechnology has an immense potential to make your life better; but it also carries with it a lot of ethical baggage.  Are products based on nanotechnology safe?  Can they be abused?  Can they be dangerous in the wrong hands?  These are questions for scientists, regulatory agencies and the public to answer.  But how the public contribute intelligently to the dialogue if it isn’t educated in the facts?  Well, they can’t.  

A. Grey Goo

With that said, I’d like therefore to start this discussion with some words about how the public perceives nanotechnology, and new technologies in general.  What influences those perceptions, and how do those perceptions affect the ultimate success of the technology in commercial applications.  After all, you can have the coolest scientific widget in the world, but what good is it if the public is too afraid to buy it because they believe it to be harmful?  

Anyone who has read any science fiction is probably familiar with the grey goo plot device.  You know the one: miniature nanorobots learn how to self replicate (either through malicious design or accident) and they basically devour the planet/solar system/universe, leaving nothing behind but high entropy colorless mush.

The term grey goo was coined by MIT engineer Eric Drexler, and though the idea of a nanomachine-based-doomsday-device/scenario has been scoffed at by some prominent scientists (including the late Nobel laureate Richard Smalley – codiscoverer of the bucky ball), the grey goo scenario has nonetheless become popular in written fiction and Hollywood.

For instance:



and



These are just two examples of recent entries into popular culture which utilize abuses of nanotechnology as a prelude to disaster.  In Michael Crighton’s Prey, a company fails to install proper air filters in its labs, and nanorobots escape into the desert, where they evolve and multiply, after which All Hell Breaks Loose.  In the GI Joe movie, the Big Bad develops a “nanotechnology based” weapon capable of destroying whole cities.  

Other occurrences of nano in popular culture include: the video game Crysis (Nano Suit) and Metal Gear Solid (nanobioengineered weaponry), Star Trek (the Borg), the film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (self-replicating nanobots), and the film “Agent Cody Banks” (nanorobots again).  To be fair, not all appearances of nanotech in popular culture depict the technology as solely destructive, but by and large we’re talking about weapons or military applications, and while its true that there are military applications to nanotechnology, that’s only a (very) small slice of the pie.

The real problem is, of course, that most people don’t get their scientific information from scientists.  Few people take advanced science courses in college where they are exposed to real information about emerging technologies.  Most of the science people see on the news is watered down or just plain wrong.  Therefore, while the idea that people would allow their opinions on a technology to be swayed by a GI Joe movie might seem ridiculous, it is an unavoidable truth that our perceptions of science applications are influenced by popular culture, helped along by a natural fear of new technology.  Many ignorant (I don’t mean that pejoratively) people, after seeing movies, books and video games aplenty featuring nanotechnology-based doomsday scenarios, will eventually come to believe that nanotechnology is bad – and only bad –  without even realizing it.  

In most cases, these opinions are not based on any facts, because movies, video games and (sometimes) books rarely take the time to explain how their nano-doomsday-devices work.  Nanotechnology is just the fancy, sciencey word the scriptwriters throw around that makes the conflict sound serious and relevant.  It’s a plot vehicle, nothing more.  All the writers tell the viewer is that Dr. Insane and Dr. Evil have made a really bad weapon, it’s based on (duh-duh-duh) Nanotechnology, and they aren’t afraid to use it.  The consumers don’t know what nano is, they don’t know how it works, they don’t know its limitations or its potential benefits.  They just know it can be bad, and, thus (implied), it’s probably better off avoided.

So, am I anti-popular culture?  No, of course not.  Movies, books, video games: they need something to get the good guys going after the bad guys.  It makes no difference if it’s nuclear technology, biotechnology, or nanotechnology.  They’re pretty interchangeable and plotlines have been devised around all of them.  Nanotech is just the new boy in town right now.  What I’m against is people forming opinions on technology based on what they see on television or their Playstations.  Sure, it’s fun to watch the team of heroes stop the grey goo cataclysm at the last possible moment, and I see nothing wrong with that.  But on the same token, people need to realize that they’re not really being fed rigorous information about nanotechnology and that they should take their grey goo with a grain of salt.  



Possible Discussion Questions:
(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?

(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?

(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?

(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?

Next Up:  Perceptions of Nanotechnology, Part B: What do people really think?
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TheDeath
TheDeath


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posted October 22, 2009 07:12 PM

Compared to the other "popular culture" plotholes in nanotechnology, isn't Grey Goo feasible though, given that we know how to:

1) Make nanobots capable of extracting energy from the environment (sunlight, materials...)

and

2) Make copies of themselves based on ANY surrounding matter -- which is fiction as of right now, but I actually think this is possible (in effect we'll be able to make anything out of thin air by re-arranging the atoms )


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mvassilev
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posted October 22, 2009 07:37 PM

Quote:
Movies, books, video games: they need something to get the good guys going after the bad guys.  It makes no difference if it’s nuclear technology, biotechnology, or nanotechnology.
For once, I'd like to see a movie/book/video game where the good guys use the full power of SCIENCE! and the bad guys are anti-technology.

Personally, I'm for nanotechnology (and, indeed, for any form of technological advancement), and whether something contains nanotech or not will not sway my opinion in either direction. Science is not evil.
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Doomforge
Doomforge


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posted October 22, 2009 07:45 PM
Edited by Doomforge at 19:46, 22 Oct 2009.

Quote:

(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?


Yeah, when I've been playing Deus ex

It was pretty fun. All that kind of nano-augmentations that made people jump 50 feet up and run faster than a cheetah. What's not to like about regenerating severed limbs or breathing infinitely underwater, too?

Besides, I really like the universal constructor idea.

Quote:
(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?


I don't take any kind of popular culture stuff seriously.

Quote:
(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?


Not really.

Quote:
(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?


No, I see no reason. The gray goo theory seems like a massive pile of BS to me And besides, once you're aware of something, it's way easier to prevent it from happening. Heavy nano-tech would probably take that theory into consideration and apply simple counter methods to prevent it from happening.
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Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 22, 2009 08:16 PM
Edited by Corribus at 20:18, 22 Oct 2009.

@Death

I think that whether grey goo is a possibility is a question of limited importance.  Perhaps it is one of academic interest, but that's about it.  It's rather naive to say that any sort of technological outcome is an impossibility - such premature claims of technological limitation have been proven wrong on many occasions.  A more important question is: does a technology's capacity for abuse have a bearing on whether the technology should be developed?  Nuclear technology has an obvious potential for worldwide destruction, and I'm sure that humanity could design a virus capable of killing a majority of humans on the planet.  Abusing information technology might not lead to our physical destruction, but could very well lead to socioeconomic destruction.  The list goes on.  The point is that if we forbade all technological development out of a fear of technological abuse, we'd still be in the stone ages.  The difference is, of course, that as technology becomes more advanced, the stakes get higher.  Is grey goo possible?  Perhaps.  But assuming it is, is that a reason to declare nanotechnology immoral and ban research involving it?  More importantly, people like to focus on the high profile, doomsday scenarios for a given technology, and ignore all the other ethical questions that surround technological development which are more relevant but less movie-worthy.  There are much bigger safety issues with nanotechnology than the unlikely-but-maybe-technically-possible grey goo scenario, but they admittedly aren't as flashy. People don't know about them, of course: it all comes down to education.
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TheDeath
TheDeath


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posted October 22, 2009 08:27 PM

I wasn't talking about a ban, sorry, I just understood wrongly that you meant all of them are based just on popular culture
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del_diablo
del_diablo


Legendary Hero
Manifest
posted October 22, 2009 09:04 PM

Quote:
(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?


Why would i want to not buy it? The current arguments against genetically modified food these days are without any backup in their claims, the same will apply to nano technology.
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Geny
Geny


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Undefeatable Hero
What if Elvin was female?
posted October 22, 2009 11:03 PM

First of all, great topic.
I myself am a fourth year electrical engineering student and am somewhat close to the field. One of the specializations I'm taking is called Micro- and Nanotechnology and even though I'm more of a micro- guy since nano requires more physics than I care to learn, that does not mean that I am not interested in the subject.

As for the first part, I've seen plenty of nano usage in popular culture, but I've seen my share of good usage as well as bad. So, in the end I treat nanotechnology as any other technology - neutral. Like mvass (I think) said: science is not evil, it's just a tool and the potential of nano becoming dangerous should not stop us from enjoying its benefits.
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Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 23, 2009 12:40 AM
Edited by Corribus at 00:43, 23 Oct 2009.

@Geny
Quote:
As for the first part, I've seen plenty of nano usage in popular culture, but I've seen my share of good usage as well as bad.

Where have you seen good usage?
btw, Nice to see a fresh face in the OSM.

@Death
I know, I was just speaking generally.

@Del Diablo
It's interesting you brought GMO up.  I'll be using it as an example of what could happen to nanotechnology if we aren't careful.

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TheDeath
TheDeath


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posted October 23, 2009 01:03 AM

Quote:
Where have you seen good usage?
Well I doubt the Crysis nanosuit is supposed to be "bad"
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winterfate
winterfate


Supreme Hero
Water-marked Champion!
posted October 23, 2009 01:10 AM

Yay, the thread got made!

With that cheer aside:

Quote:
(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?


Quite a few times. I saw the GI Joe movie. I've also played Outpost 2 which, while being an utterly terrible game, had a Grey Goo story behind it (it was called the Blight and could only eat living organisms, but could take over and infect mechanical units).

Quote:
(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?


Not vastly. All popular culture has managed to do is show the possible doomsday scenario. It does scare me since humanity is famous for being hopelessly reckless in their usage of technology but we haven't wiped ourselves yet, so assuming that nanotechnology = doomsday is also a bit premature.

Quote:
(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?


Not that I'm aware of.

As an aside, I think I heard about some combat armor research where the suit could self-repair itself with nanites.

Quote:
(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?


Depends on the product. If it were edible...no comment.
Otherwise, it wouldn't affect my decision.

---
Also, I remember hearing about bucky-balls and carbon nanotubules in Organic Chemistry. It's one of the few topics in that branch of science that fascinates me. Nanotechnology looks like it has the potential to change the world (let's hope it's for the better.)

QP for Corribus please! He deserves one for humoring my request. Twice. (As he mentioned in the master post.)
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TheDeath
TheDeath


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posted October 23, 2009 01:12 AM

By the way for (3) I'm surprised no one has heard of carbon nanotubes which are constructed with nanotechnology (right?). To me nano "bots" are a different branch even though they use nanotechnology itself.
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winterfate
winterfate


Supreme Hero
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posted October 23, 2009 01:18 AM

@TheDeath: Yes, they're made with nanotechnology. I saw a show once where the scientist was "weaving" the nanofibers using mechanical aid...I don't think I have the patience to do that, but it's pretty fascinating.

But, (3) is asking if you know of any products you use that use the tech. And in that case, I really don't know.
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Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 23, 2009 03:51 AM

@Winterfate
Quote:
Depends on the product. If it were edible...no comment.

It's already here....
We'll be talking about Food Nanotechnology later.  You'll be surprised, I think, of some of the ideas that have been bounced around.

@Death
For discussion question 3, I was referring mostly to commercial, everyday products.  For instance, Samsung just came out with a line of home appliances that utilize silver nanoparticles for their antibacterial properties.  (The Koreans are nuts for the stuff.)  Carbon nanotubes are, obviously, nanomaterials - but they are not themselves what I'd consider a "commercial product".  I.e., something you'd find a Walmart.

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Binabik
Binabik


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posted October 23, 2009 04:30 AM
Edited by Binabik at 04:36, 23 Oct 2009.

*Requests a laymen's definition of nanotechnology*
Sure, I could go to Wikipedia, but it should be here.

(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?
No

(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?
No, not to any significant degree anyway.

(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?
No, but you're going to enjoy surprising us right?

(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?
Yes, but not much.


"A more important question is: does a technology's capacity for abuse have a bearing on whether the technology should be developed?"
Yes, of course. To not consider it would be irresponsible.


"The point is that if we forbade all technological development out of a fear of technological abuse, we'd still be in the stone ages.  The difference is, of course, that as technology becomes more advanced, the stakes get higher."

Yes, the stakes get higher. The stone age might be extreme, but the "horse and buggy" days could be considered by some as a step forward rather than a step backwards. The lifestyle of the Amish definitely has its appeal at both the individual level and the global level (although it wouldn't be possible on the global level).


Generally speaking I'm interested in things like this just as a curious person. And well, it's cool. But I'm also a natural skeptic. Again, generally speaking, technologies are used as soon as a viable application is found. This is going to be VERY early in the course of understanding that technology. How many centuries did we burn fossil fuels before having the science to understand the impact on the environment?

As for the potential for abuse, or misuse out of ignorance, it seems to me that if man CAN do something, then eventually he WILL do it.

I asked for a definition because I know nothing about nanotechnology except "very small stuff". I don't even know if it's organic, inorganic, both, or a hybrid. Inorganic science somehow seems safer, but the skeptic in me is desperately seeking a way that a rock can be a threat.

Let me return to general technologies again. Science is getting to the point where we run into all kinds of ethical questions. The advances in science scare me. They don't scare me out of ignorance so much as out of knowledge. Mankind has a very poor track record in our relationship with the earth. We want to be the gods of our universe. But we are not alone in nature, it's not ours to control and manipulate as we see fit. Sciences like genetic engineering trespass into the very womb of Mother Nature, into a place that is sacred. Cannot we just leave our mother alone? Without violating her inner sanctum with all our poking and prodding? It somehow just seems disrespectful, that we should just let her be. Let the wonders of nature continue to amaze us and put us in awe of the beauty around us.

No, that's not scientific in the least, but it's human. And there's nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, there's something very right about it.

I once wrote a paper for a history class. We were given the choice of several topics. I didn't like any of them so I made up my own topic. Rather than write about history I asked the questions, "What if there were no history? What if we had no knowledge of the past?". So now I'll ask similar questions. What if we stopped all scientific research? Right now. What would our future be?

Personally I don't see that future as bleak. There's actually a sort of comfort in that thought.


Um, I guess I rambled again.

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dimis
dimis


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Supreme Hero
Digitally signed by FoG
posted October 23, 2009 05:17 AM

Quote:
(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?
Nothing crosses my mind right now.

Quote:
(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?
No way! In fact the more years go by, the more I do not pay attention on the perception of science by popular culture. The guys who shape "popular culture" usually do not know, they are just making things up or using "flashy" (for them) terminology. The funniest part about movies though I think comes in translation ... So, you have a term in english, that even the producer didn't know exactly what it was, and then another guy, in another country, in the fuss of "mass translation" has to come up with a term. And guess what ? The impact is sometimes different, because instead of awe, you are laughing at the translation ...

Quote:
(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?
Nope, but I really hope you are going to surprise us just like Binabik said.

Quote:
(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?
Absolutely not. May be the contrary. My dogma is this: Those who don't like technology, they belong to the caves.


Hopefully the answer below will help you on your approach:

Quote:
Perceptions of Nanotechnology, Part B: What do people really think?
I will speak about myself. I do NOT. I mean, I do not have an opinion, because I accept my ignorance. Apart from a fuzzy idea of creating robots that work in nano-scale, I have NO CLUE whatsoever about the entire thing. I believe the time has come As you can understand I do not care about the "social impact" others might want to discuss. I want the real thing. Or, at least a glimpse of the innovations and proofs. But I am patient; like a mule.
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Shyranis
Shyranis


Promising
Supreme Hero
posted October 23, 2009 05:27 AM

Quote:
(1) Do you recall an instance in popular culture where you were exposed to nanotechnology?


Several, usually when it's used positively it's shown as a miracle cure for cancer or something similar.

Quote:
(2) Do you believe your perception of nanotechnology or technology in general has been swayed by popular culture?


Personally I think it's cool. Nanotechnology is used for a lot of things, even Computer Processors (they're usually what, 45 nanometers now?)

Quote:
(3) Are you aware of any commercial products that you use right now that feature nanotechnology?


Intel, AMD and IBM processors, among others.

Quote:
(4) Would you be less likely to use a product if you knew it featured nanotechnology?


Depends on the product.
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Binabik
Binabik


Responsible
Legendary Hero
posted October 23, 2009 05:32 AM

Quote:
Computer Processors (they're usually what, 45 nanometers now?


I don't think that's what nanotechnology means.

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Corribus
Corribus

Hero of Order
The Abyss Staring Back at You
posted October 23, 2009 06:20 AM
Edited by Corribus at 18:37, 23 Oct 2009.

Some great posts and thoughts, and I'm glad for the interest.  I don't have time to address everything, especially some of the interesting ideas brought up in Bin's post.  My thoughts on the Amish will have to wait until tomorrow.

But I wanted to address one thing very briefly, and that's Bin's request for a definition of nanotechnology.  I debated whether to open with a definition post or whether to open with perceptions.  It's certainly hard to discuss something without knowing what that something is, but I chose to start with perceptions because most people do not really know what nanotechnology is, and I wanted to illustrate a point about the perceptions of technologies people have while at the same time lacking real facts about them.  This point will probably be more clear after I post the second part of my perceptions article, which will include some real (and in my opinion, very interesting) survey data about how people perceive nanotechnology (and other technologies), and what factors can influence those perceptions.

I will certainly get to a definition, and I will spend at least one or two posts on it.  Then I will move into some applications of nanotechnology, where some US government regulatory agencies currently stand, and some descriptions of basic chemistry and physics that give nanomaterials their interesting properties.  I'll probably also highlight a few classes of nanomaterials along the way (quantum dots, nanomedicines, metal nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, nanosensors, etc.).  Assuming the interest level stays high, of course.
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I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're goin', and hook up with them later. -Mitch Hedberg

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