Tuesday, February 08, 2005



The cover story (Business Week, Feb 14, 2005) on nanotech points a set of scattered pinlights at an important field that is in its infancy. Pinlights because the article focusses brightly on narrow points; scattered because the article is all over the place.

For that matter, nanotech itself is all over the place. And the article makes many very interesting points:
  • Nanotech is not a field, it is many fields, organized only by the size of the objects it deals with. (It is sometimes chemistry, sometimes physics, sometimes medicine, sometimes consumer electronics... and so on. The objects are roughly the size of small molecules. )
  • The products it describes will come to market at vastly diffferent times over decades.
  • The industry will rise and fall, and threatens to create another one of those technology stock bubbles.
  • There are safety issues.

Business Week, of course, is organized to write about business. The business opportunities have many uncertainties in every area: investment, time to market, consumer reaction, product safety... so most every positive statement in the article is mirrored by a "but" somewhere else.

Nanotechnology is real. The best parts of the article are perhaps the (all too short) sidebars, describing, for example, the time lines for products of different kinds to appear; and the dangers that threaten the development and acceptance of nanotechnology. (Acceptance is probably the wrong word. If some products are hazardous to human life, acceptance is not the issue -- prevention is.)

Nanotechnology is in such an early stage that perhaps the most sensible approach is to look at the technology and organize a discussion by the specific technologies involved, and how they are likely to develop over time; what the physical, chemical, biological, and engineering issues are, and how research is approaching them. Of course, this is not nearly as much fun as writing or reading about the incredible possibilities for new products, the human-life-on-earth threatening potential dangers, and the opportunities for fortunes and bankruptcies that NANOTECHNOLOGY could create.

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