Foresight Update 45

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 45 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Zyvex Founder Donates $2.5 million for Nanotech Center at UT-Dallas

Zyvex founder and CEO James Von Ehr has pledged $2.5 million to help fund a new nanotechnology research center at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). According to a report in Dallas-Fort Worth TechBiz (5 March 2001), a major purpose of Von Ehr's donation to the school is to serve "as a kind of seed-round funding to get academic nanotechnology work off the ground. He hopes the research center will help place Texas, and specifically North Texas, in a position to capitalize on a promising new economic boon."

"Sometime this century we're going to run out of oil," Von Ehr said. "Telecom will carry us a way. Biotech will carry us a way. The real growth, I believe, is going to be in nanotechnology. Imagine if the economic benefit of that were elsewhere. We could become pretty unimportant in the scheme of things if all the economic benefit of the new world manufacturing economy is elsewhere."

Von Ehr's donation is only part of a larger initiative that also includes founding the Texas Nanotechnology Initiative, or TNI, a consortium supporting the long-range economic growth nanotech could mean to Texas. The TNI includes representatives from UTD, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and private-sector companies and other groups such as Texas Instruments Inc., Zyvex, Austin Ventures, Startech Early Ventures, Vortex Partners and the North Texas Technology Council. The initiative is intended to establish a nanotech research center in North Texas, probably at UTD, and educate state lawmakers about the technology's place in the state's future.

Supportive Texas state legislators had been calling for the state to match Von Ehr's donation and provide another $2.5 million to UTD. So far, In late May, the appropriations conference committee of the Texas legislature has approved $500,000 in matching funding over two years to help build the new center.

According to the TechBiz report, UTD also plans to chip in another $2.5 million in faculty salaries to staff the proposed nanotechnology research center. On 31 May, UTD announced that two prominent researchers in nanotechnology will join its faculty this fall to help establish the interdisciplinary nanotechnology research institute. They are Dr. Ray Baughman, a corporate fellow at Honeywell International, and his colleague, Dr. Anvar Zakhidov, a senior principal scientist at Honeywell. In addition, three internationally known nanotechnology researchers have agreed to join Baughman and Zakhidov at UTD. They are Dr. Alan Dalton of Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland, Dr. Igor Efimov of Russia from Leicester University in the U.K. and Dr. Edgar Munoz of the University of Saragossa in Spain.

Franklyn Jenifer, president of UTD, thinks the center, or even the appropriated funds to build the center, could help the school in its quest to be deemed a tier-one flagship research institute among Texas universities. Flagship status means additional state funds, this year ranging from $10 million per year to $50 million per year depending on the final legislative vote.

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Northwestern University Establishes Nanotechnology Center

Argonne Nat'l Lab, Chicago also mull nanotech

Northwestern University (NWU), in Evanston, Illinois (near Chicago), has established a new multi-disciplinary Institute for Nanotechnology. It will be the first federally funded nanotechnology center in the country, anchored by a $14 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It will conduct a program of interdisciplinary research, promoting technological advances in environmental and health sciences.

The NWU Institute will serve as an umbrella facility, bringing together faculty from a variety of University departments and schools who have been working independently in nanotechnology. Research will be coordinated by the Institute's two centers: a Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly, and a Center for Transportation Nanotechnology.

Groundbreaking for a new building to house the Institute's Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly took place in October 2000 on the Evanston campus. The Center building will include flexible laboratory space, shared facilities for enhanced spectroscopies, a surface science facility, and advanced computations facilities. Eventually 11 faculty members from the Department of Chemistry will have offices and laboratories in the Center building. Chad Mirkin has been named director of the Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly, as well as the Institute's director. Mark Ratner, a well-known researcher in the field of molecular electronics, will also be on the staff of the Institute.

More information on the Institute for Nanotechnology at NWU can be found on the web at:

In other developments in Illinois, an article in the Chicago Tribune ("Small particles hold big potential", by Jon Van, 23 April 2001) describes "the consensus among several Chicago-area scientists who believe the region's economic well-being hinges upon how well we can exploit nanotechnology, the ability to make materials using small clumps of molecules as building blocks."

Area universities and businesses are pushing to establish a nanoscale materials center at Argonne National Laboratory, similar to the proposed Nanophase Materials Sciences Center at Oak Ridge National Lab (see "Chicago missed the silicon revolution," said J. Murray Gibson, director of the materials science division at Argonne National Laboratory. "The question now is, can it be a nanotech leader? It's a new revolution and a great opportunity for the Chicago region."

"We're doing some of the best nanotechnology in the world right here in the Midwest," said Chad Mirkin, director of Northwestern's Institute for Nanotechnology (see above). "If the Chicago area does things right, you could see this become a major center for nanotech industry. But it won't come cheap, because there are plenty of competitors. California is spending millions to encourage nanotech there."

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Foresight Update 45 - Table of Contents


Universities, states, provinces scrambling to start nanotech programs

Aside from all the activity kicked off at the University of Texas - Dallas by Zyvex (see related article), the UT-Arlington has established a Nanotechnology Research and Teaching Facility, which opened in March. The facility will emphasize classroom and laboratory work, and is expected to have a staff of 30 to 40.

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has made plans for a nanotechnology center a "high priority", according to an article in the DU Chronicle (6 March 2001). The school plans to hire new faculty in physics, chemistry and engineering, as well as fund new equipment and facilities with $10 to $20 million.

Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana has tentative plans for an Ultra-Performance Nanotechnology Center, according to the Purdue Exponent (20 March and 18 May 2001). The facility will house classrooms, labs, cleanrooms and conference rooms for both undergraduate and graduate-level instruction. Another aim is to bring faculty and students from many disciplines together under the same roof to foster collaboration. Funding will come from $5 million in seed funding from Indiana state, with the remaining projected $55 million to be raised from private sources. Plans call for construction to begin next year, and the facility to be completed by 2004.

The University of Alberta in Edmonton is hoping to establish a Canadian National Research Council nanotechnology center there, according to the Edmonton Journal (3 May 2001). Costs for the proposed Integrated Nano Systems Institute include $100 million (Canadian) for the facility, and an annual operating budget of $C 20 million. It would employ a staff of up to 200.

Minnesota illustrates the increasingly common "me, too" scramble into nanotechnology in an editorial from CityBusiness, a commerce journal in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area ("State needs to get involved in nanotechnology", 25 May 2001) by Jack Uldrich, Deputy Director of The Minnesota Office of Strategic & Long Range Planning.

After providing a lengthy list of nanotechnology research programs around the country and the world, Uldrich says, "Can Minnesota afford not to get more involved in this exciting area of science — an area that is going to revolutionize everything from health care and the semiconductor industry to the energy, telecommunicat-ions and automotive sectors? I don't believe so, and that is why I would like to call for the establishment of a private-public commission to develop a strategy for how Minnesota can grow and profit from the inevitable changes that nanotechnology promises."

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Media Watch.45

by Richard P. Terra

Richard P. TerraThe Spring 2001 Wilson Quarterly includes a short survey of recent articles on nanotechnology mentioning Foresight, Bill Joy, Gilder's objections to Joy, Smalley's objections to nanomachines ("various practical reasons"), and Chad Mirkin's work at Northwestern University. It closes: "The [US] federal government is spending on nanoscience this year some $423 million — hardly a nanosum."

A number of articles on nanotechnology appeared in Chemical and Engineering News (26 March 2001), including articles by Chad Mirkin, recently named director of the Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly (see article in this issue); Charles Lieber, chair of the Chemistry Department at Harvard; and David Adams, an assistant professor at Columbia University.

A quick look of nanotechnology activity in and around the U.S. capital can be found in a short article in Washington Techway ("Nanotechnology: The tiny world of atoms," by A. Daniels, April 9, 2001). The article presents a regional view of nanotech policy and research in Washington, D.C. and nearby academic and government research centers in Virginia and Maryland. The article quotes Senior Associate Richard Smith, director of forecasts in science, technology, and engineering for Coates & Jarratt, Inc., in Washington, as well as officials from NSF, NIST, and MITRE.

The next three items emphasize the growing interest in a variety of engineering disciplines in the challenges of developing molecular nanotechnology

Mechanical Engineering Magazine continues its year-long series focusing on nanotechnology. The March installment ("Not without engineering," March 2001) is a well-written overview by Arun Majumdar, professor and vice chair for instruction in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the ASME Nanotechnology Steering Committee.

The April 2001 issue of Engineering Times, the monthly magazine of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) features a cover story on nanotechnology ("Science of the Small Has Big Engineering Future", by Rachel Davis).

The article ranges over a variety of research from self-assembly and smart materials, to bio-motors and photonics, even medical applications. It's another indication of the rapidly increasing level of interest in nanotechnology from the engineering community.

The article states: "As engineers broach the "science of the small" and explore nanotechnology, a new world of engineering possibilities is beginning to open up. In addition, recent breakthroughs in many areas-such as materials science, nanoelectronics, microfluidics, proteomics, photonics, and bioinformatics-are spurring changes in the content of engineering courses at universities. In this atmosphere of change, many engineers believe that new disciplines of engineering will emerge or existing disciplines will change to adapt to new fields."

And: "Researchers say the future will also require "Renaissance engineers" who have the communications skills and broad educational background that allow them to work with other professionals who may speak very different technical languages, coming from fields such as biology, physics, chemistry, and materials science."

The April issue of the Canadian engineering trade journal Innovation carried an article titled "Nanomaterials: a tiny technology with a huge future." The article says, ". . . new forms of materials and devices herald a revolutionary engineering age for science and technology provided the underlying principles can be understood and fully utilized."

Senior Associate Richard H. Smith presents a brief overview of the potential of nanotechnology in a cover article in Modern Drug Discovery ("Nanotechnology gains momentum," April 2001), a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Smith, who is director of forecasts in science, technology, and engineering for Coates & Jarratt, Inc., in Washington, DC., writes: "Given a continuation of current trends, a truly potent nanotechnology will likely be realized within a decade or two. It could come in the form of exquisitely precise top-down procedures, such as moving molecules around with tiny robotic 'hands', or through a massively parallel bottom-up process, such as replicating cells."

After covering a variety of short- and medium-term research and development initiatives and discussing the potential long-term possibilities, Smith concludes: "That nanotechnology, even self-assembly with intentionality, is a serious field is no longer in doubt. But how to sort useful forecasts from unsupported conjecture remains a challenge. Are artificial immune systems worthy of discussion, or should we stick with what's here and now? Should we fund only near-term deliverables and needed infrastructure, or challenge ourselves to keep investigating speculative but beneficial possibilities? The answer is easy: We should do both."

The Los Angeles Business Journal ran a feature article on nanotechnology in it's spring Technology News issue ("L.A.'s tiny revolution", by H. Ibold, 16 April 2001). The article focuses on the new California NanoSystem Institute (see Update 43), and includes quotes from CNSI researchers Martha Krebs and James Heath, as well as Foresight President Chris Peterson.

The article quotes Heath: "It would be nice to have some mechanism in Southern California for nurturing nanotech startups, like a business park with the kinds of facilities that you find in Silicon Valley. We could potentially set up a company . . . I would prefer to do that in L.A." In an accompanying editorial, LABJ publisher Matthew Toledo advises "if you're tempted to conclude that tech action is dead, or fading, just remember one word -- nanotechnology."

An article in London's Financial Times ("Inside Track: Nanotechnology", by Fiona Harvey, 23 April 2001) presents a generally optimistic overview of ongoing efforts to develop machine-based nanotechnology, but gets it really wrong when assigning proper credit for the development of these concepts.

The article mentions a number of research efforts into nanotubes and other potential nanodevice components, and states nanotechnology "holds out the promise of manufacturing tiny machines that would form themselves into the desired shape without manipulation — machines that would be, in effect, self-assembling. Such an ability is crucial, as it would be unthinkably expensive to craft each one individually in a laboratory." And: "Nano-machines will need components such as springs, bearings, wheels, belts and levers. These must be painstakingly created and tested in labs." As for applications: "Armed with such components, nano-engineers could build tiny robots, or machines that could construct and repair structures too small for us to see. Pesticides made of tiny machines could crawl over crops killing insects. Military machines could swarm over the enemy's weapons." The article also mentions "developing nanoscale computers that will carry out calculations within individual molecules. Health workers envisage nanoscale machines that will enter the body to deliver drugs or repair tissues."

But the piece fails utterly in its assignment of credit on where these ideas originated, stating that nanotechnology got its start in 1985 when Smalley, Curl and Kroto discovered fullerenes (buckyballs). The article mentions Eric Drexler only as the founder of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group and the author of the "cult classic", Engines of Creation, who has "come up with outlandish suggestions, such as the 'grey goo'." The article contains a dismissive quote from Stanley Williams from Hewlett-Packard Laboratories: "I don't believe in this grey goo stuff." He derides Dr Drexler's work as insufficiently scientific.

Apparently the author (and Williams) have never taken a look at Nanosystems, or Drexler's molecular machine design work at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing. Nearly every one of the nano-machine concepts and applications mentioned above were described by Drexler beginning in the early 1980s.

Robert Bradbury has written an extensive critique of the article, and posted it on the web.

In a brief interview ("Expert Ralph Merkle on nanotechnology", by K. Hearn, 23 May 2001) conducted by United Press International, Zyvex research fellow and Foresight advisor Ralph Merkle , talked about molecular assemblers, applying open source development methods to nanoscience, and the future of nanoscience research.

Glenn Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Foresight board of directors, has an essay titled "Environmental Regulation of Nanotechnology: Some Preliminary Observations" in the June 2001 issue of the Environmental Law Reporter.

As Glenn notes in his introduction, "This all-too-brief essay will outline the basic nature of molecular nanotechnology. It will then discuss the likely environmental benefits ... and harms ... of this technology, and at least seek to begin the discussion of how nanotechnology might be dealt with in a way that will maximize the environmental benefits — which are likely to be enormous — while minimizing the potential harms, which, if allowed to materialize, are likely to be large as well."

The essay is available on the Foresight Institute web site, as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file (~112 KB) at, and is posted with the permission of the journal's publisher, the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

Interest from the investment and business community in the commercial potential of nanotechnology continues to grow, as is illustrated in a series of articles in the May 2001 issue of Fortune Magazine ("The New World Order") attempts to highlight the likely next generation of technologies where investors and entrepreneurs can make their own fortunes. In one article ("In Search of the Silver Bullet"), the magazine "paid visits to five in-the-trenches innovators, each on the verge of what could be a breakthrough discovery."

One of the five is UCLA researcher James Heath, whose work in molecular electronics is profiled ("Building Chips, One Molecule at a Time"). According to the article, "Heath thinks he might be able to build a rudimentary computer within a couple of years. "It won't be a computer you'll be proud of," he says, "but it will work." Then, he believes, if he can scale the whole thing up to a capacity of one megabyte . . . molecular computing becomes, as Heath puts it, "an engineering project"—in other words, a technology that companies can begin to muck around with themselves."

An article from United Press International ("Investors weigh merits of nanotech", 11 May 2001) reveals that investors are still uncertain about nanotechnology, largely because it is an ill-defined new field. According to the article, investment experts say gauging the level of private investment in nanotechnologies is nearly impossible because no industry statistics are available and because of disagreements over what nanotechnology means.

The article quotes Foresight Senior Associate Steven Vetter, CEO of Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises Inc., a seed capital firm in St. Paul Minnesota: "It's hard to gauge the levels of investment because there is so much confusion over what the term includes . . . What's happened is that the term has become stylish and has been broadened to apply to many more things."

Patenting genetic sequences and the possibility of human cloning gained quite a bit of press coverage recently:

A lengthy article on the serious problems with gene patents appears in the April 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly ("Gene Blues: Is the Patent Office prepared to deal with the genomic revolution?" by N. Thompson). Taking a look at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the author notes: "A crucial issue of public policy has been put into a legal and scientific box. That may not be the PTO's fault, but it's everyone's problem. According to Arthur Caplan, who serves on the ethical advisory board to Celera, "We have this space-shuttle biotech. But its navigation system is Santa Maria level in terms of the ethics."

An article in the National Review Online ("Should Cloning Be Legal? It's not a federal question," 16 April 2001) considers the legal issues surrounding the possibility of human cloning. The article is by Dave Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, and Glenn Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Foresight board of directors.

The issue of cloning has become increasingly visible because, as the authors note, "[President] Bush is ready to sign legislation that bans research into human cloning as soon as Congress sends it to him." But they also point out: "The federal government, as the president has reminded us, is a government of limited powers, powers that are enumerated in the Constitution. And nothing in the Constitution grants the federal government the power to ban research into cloning, or to suppress other types of science." The issue of federal authority to regulate cloning has obvious implications for regulation of nanotechnology as well.

In an extensive article in The New Republic ("Preventing a Brave New World", May 2001), Leon R. Kass considers some of the moral, ethical, philosophical and legal issues surrounding the possibility of human cloning, and argues that it should be banned. "Human nature itself lies on the operating table," Kass asserts, "ready for alteration, for eugenic and psychic 'enhancement,' for wholesale re-design . . . evangelists are zealously prophesying a post-human future."

Kass, a professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of a book on the ethics of cloning, appears to assume that a "post-human future" implies a future without humans (or at least, human values — as he defines them) when he writes, "No friend of humanity cheers for a post-human future." A ban on human cloning, Kass concludes, is necessary because "Now may be as good a chance as we will ever have to get our hands on the wheel of the runaway train now headed for a post-human world and to steer it toward a more dignified human future." While focused on human cloning and biological procreation, the article provides a possible insight into how some segments of society may react to the development of non-biological enhancements to human beings, as well as entities with artificial intelligence.

These items on human cloning generated extensive discussions on nanodot:

And Foresight's new Open Source Disclosure Project (see article in this issue) was the subject of an interview with Foresight President Chris Peterson that appeared in both the San Francisco Daily Journal and the Los Angeles Daily Journal ("Open Oxymoron", by H. Medina, 20 April 2001).

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From Foresight Update 45, originally published 30 June 2001.