Nanotech: US ambition, UK pessimism

Richard Jones asks: “Why does the molecular manufacturing community seem to have many fewer members in the UK than it does in the USA? I don’t think it’s fair to say that the dramatic vision of molecular manufacturing is pursued in a contextual vacuum – I think there is quite a well-developed world view that underlies the molecular manufacturing vision. Is there something about that world-view that makes it more attractive in one country than another?…Is this really just a clash between the habitual rainsoaked pessimism of the British, and sunny American optimism and its associated can-do attitude?”

An excellent question, Richard. It’s hard to miss the difference between U.S. attitudes — not just toward molecular manufacturing, but toward nanotechnologies in general, and technology more broadly — and attitudes in Europe. Why is this? Well, for centuries now, risk-takers have paddled (now, flown) across the oceans to try their luck here. American culture is far more admiring of risk-takers. Perhaps this centuries-long process has led to a difference in national attitudes toward what timeframe is of interest when considering engineering goals.

I’ve visited Sweden and Norway. They’re very nice places, but I’m glad my forebears took the boat. I carry on the tradition, in a way, by betting my career on nanotechnology instead of, say, practicing medicine, which would have been a much safer career choice.

I’ll caricature the pro-vs-anti-MNT debate: The anti’s say “Man will never fly, unless it’s on the back of a very large, biological bird.” The pro’s say “The heck with that — let’s build an airplane.” This can-do, “let’s build it” attitude seems quite American to me. It has worked pretty well for us so far, though taking risks doesn’t always pay off, and can be…risky. –CP

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