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Foresight Update 44

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Illinois, New York hope to become major nanotech research centers

Regional and local efforts to join the gathering wave of nanotechnology-related research and development continue to proliferate across the United States. In Update 43, we covered the advent of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), as well as programs in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

The region surrounding Chicago, Illinois, also has the potential to become a major nanotechnology development center, according to a report by Mike Danahey that appeared in regional newspapers such as the Elgin Courier-News ("Small world getting smaller," 31 December 2000) and the Aurora Beacon-News ("Small world is growing ever smaller," 7 January 2001). "Experts in the field say now is the time to look into this fast-paced future," Danahey writes, "and the Fox Valley and entire Chicago region, with its wealth of universities, research facilities and high-profile corporations, might be the place."

The article quotes J. Murray Gibson, a research scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, who feels "there is a tremendous opportunity for Chicago area to become a nanotechnology hub." The area has both Argonne and the Fermi National Accelerator Lab, state-supported economic development agencies, top-rated universities and a strong industrial base that includes firms like Motorola that are already involved in nanotech-oriented research. One strong example is the Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University in Evanston. The Institute is the home of Chad Mirkin, well known for his work on "dip-pen nanolithography" and "nanoplotter"; as its director he is currently working to raise $40 million in funding to support a staff of 30 faculty members as well as the construction of a new facility to be completed by 2002. "I would like to see Illinois do something comparable (to California) now," Mirkin said.

Farther east, New York State is engaged in a number of efforts to foster nanotechnology-related research and development there. In January, New York Governor George Pataki announced an initiative that would establish a state-sponsored Center for Excellence in Nanoelectronics at the University of Albany. The Center would be located within the UA Center for Environmental Science and Technology Management (CESTM), which already hosts advanced technology programs that partner public and private sector entities. Pataki's initiative, announced in his State of the State address on 3 January 2001, also proposes a center for photonics and optoelectronics at the University of Rochester and a center for bioinformatics at the University of Buffalo. According to a report in the Albany Times Union ("Playing big role in a tiny world," by J. DerGurahian, 5 January 2001), Pataki's proposal would use $283 million over the next five years to attract as much as $700 million in combined federal, university and private sector funding to the new Centers for Excellence.

The Rochester campus also supports the Center for Future Health, which is conducting several research projects in nanotechnology, mostly related to biosensors, according to an article in the Rochester Business Journal ("Nanotechnology efforts promise massive gains with tiny packages," by Smriti Jacob, 5 January 2001). Additional nanotech-related research is being conducted at the nearby Rochester Institute of Technology.

Foresight Update 44 - Table of Contents


Senate bill proposes major expansion of federal nanoscience funding

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) has introduced legislation to boost federal funding for nanoscience research performed at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, and at New Mexico universities. In a press release issued by his office on 22 January 2001, Sen. Bingaman's bill is described as "legislation designed to direct millions more dollars annually into research and development of nanoscience — the science of manipulating materials on an atom by atom basis." Sandia has already announced its plans to build a nanoscience center to coordinate research already being performed there.

"New Mexico has the potential to be a leading world center for research on this rapidly advancing technology," Bingaman said. "This new area of science is key to maintaining our global economic leadership in energy technology, as well as in areas such as microchip design, space, transportation and biomedical devices. An added benefit is that there's also great potential to spin off this technology to the private sector and create high-tech jobs in this emerging field."

Bingaman's bill (S.90), called the "Department of Energy Nanoscale Science and Engineering Act" lays out a five-year plan to boost the authorization for research and development of nanoscience from $160 million in fiscal year 2002, and rising to $330 million by fiscal year 2006. Research would be funded through the Department of Energy's Office of Science. For fiscal year 2001, the Office of Science was appropriated $84 million for nanoscience research as part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The entire NNI is funded at about $420 million for FY2001, so Bingaman's proposal amounts to a near doubling of federal nanoscience research funding.

The proposal is currently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The full text of Bingaman's bill, as well as its current status in the U.S. Congress, can be found on the web at:

Foresight Update 44 - Table of Contents


Media Watch.44

by Richard P. Terra

Richard P. TerraAs always, it's impossible to present more than a sampling of the the increasing flood of media items devoted to nanotechnology-related research and development, policy, and other news. Fortunately, we also try to post as many breaking items as possible on the nanodot website. Be sure to visit the site frequently for the latest.

Coverage of nanotechnology continues to appear more frequently in the general-interest and business press.

An article in Business Week ("It's a Nano World," by Otis Port, 27 November 200) is devoted primarily to materials and electronics applications, but provides a lengthy survey of current research and future prospects.

Another item in the International Herald Tribune ("Nanotechnology Firms Start Small in Building Big Future," by B. Spurgeon, 29 January 2001) focuses on firms that concentrating their efforts on relatively short-term materials applications, but also includes comments from Zyvex CEO Jim Von Ehr (whose name, for once, is spelled correctly) with a more long-term vision.

An article on carbon nanotubes that appeared in Discover ("Molecular Beauty," February 2001) provides an quick look at efforts to develop nanoelectronic systems based on nanotubes, as well as some materials applications.

An extensive and quite good general introduction to MEMS and nanotechnology appeared, oddly, in Laptop Magazine ("Nanotechnology: Will the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?" by D. Forman, February 2001).

A well-balanced brief on nanotechnology appeared in Global Finance ("Nanotechnology: The Next Big Thing is Very Small," by A. Rombel, February 2001). The article discusses research in nanotubes, molectronics, and other fields, and highlights the increasing interest from venture investors: "A series of research breakthroughs over the years has spurred big investments by governments, corporations, and universities around the world. And venture capitalists are getting excited about the field. 'Everybody's getting on the bandwagon. People now know it's for real,' [Foresight President Chris] Peterson says."

The Watertown, Massachusetts-based NanoLab, a firm which produces bulk carbon nanotubes for companies like Samsung and Boeing, is profiled in Mass High Tech ("At NanoLab, size matters," by C.A. Shoule, 12 Feb 2001). After discussing the firm's work and short term business goals, the article turns to the long term potential for nanotechnology in general, and quotes Foresight Senior Associate Steve Vetter of Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises on the current nanotech business and investment climate. Zyvex is also mentioned

Zyvex founder and CEO Jim Von Ehr was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News ("Science of small to hold big changes, pioneer says," by D. Bedell, 15 Feb 2001). Von Ehr was also the subject of a profile in Forbes Magazine ("The Science of Small," by J. Fahey, 5 February 2001). "We have the ability to eliminate the material scarcity that has driven mankind. But we have to build a brand-new industry from ground zero," says Von Ehr.

The Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington (Seattle), and the UW's doctoral program in nanotech (see Update 42), were the subject of an extensive profile in the Chronicle of Higher Education ("The Gods of Very Small Things," by P. Monaghan, 15 December 2000). "There will be a great demand for people with proficiency in this field," says Viola Vogel, the co-director of the UWCNT. "Nanotechnology will be to the 21st century what microelectronics was to the past century."

According to the article, about 20 doctoral students are already enrolled in the UW program. The piece also discusses the role of federal funding, chiefly from the National Science Foundation, in fostering such new programs, institutions and research centers across the U.S. as part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

This role for the NSF was reiterated in an article in Electronic Engineering Times ("Interdisciplinary Education to Grow," by T. Costlow, 2 January 2001), which describes NSF efforts to integrate research and education, and to foster interdisciplinary approaches. Nanotechnology was specifically cited as one field where such an approach is needed.

An extensive piece in Cornell Magazine ("Size Matters," by B. Saulnier, January 2001) provides a useful overview of the nanotechnology research at Cornell University, which has an extensive and well-funded program. Cornell is home to the Nanobiotechnology Center and the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility. While acknowledging the pioneering roles of Richard Feynman and Eric Drexler in the field, the article also contains some rather disparaging remarks from Cornell researchers who remain skeptical of the long-term potential of molecular nanotechnology. Still, it's an interesting look at the people, facilities, research and outlook at one of the major nanotechnology research institutions in the United States.

As noted in the lead story in this issue, various engineering communities are sharpening their interest in nanotechnology. John G. Falcioni, Editor-in-Chief, of the ASME's Mechanical Engineering Magazine, announced they will be running a year-long series that will "invite leaders in the field of nano-technology to explore scientific and engineering issues influencing research, testing, development, manufacturing, and commercialization." The series continued in the February issue ("Hybrid NEMS," by P. Sharke) with long piece on the Cornell University's Carlo Montemagno's work on biomotors in nanodevices, and Alex Zettl's work with nanotubes at UC Berkeley.

The ethical implications and potential socio-economic impacts of research and development of new technologies continue to be of concern.

A flurry of coverage was generated by a conference on "Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology" in Washington, D.C. late last year, and sponsored by the National Science Foundation. This conference, and a number of initiatives by NASA, other government agencies and academic institutions to examine the ethical implications of a wide variety of technologies, were in part inspired by the discussion and debate generated by Bill Joy and others. An article by Robert S. Boyd was widely syndicated during November and December 2000 (Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald) notes that many involved in the discussions acknowledge there are some valid concerns, but also quotes Rice University's Richard Smalley: "We should not let this fuzzy-minded nightmare scare us away from nanotechnology," said Smalley. "We need to talk about the benefits, not just the risks."

Ralph Merkle of Zyvex Corporation makes a more substantial response to the concerns raised by Bill Joy and others in the IEEE Spectrum ("Nanotechnology: What Will It Mean?" January 2001, online as an Acrobat PDF file).

Merkle discusses the potential dangers, and focuses on the issue of controlling replicating systems, and makes clear the differences between biological and machine replication. He points to the Foresight Guidelines as a starting point "to inform developers and manufacturers of molecular manufacturing systems how to develop them safely," and points out that they are evolving: "Because our understanding of this developing technology is evolving . . . the guidelines will evolve with them - representing our best understanding of how to ensure the safe development of nanotechnology." Merkle concludes: "Nanotechnology's potential to improve the human condition is staggering: we would be shirking our duty to future generations if we did not responsibly develop it."

A similar piece by Glenn H. Reynolds, who sits on the Board of Directors for both Foresight Institute and the National Space Society, appeared in the NSS magazine Ad Astra ("Space, Nanotechnology and Techno-Worries," Jan/Feb 2001). "Rather than too much technology," he writes, "perhaps the problem is that we have too little. In the early days of nanotechnology, dangerous technologies may enjoy an advantage. Once the technology matures, it is likely that dangerous uses can be contained. The real danger of the sort of limits Joy proposes is that they may retard the development of constructive technologies, thus actually lengthening the window of vulnerability." Reynolds concludes that Joy may have done a service by drawing greater attention to both the dangers and the opportunities of nanotechnology, but: "If the debate is to accomplish anything, however, it will have to proceed on a more informed level."

Both Merkle and Reynolds were quoted extensively in a United Press International article ("Nanotech laws unlikely, say experts," by K. Hearn, 24 February 2001) on the potential for governmental regulation of nanotechnology. Both discounted the possibility, at least in the near future. Merkle is quoted: "There are significant issues of public policy to consider, but there is still so little public understanding of these technolgies that it's unlikely lawmakers will regulate in the immediate future . . . the good news is both that the major consequences are at least one to three decades away and that people are learning. The bad news is that policy makers and even those in the science and technology community don't really understand the technologies like they should."

The article also quotes Bill Joy, who expresses concern that regulation may be very difficult if large financial interests become involved in the development of nanotechnology. "If they wait for the industry to be dominated by people who have stars and dollars signs in their eyes . . . then you can't legislate," he said. Also: "The political process is designed toward inaction. I just hope we don't have to have a large-scale incident to demonstrate the danger of this type of technology."

But the article also points out that many experts and observers, including Joy, support the Foresight Guidelines for the safe research and development of nanotechnology.

Glenn Reynolds notes that pressure from environmental groups is unlikely, because many support "nanotechnology's promise of cleaner manufacturing processes and potential for environmental cleanup." And he adds: "Any government would have problems regulating pure research because of the First Amendment. You can't ban research because you are afraid of what kind of knowledge it will turn up."

Other indications of the growing concern over a variety of technologies are highlighted in an article by Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey on what he terms "an emerging global anti-technology movement" on the web site of Reason Magazine ("Rebels Against the Future: Witnessing the birth of the global anti-technology movement," 28 February 2001).

Bailey reports on the International Forum on Globalization's "Teach-In on Technology and Globalization," held in New York City in late February. According to Bailey, "If it's new, they hate it. What they fear and loathe most is biotechnology, but now some are beginning to train their sights on nanotechnology as well."

After detailing the presentations of what he describes as "an all-star cast of technophobes and other rebels against the future, featuring proud self-declared luddites," Bailey concludes, "The hopeful future of humanity freed from disease, disability, hunger, ignorance, poverty, and inequity depends on beating back the forces of know-nothing reaction such as those assembled at this weekend's Teach-In. The struggle for the future begins now."

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From Foresight Update 44, originally published 1 April 2001.

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