Foresight Update 48

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


NanoBusiness Alliance steps up activity; will establish regional "hubs"

Group names former U.S. House Speaker New Gingrich as Honorary Chairman

The NanoBusiness Alliance (NBA;, the fledgling association of business, science and academic interests founded in 2001 to advance the emerging nanotechnology industry, has rapidly expanded its activities over the past few months.

On 13 December 2001, the NBA sponsored a brief panel discussion on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The panel, made up of government officials, industry leaders and scientists, presented background information on and spoke about the promise of nanotechnology to U.S. House of Representatives and Senate staffers, lobbyists and policy wonks as part of the NBA's efforts to influence federal policy on nanotechnology-related issues.

According to a report of the event on the Small Times website ("NanoBusiness Alliance goes to Washington", by D. Brown, 14 December 2001), "So many people packed into the room that organizers had to remove a table covered with industry literature and replace it with chairs." The panel was also covered on the Wired website ("Nanotech's Pitch for Megabucks", by Declan McCullagh, 15 December 2001).

Mark Modzelewski, the NBA's founder and executive director, said the alliance will focus on issues surrounding federal investments in nanotechnology. It is important, he said, that the federal government continue paying for the bulk of basic nanotechnology research and development. According to the Small Times article, Modzelewski also said lawmakers need to be lobbied more aggressively by the industry about technology-transfer needs. The nanotechnology industry also should join other industries in pushing for a permanent research and development tax credit, he said. That issue has been No. 1 for many industry lobbyists this year, particular those representing technology companies.

Another panelist, Meyya Meyyapan, director of nanomaterials at the Nanotechnology Research Center at NASA Ames, concurred: "If (corporations) know it's going to take 15 years, why are they going to invest?" Meyyappan asked. "The role has traditionally come through government funding. That's a role, knowledge creation. . . . The companies will not fund something that is risky, so keep the pipeline flowing on basic research."

The panel also included Rob Atkinson, director of the Progressive Policy Institute's New Economy Project. The institute is affiliated with a centrist branch of the Democratic Party, but Atkinson noted that despite a desire to cut overall science research and development allocations in the federal budget, the Bush administration requested a large increase in funding for nanotechnology (to $518 million) in fiscal year 2002. It's a clear sign that the administration takes nanotechnology seriously, Atkinson said. [The Bush administration has asked for another large increase in federal nanotech R&D funding for FY2003; see story.]

The Wired article also quotes Foresight President Chris Peterson: "The fraction of federal funding going to the universities that result in products in the marketplace is not high. Even though the fraction is not high, it may be an excellent investment in the sense that the payoff is high." Looking toward the future, Peterson said, "Eventually nanotechnology will bring up unique regulatory challenges." But she added: "It's not necessary today. There is no need to be concerned either way, if you're afraid of the regulation or if you want it."

Both Modzelewski and Atkinson agreed that the technology "is too early in its lifecycle" for lawmakers to begin drafting bills and holding hearings. Funding, they said, remains the industry's chief public policy issue. But Atkinson, who sits on the NBA board, said there could be more emphasis by the government on overall nanotechnology strategy and coordination. "To what extent are there holes in the nanotechnology mission?" he asked.

Some non-business issues were also raised, according to the Small Times report: "[O]ne Capitol Hill staffer attending the meeting asked if there were any environmental issues implicit in the development or use of nanotechnology. She asked: Should citizens worry about nano-engineered foods affecting the ecosystem? Will the production of nano-engineered products produce unusual pollution?" Concerns about the potential impacts of nanotechnology have been receiving increasingly close attention in the past few months (see story).

Gingrich joins NBA as honorary chairman

At a press conference that same day, the NBA also announced that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich will join the organization as its honorary chairman. According to a report from Small Times ("Newt goes nano", by Steve Crosby, 13 December 2001), Gingrich warned that the United States needs to put more of its resources into science and education if it wants to lead the world in nanotechnology, the next great wave of technological advancement. "Nanotechnology is one of the least talked about, yet fastest growing and influential sectors of the global economy," he said. The announcement was also covered by United Press International ("Gingrich supports nanotech alliance", by Scott Brunell, 13 December 2001).

"If you ... take the impact of physics from the transistor to the laser to modern computing, and try to quantify how much that's added to the economy, it will be a staggering number," Gingrich said in an interview with Small Times. "I think what you're dealing with, between nanoscale quantum behavior and biology, it's clearly bigger than the impact of physics on the 20th century."

America will be competitive in the global small tech race only if Washington makes it a funding priority, Gingrich said. "In nanoscale science and technology, the Japanese are about at the same level we are. Everybody else is further behind. Three years ago, or four years ago, we were actually behind both Europe and Japan. We know, thanks to some intelligent investments, and one of the places I do give Bill Clinton credit, is that the (National Nanotechnology Initiative) was absolutely the right thing to do."

Gingrich said he expects to serve the alliance in an advisory role, occasionally speaking at small tech workshops. "I thought it was a very useful way to try to get the business community to understand the tremendous commercial opportunities of the next generation in this area. I have spoken at a fair number of National Science Foundation workshops on nanoscale science and technology and it's an area where I feel very comfortable trying to bridge science, business and government in ways that can accelerate our development of a better future."

According to the UPI report, Gingrich expects to devote several hours a week, about 5 percent of his time, to advising the alliance on its development. He will also look at the need for possible legislative changes and spread the word about nanotech among policy leaders in Washington and elsewhere. The chairmanship is one part in his ongoing push to triple overall U.S. funding in basic research and science education, he said.

"Newt Gingrich has long been the strongest voice in nanotechnology among America's policy and governmental leaders," said Modzelewski, the NBA executive director. "The emerging nanotechnology sector has gained a brilliant and tested leader."

Plans for NBA 'hubs' nationwide, and internationally

According to an article from United Press International ("Business group spreads word on nano", by Scott Burnell, 15 February 2002), the NBA will work to establish more than 20 regional offices during 2002 to spur growth in the technology, with its first regional "hubs" to be set up in Washington, D.C. and Denver. The NBA headquarters are in New York City. The group expects to have about 25 hubs operating by year's end, in locations such as Boston, California's Silicon Valley, Israel and Canada.

An article in the Denver Business Journal ("The very small could make Colorado very big", by Lyn Berry-Helmlinger, 11 January 2002) presents a glowing report on the prospects for nanotechnology in Colorado, relying largely on upbeat comments from representatives of the NanoBusiness Alliance: Griffith Kundahl, a NanoBusiness Alliance member and attorney with Denver-based McNamara Law Firm PC whose practice includes a focus on technology, said there's little doubt that nanotech will play a key role in Colorado. "It's emerging as we speak," he said.

"Why not Colorado?" asked Mark Modzelewski, executive director of the NBA. "Colorado does have capital and people who are used to investing in technology; it has all those skill sets and a government that's very receptive to technology businesses. If anything, I'd be stunned if Colorado wasn't a leader when all is said and done."

A bit more detail can be found in an article in the Denver Post ("Group has big plans for tiny technology: The NanoBusiness Alliance targets Denver", by Jennifer Beauprez, 21 February 2002), which reports the NBA has picked Denver as one of three cities to start its nationwide push to expand. According to the report, NBA representatives planned to meet with Denver Mayor Wellington Webb on 5 March 2002 with hopes of creating a loose network of local business leaders, university researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and government officials who can expand the industry.

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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents


NanoBusiness Briefs

Amid the hype, business and venture capital communities eye nanotech

Coverage of nanotech and the potential investment opportunities in this emerging technological sector is increasing rapidly. As with all the media coverage devoted to nanotech, we present here only a small sampling of the most interesting items.

An article on the Small Times website ("HP Official: 'Ignorance and greed' could spoil nanotech's credibility", by Jeff Karoub) reports an address to the Nanotech Planet's Fall 2001 Conference and Expo in Boston on 29 November 2001, by R. Stanley Williams, a leading nanotechnology researcher and director of Hewlett-Packard's Quantum Science Research. According to the article, Williams said a major challenge facing the immature nanotechnology field is not the science, but the combination of misleading media reports and venture capitalists looking for the next big thing in the wake of the dot-com collapse. "Ignorance and greed meeting in the marketplace is a recipe for disaster," Williams told attendees from business, government and academia. "As a consequence, the field will lose credibility and momentum."

Williams also noted that even though most nanotech-related research in the United States is funded by the federal government, that funding represents only a tiny fraction of the federal research and development budget, and is unlikely to see any large increases. He said most nanotech research concepts currently go unfunded.

A spate of news items about nanotechnology emerged in the wake of the Nanotech Planet conference. Some items of interest:

According to a company press release (11 December 2001), Stanford University researcher Dr. Hongjie Dai, along with a number of partners, has formed a new company called Molecular Nanosystems to commercialize applications of carbon nanotube technology. According to the release, the firm has received initial funding and produced its first batch of nanotubes in its fully functional lab. The initial funding will be used for research and development, laboratory expansion and initial start-up costs. More information can be found on the Molecular Nanosystems website (

An article from Crain's New York Business ("New York's in a nano state of mind with research and VC money", 28 January 2002) provides a rather boosterish perspective on nanotech research and business activity in New York State, but largely rehashes developments that have been taking place there over the past year or so.

An article on the investment-oriented 123Jump website ("Nanotech: New Buzzword in the VC Arena", by Vanya Maneva, 21 January 2002) presents an engaging if largely superficial overview of the current investment climate generated by the increasing interest — and hype — surrounding nanotechnology: "[N]anotech seems to be getting ready for prime time. Researchers, private companies and government agencies all over the world have all been recently rushing to gain leadership in this exciting race. More importantly, many venture capitalists see nanotech as the next big growth area, and not wanting to miss the 'nano' wave, have seriously begun investing in it." The author concludes: "While bullish on nanotech's promise in general, and confident that it will lure its share of investment dollars, scientists and analysts caution that the sector may be a long way from practical success. Nanotech's impact on the market will depend on which sectors it becomes important [sic] and when that is likely to take place."

Venture capitalist Josh Wolfe is profiled in Red Herring Magazine ("In Nanotechnology, Josh Wolfe Is at the Door", by Stephan Herrera, January 28, 2002). Wolfe is cofounder and managing partner of New York-based Lux Capital and its nanotech-investment arm, Angstrom Partners. Last year, Mr. Wolfe published his conclusions on the field in a 272-page report, issued by Lux in August 2001 (see the Nanodot post at, which attempted to size up the global nanotech phenomenon. He also helped found the NanoBusiness Alliance (, which has designs on becoming the industry trade group for nanotechnology (see article).

An article on the Small Times website ("Nanotech headed for history's dustbin unless it cuts the hype, panelists warn", by Matt Kelly, 5 February 2002) recaps comments made by a four-member panel that included Josh Wolfe of Lux Capital and Jason Friedman of JP Morgan, who spoke at Venture Capital and Private Investment conference at Harvard Business School on 3 February 2002. According to the report, the panel members made the dubious assertion that "the fledgling sector needs to start creating real devices to solve existing problems . . . Otherwise, nanotech could follow artificial intelligence or other technology fads that once flashed into the public mind, only to end up as niche ideas that never went mainstream." The article also described what seems to be a lot of impatient hand-wringing over a lack of perceived applications and short-term returns for nanotechnology investment.

Additional details are available in an extensive article in HBS Working Knowledge ("Big Things Ahead for Small Technology" by senior editor Martha Lagace, 18 February 2002), a publication of the Harvard Business School, that urges cautious interest: "Nanotechnology could be the next big investment thing—maybe. Experts say smart investors would be wise to dip their toes into tiny technology, but not jump straight into the pool just yet." The article quotes Wolfe, Friedman, and others panelists. The article concludes with a quote from Friedman: "You have to pick the spots and places where you think there are good companies. Is [nanotechnology] an interesting technology? Absolutely. Could it be the next big thing? Maybe."

A fairly decent investment-oriented article on nanotechnology appeared on the CNET website ("Is small the next big thing?", by Tiffany Kary, 11 February 2002).

As the article notes, "The revolution won't happen overnight, and even nanotechnology's biggest supporters acknowledge that the field could become the next craze—think dot-coms—in which hype outruns real application and business sense. Nevertheless, recent developments indicate that the science is progressing well beyond the "white paper" stage. For starters, the government, tech titans and venture capitalists are pouring money into the field, producing breakthroughs that have enabled several companies to make nanotechnology product announcements. These prospects have grabbed VCs' attention."

The CNET article notes the increasing level of research activity, government and private financing, and interest by the investment community, and surveys important work by companies ranging from giants like IBM and Hewlett-Packard down to start-ups such as Nantero.

Looking farther ahead, the article makes the somewhat incredible claim that, while nanorobots are hypothetical, "most scientists believe [emphasis added] there will be some form of 'molecular assembler' within the next 20 years, and that the device will serve a concrete purpose." The article then follows a typical pattern in presenting of the ideas proposed by Eric Drexler, followed by the "grey goo" willies of Bill Joy, and the distancing dance skeptics perform when confronted with long-term possibilities of advanced molecular nanotechnology. The article quotes Josh Wolfe of Lux Capital, a nanotech-oriented venture capital firm: According to the article, Wolfe said he has seen plenty of business proposals based on such ideas, but he considers them implausible.

"It's utter nonsense—thoughts that you can change the economy because you can manufacture things instantaneously at your desk by just hitting a button," Wolfe said. . . . As far as Wolfe is concerned, any technology based on the "Drexlerian vision of nanotech"—that is, the self-replicating assembler—should be put in its place. These far-out ideas should "promote ethical debates and get people involved," but "investors should not be looking at that type of thing," he said.

An item from Reuters News Service ("Nanotech Brings New Hope, and Hype, to Market", by Dane Hamilton, 12 February 2002) asserts that "a growing number of Wall Street specialists say the new technology could be a foundation for a new bull market, just as personal computers, biotech and the Internet underpinned previous rallies. Others say the field is way too early for widespread investment and is already being over-hyped."

Another item from Investor's Business Daily ("Will 'Nano' Be Next 'Dot-Com'? Tiny-Tech Believers Dream Big", by R. Krause, 12 February 2002) asks, "Will 'nano' be the next cue that investors can't resist? Perhaps so. Dozens of start-ups are popping up with the 'nano' label."

An article on the website ("Breaking free from Newton", by Jennifer Fonstad, 5 February 2002) is generally enthusiastic: "For technology, the last half of the 20th century has been a march to miniaturization—make it smaller, make it faster, make it cheaper. While there are seemingly limits to the continuation of this march, a quantum leap to the world of the small may yet enable us to break through the barrier." Fonstad is a managing director at venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Small Times weighed in with an article ("Investors see the reality behind the nanohype — and some nice pants", by Jayne Fried, 12 February 2002) that points up the accelerating trend in which companies in old-line industries try to reinvent themselves with the 'nano' label — and sometimes even some actual nano-scale technology.

Dan Gillmor, technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News highlights the increasing interest of venture capitalists in nanotechnology ("Big Breakthroughs come in small packages", 16 February 2002): "Small things — really small things — are looking bigger and bigger to the venture capital community these days. Investors smell profits in nanotechnology — building and manipulating things one atom or molecule at a time — and the related field of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS)." The article also quotes a number of venture capitalists who attended a meeting at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab to discuss the possibilities of commercializing nano- and micro-technology. The article was reposted on the Small Times website.

A brief segment in an article in the London-based Financial Times ("Will Silicon Valley become Nanotech Valley?", by Tom Forenski, 16 February 2002) quotes Tim Harper of CMP Cientifica, who, according to the article, says that "Although there are clusters of nanotechnology companies around certain universities . . . such clumping will eventually concentrate around sources of venture capital. And since Silicon Valley is the world's greatest concentration of venture capital, it could become an important seed bed for what will, at some point, be a massive industry."


Sygertech, CMP-Cientifica and nABACUS have released a white paper entitled "Tips for Bringing Nanotech Products to Market". While each nanotech company has its own unique circumstances and challenges, some of the things that can increase the chance of getting a customer to buy a significant quantity of nanomaterials, devices or applications are described. The paper can be downloaded at no cost from In addition to the above item, you can also find an earlier white paper, "Five Ingredients for Financing Nanotech Ventures". Both documents, though brief, offer useful information.

In Realis, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, has released a free report titled A Critical Investor's Guide to Nanotechnology. According to report author Steven Glapa, "In Realis has taken a hard look at the current state of the nanotech market to cut through the mounting hype and offer a clearer vision of the business prospects in the field . . . we have assembled a report designed for prospective investors and entrepreneurs that offers a concise but thorough orientation on the current state of the field, its likely economic impact in the medium term, and specific recommendations for the best applications of private-sector funds and talent in the near term." The report is available free of charge at

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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents


Book Review

Two views of a new text:

Molecular Engineering of Nanosystems
by Edward A. Rietman
Springer-Verlag/AIP Press (2001)
258 pages. ISBN 0-387-98988-9

Reviewed by
J. Storrs Hall, PhD., IMM Research Fellow

(Disclaimer: I was a reviewer of this book before publication.)

The cover of this book sports a very familiar diamondoid bearing and the first subchapter heading is "Engines of Creation". This and the title might lead the reader to expect a book in the vein of Drexler's Nanosystems. Reitman's book, however, is not an exercise in design and engineering.

It does start from the concept of molecular engineering and uses that as a unifying theme. But the title of the first chapter, "Enabling Technologies for Molecular Nanosystems," might have made a better title for the whole book, even though there is more in it than that.

Perhaps the best description of what the book is really about is given in the summary at the end of Chapter 1:

The main purpose of this book is to allow the reader to develop an intuition for the chemical physics of the details at the molecular scale. Most of the book will focus on the classical field of chemical physics. But in the following chapters, we will show how an understanding of the chemical physics at the molecular scale is important for nanotechnology.

I think that Reitman largely succeeds in carrying out this promise. Chapter 2 is an overview of solution chemistry, extending to the molecular mechanics and dynamics simulation methods crucial to anyone looking at mechanical nanostructures. Chapter 3 is entitled "The Dynamics of Brownian Assembly," providing the grounding for Chapter 4, "Molecular Systems by Brownian Assembly."

Chapter 5 is about Langmuir-Blodgett films and other molecular monolayers, and Chapter 6 covers protein and DNA engineering.

Molecular Engineering of Nanosystems is well indexed: I found not only molecular electronics but molecular photonics; not only nitrogen but neural networks; not only protein folding but protein-packing programs.

Coverage in the book is quite broad and the text is heavily documented with references into the scientific literature. I can recommend Reitman to anyone looking for a high-level technical grounding in the science and enabling technologies leading to molecular technology, and for that matter much of the nanoscale science and engineering going on in laboratories today.

Reviewed by
Jeffrey Soreff, IMM Research Associate

On the positive side, Rietman's book touches many areas relevant to nanotechnology: the nature of many of the forces relevant on the nanoscale: electrostatic, Van der Waals, those between various sorts of charges, permanent and induced dipoles, and bulk surfaces. He touches on a number of simulation and analytical methods used in chemistry: quantum mechanical models, molecular mechanics, reaction kinetics, chemical equilibria, including the equilibria which determine whether surfactants will associate into clusters.

Rietman surveys many existing nanoscale systems: proteins, nucleic acids, certain substrate-ligand "supramolecular" systems, catenanes, fullerenes and nanotubes, dendrimers, zeolites, Langmuir-Blodgett films.

Rietmann provides abundant pointers into the literature, 28 pages of references. His pointers to the review literature are particularly valuable.

Some of Rietman's ideas sound both novel and potentially promising. For example, he suggests constructing certain diamondoid structures by depositing them within atomically precise zeolite pores, then dissolving away the zeolite with an acid such as HF that leaves the organic structure intact. Since zeolites have been used to catalyze a wide variety of organic reactions, perhaps this one will prove feasible as well.

On the negative side, there was a disturbingly high density of technical errors in the book. I counted 91 errors, starting with a misstatement of how a carbyne radical can be used as a hydrogen abstraction tool on page 4 and ending with calling the sugar in DNA ribose rather than deoxyribose on page 205. The equation for the wavefunction of a particle in a box is stated incorrectly. The equation of state for a non-ideal gas is stated incorrectly. One numerical example is misquoted in such as way as to overstate an interaction energy by six orders of magnitude. There are conceptual errors — conflating difficulties in synthesis with difficulties in design, for instance, and misunderstanding the role of excited states in molecular polarizability.

There was a general problem with the level of presentation, particularly in the mathematical derivations. Consider, for instance, the section on quantum chemistry. Reitman starts with the basic postulates of quantum mechanics, then hastily sketches a path to perturbation series for wavefunctions, but without ever displaying the form of an atomic orbital or explaining the key role that inter-electron repulsion plays in quantum chemistry. This sort of presentation gives too many inapplicable equations for someone who wants to do an order-of-magnitude calculation — for that reader, a few numerical examples and scaling laws would have been better. It gives too few equations for someone who wants to write software to actually calculate wavefunctions and energies. It doesn't give tradeoffs between various levels of approximations that a person who wants to use quantum chemical software needs to know.

I was disappointed in the survey of structures. While Reitman frequently interjects comments such as "Knots may prove useful as molecular nanotech building blocks," the sections generally lack a clear explanation of what would make the structures described particularly useful. It would have been useful to at least explicitly say which of the structures were truly atomically precise and which were not. Do the catenanes pack nonbonded atoms together in predictable ways, or do they sample myriad structures like denatured proteins? It would also be valuable to know what sort of design freedom is available from these structures, and at what cost. Protein and nucleic acid synthesis is now automated, but how hard is it to change the ring size of a macrocyclic ligand?

I would not generally recommend this book. I would strongly advise someone against using this book as their initial guide to nanotechnology.

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Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents


Credits and Kudos

Christine Peterson Special thanks go to our new Advisors, John Gilmore and Ray Kurzweil (see article). John is best known for his work with Electronic Frontier Foundation and the free software/open source communities. Ray, who recently won the U.S. National Medal of Technology, is known for his reading machine for the blind, speech recognition, and his books The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Age of Spiritual Machines. We greatly appreciate their ongoing involvement.

More special thanks for a former Advisor, now promoted to VP of Technology Assessment, Ralph Merkle. It's hard to overstate Ralph's contribution to Foresight and the field of molecular nanotechnology. I'm honored to share my office at Foresight with him. (Special thanks to Senior Associate Jim Von Ehr of Zyvex for freeing up Ralph's time for this.)

This year's Gathering speakers deserve much gratitude for donating their extremely valuable talents to Foresight; if we had to pay their usual speaking fees, we'd be broke. Speakers expected as we go to press: Tom Bell, Stewart Brand, David Friedman, Leon Fuerth, Norm Goldblatt, Steve Jurvetson, Ray Kurzweil, Ralph Merkle, Tim O'Reilly, Paul Saffo, Gregory Stock, and Fred Turner.

Steve Jurvetson gets an extra dose of thanks for his role in arranging to have Draper Fisher Jurvetson be a corporate sponsor of the Gathering. Corporate sponsorships such as this make a huge difference to what we can accomplish year-round.

Two members deserving of kudos are Doug Mulhall, whose upcoming book, Our Molecular Future, covers molecular nanotechnology extensively, and Paul Lin-Easton, whose law review article in the Georgetown International Environmental Law Review (14 Geo. Int'l Envtl. L. Rev. 107) cites Foresight work with great thoroughness, thereby bringing it into the legal literature.

Special thanks also to Jeff Soreff for sharing his knowledge and insight during his many years of work tracking and elucidating technical developments in the "Recent Progress" column; he turns that gargantuan task over to Jim Lewis in this issue.

Ongoing thanks to all those who submit information to Foresight, especially those who are able to take the time to send that information to in the preferred standard format — this is greatly appreciated.

— Christine Peterson, President, Foresight Institute

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From Foresight Update 48, originally published 31 March 2002.