Article in The Scientist takes a skeptical look at nanotech

from the half-a-loaf dept.
An article in The Scientist ("Nanotech Dreams", by Senior Science Editor Jeffrey M. Perkel; 4 March 2002) offers a general overview of nanotechnology from a life science perspective. The article presents some background on the ideas of Richard Feynman and Eric Drexler (mixed with a few hoary science fiction clichés and comments from nay-sayers to the idea of advanced molecular nanotechnology, such as Richard Smalley) before focusing on current research in several areas. "It's an unusual field," says Chad A. Mirkin, a professor of chemistry and director of the Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University. "It's a field that focuses on a scale rather than on a material. So it affects everything."

The article also quotes Robert A. Freitas Jr., a research scientist at Zyvex Corp. and author of Nanomedicine, about the distance between long-term visions for nanotechnology and current capabilities: "My vision of nanomedicine ranges from the near-term to the far-term," he says. "I look at the things that can't be done for 20 years as a vision, as the ultimate goal, as a wonderful thing, way out there, that we can grasp for. And in the meantime, we have to do all the things that are necessary to get up to that point, and there's an awful lot of work to be done, and lots of work for everybody."

The bulk of the article actually focuses on various companies attempting to create biosensor systems using various micro- and nano-scale technologies, and nanostructured materials that may have therapeutic applications. The article does concludes by returning to disputes over the feasibility of nanorobotic systems, and gives greater play to the more conservative view:

Northwestern's Mirkin bluntly surmises, "I think it's baloney . . . I think a lot of people, including scientists, try to say, 'This is pie-in-the-sky. A lot of it is really far out. It's going to have a big impact, but it's not going to be realized for 25 to 50 years,'" says Mirkin. "That's wrong, and it's also wrong to say it's going to revolutionize everything in the next couple of years. Something in the middle is correct."

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