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According to information on the website of CORDIS, the (European) Community Research and Development Information Service, the European Union Council of Research Ministers has approved a budget of about 16.3 billion euros (about US$15.6 billion) for scientific research and development under the EU Sixth Framework Programme, which will span the period from 2002 to 2006 . Of this, about 1.3 billion euros (US$1.2 billion) will be devoted to "nanotechnologies, intelligent materials, and new production processes". The budget is subject to approval by the EU Parliament and finance ministers.
A useful resource (though not updated very often) on EU nanotechnology activities is the Cordis web service on nanotechnology http://www.cordis.lu/nanotechnology/. Some marginally useful materials regarding the nanotech portion of the Sixth Framework programme are available on the CORDIS website at http://www.cordis.lu/rtd2002/fp-debate/budget.htm and http://www.cordis.lu/rtd2002/fp-activities/nanotechnologies.htm.
An article on the Small Times website ("French megaproject for microtech hopes to cultivate new companies", by Genevieve Oger, 14 January 2002) provides a useful overview of the purpose and activities of Minatec, a new micro- and nano-technology education, research and business incubation center being developed in Grenoble, France. According to the article, when the facility is completed some time in 2003, the Minatec center "will be $160.3 million worth of buildings and clean rooms to house up to 3,500 researchers, entrepreneurs and students working on micro and nano projects. The site will hold two engineering schools, joint laboratories for still-developing startups and research and development teams from large companies. . . . Its supporters hope that in time it will turn the region into a European 'Silicon Valley' for micro and nano." As the article also notes, "Right now, Minatec is mostly about microtechnology, rather than nanotechnology. The center wants to attract more nanotech activity, but has yet to generate the same kind of interest and momentum it has spawned in microtechnology circles."
Taiwan has made significant progress toward implementing its ambitious five-year plan for an integrated national nanotechnology program.
The efforts of the Taiwan government, through its National Science Council (NSC), to coordinate nanotech-related research and development include a new nanotechnology research center and the formulation of a coordinated nanotechnology program to be finalized by the end of 2002. The proposed budget for the program is about NT$19.1 billion (about US$547 million) over the next five years (until 2007), of which NT$1.5 billion (US$40 million) has been allocated for 2002.
The Hsinchu-based Center for Applied Nanotechnology Institutes (CANTI), which is managed and operated by the national Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), was formally launched on 16 January 2002. The center is expected to spend at least NT$10 billion (about US$286 million) in funds allocated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, from now until 2007.
During an inspection tour of the new CANTI facility, based in the city of Hsinchu, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said: "Nanotechnology is the new century's rising star and will bring about a massive shift in the development of new materials, information-technology products and biomedicine".
At the opening ceremony, National Science Council Vice Chairman Wu Maw-kuen said that the draft of the national program had been passed by the NSC on 15 January and a comprehensive project would be available in March or April. "Next year, Taiwan's national nanotechnology program will be formally launched. We believe that the center at the ITRI will play an important role in integrating diverse researches in both the industry and universities," Wu said. Wu told the Taipei Times that Taiwan still has a long way to go before it will make any major achievements in the area of nanotechnology. "The most important thing now is to point out specific directions for the development of nanotechnology for the benefit of researchers and industry," Wu said.
In addition to the NSC, government agencies involved in the nanotechnology program include the Atomic Energy Council, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the Ministry of Education, and the Academia Sinica.
A useful overview of the efforts of the Taiwan government to coordinate nanotech-related research and development can be found in an article in the Taipei Times ("Taiwan hoping for giant steps in a minute world", by Chiu Yu-tzu, 5 January 2002).
According to a second article ("Business leaders learn about nanotechnology", 22 January 2002), business representatives meeting in southern Taiwan on 21 January said that full support from the government and research organizations would be crucial to future industrial transformation, including nanotechnology.
Debate over the goals and direction of nanotechnology research policy in Japan continues with an increasing level of urgency and intensity. Much of the debate focuses on the question of how to reorganize and reinvigorate Japanese research efforts in order for the country to maintain its position as a world leader in the field.
A very useful overview of the issues was presented in an extensive article on the Small Times website ("Japan sees nanotech as key to rebuilding its economy", by Jayne Fried, 7 January 2002).
The article describes efforts by officials at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and other agencies to assess where Japan can successfully compete and evaluate which methods and techniques, if any, Japan may need to adopt in order to achieve that success.
This reassessment was spurred in part by a report, titled A Future Society Built by Nanotechnology, by Watanabe Makoto, that was prepared by the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) and published by Japan Economic Foundation in the September/October 2001 issue of the Journal of Japanese Trade and Industry. The report is available online at http://www.jef.or.jp/en/jti/200109_010.html
According to the Keidanren report, the Japanese government views the successful development of nanotechnology as the key to "restoration of the Japanese economy." As the Small Times article notes, the report says "those involved with nanotechnology in Japan were shocked by and envious of the U.S. government's . . . bold, concentrated investments in nanotechnology [through the establishment of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)]. Japanese industry also was alarmed by such strategic involvement by the United States." In response, the Japanese government founded the Expert Group on Nanotechnology under the Keidanren Committee on Industrial Technology. In another initiative, which it calls its "e-Japan Strategy," the Japanese government has said it "aims to become the world's leading-edge information technology (IT) nation within five years, and the first application of nanotechnology is expected to be in the IT field.
Japan also targeted nanotechnology as one of four priorities in its fiscal 2001 science and technology budget. The Council for Science and Technology Policy, chaired by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, decided that life science, information and telecommunications, the environment and nanotechnology would together "reinvigorate" the Japanese economy, the report said. As part of this effort, Japan is engaged in an intensive reexamination of how its national R&D system works, and what needs to be changed to make it work better.
The Keidanren reports concludes that strong government support is an essential element to the success of Japanese efforts:
The United States and European nations are adopting aggressive measures to nurture technology that will support 21st-century industry. Although corporations will be the ones who will develop practical applications, universities and public research facilities must play a major role in promoting the research that leads to such applications as well as the fundamental research based on that. The government must determine a strategy for the nation and work hard towards accomplishing it, and it must also prepare the infrastructure for promoting the necessary R&D. . . .
The most important element in the pursuit of nanotechnology research and practical application is the existence of an organization that can grasp and evaluate the overall picture as well as individual projects and that constantly considers and indicates the proper course. Such an organization will grasp and evaluate Japan's involvement in nanotechnology, identify in what fields major nanotechnology investments should be made, and determine what sort of system is best for true integration and coordination between researchers and research facilities.
Fortunately, the recent restructuring of central ministries and government offices has established the [Council for Science and Technology (CST)]. . . . The CST is establishing clear guidelines for budget allocations and aggressively proceeding with studies for formulating promotion strategies. We strongly hope that the Council is formulating a national strategy so as to prevent the abuses that can occur in vertically organized government, and according to that strategy, promoting nanotechnology in a centralized manner so that it will make major contributions to developing Japan's society and economy.
The Small Times article also makes brief survey of private sector nanotech activity in Japan, and notes that interest and concern is keen in the U.S. over the Japanese response to the challenge of NNI. But the article also notes that not all efforts have a competitive cast: cooperative exchanges in both the public and private sector are aimed at finding opportunities for collaboration through networking and technical exchanges, partnerships, investment and other areas.
An extensive article on the Small Times website ("China, emboldened by breakthroughs, sets out to become nanotech power", by Jen Lin-Liu, 17 December 2001) describes recent advances in the production of carbon nanotubes in China, and discusses the overall direction and strategies of Chinese nanotechnology programs:
"In laboratories across China, researchers at universities are intensely studying the potential of nanotubes and nanowires some reporting breakthroughs that have escaped the West. The scientists, most of whom have interdisciplinary backgrounds in chemistry, physics and engineering, are first seeing how far they can stretch their imaginations before they translate their discoveries into practical applications. China plans to intensify research in the field, aiming to prove that the country has the potential to become a powerhouse in nanotechnology."
Although Australia hasn't yet formally established a coordinated national nanotechnology program, a number of significant steps have been taken in that country in recent months.
In early December 2001, the Queensland State Government and the University of Queensland formally announced the establishment of a A$50 million Australian Institute of Bio-Engineering and Nanotechnology at the UQ St. Lucia campus in Brisbane. The institute will bring together scientists working in nanotechnology, biomaterials, tissue engineering, neuroscience and bioengineering.
The St. Lucia campus is already home to the UQ NanoMaterials Centre (NanoMac) and Nanotechnology and Biomaterials Centre, as well as the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).
The new center will receive funds from the Queensland Government, the University of Queensland and private sources. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said the Australian national Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) would also be a key contributor to the institute.
In a related development, in December 2001 while on an official visit to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, Premier Beattie also invited the collaboration of researchers in New Zealand with the new UQ institute. "There are some golden opportunities for collaboration between researchers in New Zealand and Queensland," Beattie said. "This is the science of the 21st century and Queensland and New Zealand are both in on the ground floor."
"The NEST group (the Nanostructure Engineering, Science and Technology group) at the University of Canterbury [in New Zealand] is highly regarded by their colleagues in Queensland . . . Links with the new Australian Institute would be a natural fit and could be beneficial to both parties," Beattie said.
The University of Technology-Sydney announced in December 2001 that it will strengthen its nanotechnology programs, under the leadership of Acting Director of the Institute for Nanoscale Technology, Dr Grant Griffiths. UTS will attempt to match its programs with industry needs, introduce two new undergraduate degrees, and recruit Honors and PhD research students to a range of new industry-sponsored nanotechnology projects.
And finally, according to a pair of reports in the Canberra Times, a major flap developed when Australian Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson departed from normal practice by directing the Australian Research Council (ARC), the nation's top research body roughly equivalent to the U.S. National Science Foundation, how to spend a third of its 2003 budget. Making the announcement on 28 January 2002, Nelson said 33 per cent of ARC funding would go to four priority areas of cutting-edge scientific research such as nanotechnology, genomics, complex and intelligent systems, and photonics. About A$170 million (about US$86.4 million) would support projects and centres for up to five years. According to the second report, the result of the reallocation of funds to those four specific areas will result in funds to those areas almost doubling.
An intriguing article in the January 2002 issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine ("A bid to take the lead", by Y. Eugene Pak), a publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), reviews the strategic direction of South Korean plans to become a world leader in nanotechnology by 2010. Pak, a researcher in the MEMS laboratory at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in Kiheung, Korea, near Seoul, notes that "Korea has put forth an ambitious plan that will prepare itself to achieve world-class competitiveness in nanotechnology within the next 10 years." According to Pak, "A panel of experts from government, industry, and academia has drafted a strategic plan for commercialization of nano-technologies. The strategy is a three-tier plan to establish needed infrastructure and human resources by 2005, to commercialize nanotechnology from 2005 onward, and finally to become one of the world's leaders by 2010."
Pak describes many nanotechnology-related research projects in government, university, and industrial laboratories covering nanomagnetic and ferroelectric thin-film processing, carbon nanotubes for molecular electronic devices, quantum dots, quantum computing, nanolithography, single-electron transistors, scanning probe microscope-based surface physics, and nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS). He also notes the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has drafted a 10-year plan to carry out research in nanobiotechnology, including nanoscale diagnostic devices, nanoscale treatment systems, and nanobiomimetics.
According to a report in the Korea Herald (7 January 2002) the South Korean government's Board of Audit & Inspection (BAI) is planning to carry out special inspections of government nanotechnology funding, as well as the information technology and biotechnology sectors because "up till now no comprehensive examination of how funds were spent were made." This may be necessary because, according to another report from the Asia Pulse news service (21 December 2001), the S. Korean government has decided to spend 13 trillion won (US$10.2 billion) to support the development of 77 technologies in six fields including nanotechnology as well as information technology and biotechnology. The funding is part of the 35 trillion won the government will spend on research and development over the next five years.
Hebrew University inaugurated a new Center of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in early January 2002. The event marked the culmination of a fundraising effort that began in June 2001, and will lead to the construction of a new building to house the center later. According to an article in the Jerusalem Post ("Hebrew University to invest $40m. in new nanotech center", by Tania Hershman, 6 January 2002), the January events marked the launch of official cross-disciplinary activity that will involve Hebrew University scientists from the physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences faculties. In October 2002, the university will begin offering undergraduate courses in the field. "The physical building will take a couple of years. We are in the process of designing it now," Hebrew University president, professor Menachem Magidor told The Jerusalem Post. "Today is the organizational inauguration. In six months we will inaugurate one [physical] component, the Center for Microcharacterization and Electron Microscopy."
"The Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology will be a dynamic focal point which will attract the developing technological industries of the future to Jerusalem and Israel. The Hebrew University is preparing to open an innovative program of study that will train graduate students in different areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology in well-equipped research laboratories. The university's vision is to turn these students into the future leadership in elite technological research and industry in Israel, and to turn Israel into an international leader in the nanotechnology industry," according to Prof. Magidor.
The Post article also said that Hebrew University is not alone in this endeavor: Ben Gurion University, Tel Aviv University and the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology all announced major investments in nanoscience and nanotechnology over the past 18 months, and Israel's other academic establishments are also pursuing nanotech programs.
In a press release (29 November 2001), the University of Texas-Dallas (UTD) and Jilin University in China announced they had "reached an agreement on academic cooperation in the new millennium, with particular emphasis on the promising field of nanotechnology." The agreement was signed during a 10-day visit to China by a delegation from UTD, along with Jim Von Ehr, chairman and CEO of Zyvex Corporation. The agreement will serve as a framework for future collaborations between the two universities. Plans call for an exchange of research scientists and students, especially in the areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology.
On 6 December 2001, UTD also announced it has agreed to explore ways to collaborate on nanotechnology research with the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada and the University of Alberta. Following a Canadian trade mission to Dallas on 28 November 2001 headed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, UTD and Canadian officials signed a letter of intent to foster the exchange of scientific and technical knowledge about nanotechnology, identify opportunities for collaborative research and technology transfer and develop scientific and technical capabilities in nanotechnology applications in energy, computers and life sciences.
The University of Alberta was chosen in August 2001 as the host for the NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) (see Foresight Update #46).
|Foresight Update 48 - Table of Contents|
Rapid advances in nanotechnology research, along with equally rapid advances in a number of sectors toward the commercialization of products that rely on nano-structured materials or nano-scale properties, garnered increasingly widespread attention as 2001 drew to a close. [This only partially compensates for the failure of the International Space Station to morph into a rotating, double-ringed configuration; the fact that there was no renascent Pan Am to introduce a sleek new commercial passenger spaceplane design with regular service to low Earth orbit; or that there was no regular service via the Aries 1B shuttle to a non-existent moonbase at Clavius; or that the introduction of the HAL 9000 artificial intelligence was deferred from its anticipated year by unexpected software development difficulties.]
In its annual review of the year's highlights in the field of chemistry, the 10 December 2001 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), a publication of the American Chemical Society, includes an extensive article describing a broad range of advances in nanotechnology and molecular electronics that have occurred in the last year: "Nanotechnology and molecular electronics research seemed to be leading a charmed existence in 2001, with many important advances coming to fruition. As semiconductor devices approach their physical limits, researchers are trying to devise ways to decrease the size of features in microelectronic circuits, and a number of studies were carried out with miniaturization goals in mind." The article is available online at http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/7950/7950highlights2001a.html.
Similarly, the editors of the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the leading scientific journals worldwide, highlighted the field of molecular electronics as this year's "Breakthrough of the Year" in a special issue of the journal (20 December 2001). As usual, none of the material is available online unless you are a subscriber.
According to a report from United Press International, this year's Breakthrough recognizes advances in the field of nanotechnology, which incorporates molecular-scale computers, self-assembling micromachines and the fabrication of carbon nanotubes and nanowires. "The breakthrough is not for the devices themselves, although the work that has produced them deserves high praise," said Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy in an editorial appearing in the year-end issue. "It is for the extraordinary accomplishment of arranging them into circuits that can actually perform logical operations: amplify signals, invert current flows and even perform simple computing tasks."
Additional news coverage is available in articles from Reuters News Service (at http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=sciencenews&StoryID=470416) and the Associated Press, via the New York Times (at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/science/AP-Science-Tops-in-2001.html).
Nanoelectronics were also highlighted at this year's annual meeting of the AAAS in Boston, 14-19 February 2002. A press release from the AAAS (14 February 2002) says "A landslide of discoveries brought the promise of powerful electronic and computing devices, built at the molecular scale, to the forefront of scientific research in 2001. In particular, several research teams hooked up tiny devices such as transistors, wires, and switches to form working circuits for the first time", and describes the many advances by researchers in the field in the past year. "We may be five to six years ahead of schedule in nanoelectronics, and some of today's research is nearing the stage where it could be turned over to industrial production . . . It's been a momentous period for nanoelectronics, with more in store for the future," said James Ellenbogen of the Mitre Corporation.
More coverage of the molectronics buzz at the AAAS meeting was provided by an article from the Atlanta Constitution ("Science gathering predicts a big future for small tech", by Mike Toner, 15 February 2002) that appeared on the Small Times website. Recent advances in molectronics, Toner writes, are "the harbingers of a new epoch" that "might make it possible to develop a generation of nanorobots that could fight disease on a molecular level, biochemical sensors that could detect a single anthrax cell and computer storage devices that could pack the contents of the Library of Congress in the space of a sugar cube. . . . One by one, researchers are marshalling the building blocks of a market the National Science Foundation estimated could grow to $1 trillion and employ 2 million people over the next 10 to 15 years." The article also quotes nanotech researcher Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemistry professor and winner of the 2001 Foresight Feynman Prize for Experimental work (see Foresight Update #47): "A year ago, I wasn't sure that the achievement of a complex integrated nanosystem was possible. Now I think it is a distinct possibility in the near future."
The cover and a pair of feature articles in the February 2002 issue of Materials Today, an international magazine devoted to the latest research and policy news for materials researchers in academia, industry and government, highlight "Molecular electronics: the future of computing". The two feature articles are available on the MT website, as Adobe Acrobat PDF files:
An article in EE Times ("Researchers close to delivering molecular circuits", by Chappell Brown, 15 February 2002) says "Although it's a little like watching a chess match in slow motion, molecular electronics researchers are converging on viable circuit-fabrication methods. Several approaches to building circuits with molecules reached the stage of at least rudimentary logic or simple devices, such as inverters or AND gates, last year."
According to an article in Die Welt ("Julius-Springer-Preis für die Erforschung von Nanoröhrchen", 4 February 2002, in German), Cees Dekker, a physicist at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, has been awarded this year's Julius Springer Prize in Applied Physics for his work on the electrical properties of carbon nanotubes and their application in molecular electronic circuits.
The award to Dekker marks the second time in recent years that the Springer Prize in Applied Physics has gone to researchers in molecular electronics. In June 2000, HP Labs researcher Stanley Williams and his UCLA collaborator Jim Heath received the award, one of the most prestigious international awards in the field, for their work in nanotechnology and molecular electronics (see Foresight Update #42).
The Fall 2001 issue of Research Review magazine, a publication of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), is devoted to the theme "The Coming of the Nano-Age: Shaping the World Atom by Atom". Along with a general introductory piece, the issue features a half-dozen articles that focus on instrumentation, tools, and materials with interesting nanoscale properties.
The Fall (October-December) 2001 issue of Interface, a technical trade publication of the Electrochemical Society, is devoted to the theme of "Smaller is better: emerging nanoscience".
The issue is introduced by a piece by guest editor Joseph T. Hupp ("Emerging Nanoscience and Functional Artificial Nanoarchitectures"), a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and a researcher at Northwestern's Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly. Calling nanoscience and nanotechnology vibrant areas of research and development, Hupp writes, "The excitement, and the private and public investment to back it, comes from nothing less than the promise of revolutionary advances in medicine, communications, and other areas of contemporary technology." He also notes that "Nanotechnology becomes viable, of course, only when desired nanoscale objects can be intentionally and reproducibly made," and goes on to describe "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to nanotech, clearly favoring the latter: "New materials and new architectures devised in a bottom-up, molecular fashion can be engines for the invention of new and better nanoscience and the development of new and better nanotechnology." The issue contains three technical articles that describe nanostructured materials and functions.
The November/December issue of Micro Magazine, a trade journal for the semiconductor manufacturing community, has an article on nanotechnology ("When Micro Meets Nano: Small things considered", by John Conroy). Not surprisingly, the article focuses more on short-term possibilities for molecular-scale transistors, carbon nanotubes, and atomic layer deposition of interest to the microelectronics and semiconductor industry. It also presents some mildly pessimistic comments on the possibility for advanced nanorobotics from Susan Sinnott, a researcher in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida, and co-chair of the Ninth Foresight Conference in November 2001.
An article in a special issue of Red Herring Magazine on the "Top Ten Trends 2001" named nanotechnology as one of the developing trends to watch ("Small Worlds: Nanotechnology wins over mainstream venture capitalists", by Stephan Herrera and Lawrence Aragon, 18 December 2001; at http://www.redherring.com/insider/2001/1218/341.html): "Nanotechnology is coming in from the fringe. Once dismissed as just so much science fiction and Silicon Valley hokum, nanotechnology now represents no less than the next industrial revolution."
The article also quotes Richard Smalley of Rice University: "To the extent that there are solutions to practical problems like disease, feeding the world, and reconciling scarce energy resources with increasing consumption, a remarkable number of them can only be solved through nanotechnology."
Amid the conference focused on microdevices, some interesting nanotech-related news emerged from the MEMS 2002 Conference, co-sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Robotics and Automation Society and held 20-24 January 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A good general overview of the conference appeared on the Small Times website ("Record numbers at MEMS conference", by Jane Fried, 22 January 2002).
UPI correspondent Scott Burnell filed a series of interesting stories from the conference. Some of the highlights include:
Many other UPI stories, as well as much original coverage of the conference, appeared on the Small Times website (http://www.smalltimes.com).
An interesting interview with James Gimzewski, currently a researcher at the UCLA and the California NanoSystems Institute, appeared on 18 January 2002 in the HMS Beagle online magazine hosted by BioMedNet. (at http://news.bmn.com/hmsbeagle/118/notes/biofeed. Note: access is free, but registration is required.) Gimzewski won the 1997 Foresight Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work as a member of a team from the IBM Research Division Zurich Research Laboratory, for work using scanning probe microscopes to manipulate molecules (see Foresight Update #31). In the interview, he also talks about his nanotechnology research at IBM and his role as a co-founder of the Institute of Nanotechnology in the UK before coming to UCLA/CNSI. Based on his comments in the interview, Gimzewski seems to be yet another scientist in the field who appears to be both excited by the possibilities of advanced nanotechnology, and yet dismissive of them.
An extensive article in the Ontario, Canada National Post ("Small Miracles", by Margaret Munro, 21 January 2002) provides an interesting, if somewhat skeptical, look at nanotechnology in Canada and the United States. While dismissing speculations about advanced molecular nanotechnology as "the stuff of fiction", Munro writes "there is clearly a revolution afoot", but:
Scientists say the revolution will be gradual. "The hype is just that," says Robert Wolkow, a research officer at the National Research Council in Ottawa and one of the country's leading nanotechnologists. "Many really remarkable things will happen. But they're not going to happen next year or even in five years," he says. A more realistic time frame is 10 to 20 years before nanotechnology dramatically changes our lives. But when the revolution comes, says Wolkow, "it will be fantastic."
In addition to profiling a number of interesting nanotech research projects, the article briefly mentions the contention over the feasibility of molecular assemblers that resulted from the September 2001 special nanotech issue of Scientific American (see Foresight Update #46), and quotes skeptical Canadian researchers.
In a brief article on the Tech Central Station website ("Small Is Beautiful", 7 January 2002), Duane D. Freese highlights some recent progress in nanotech-related research, and advocates a decidedly limited role for government-funded research and development: "As the potential for nanotechnology moves out of the lab, government spending ought to mimic the technology and shrink."
An article in the Dallas Business Journal ("Chicken Little is still alive and squawking: New technologies give rise to echoes of old fears", by Bartlett Cleland, 18 January 2002) says "The past 200 years have brought an age of wonder with constant life-changing inventions and mind-stretching advances. But every step forward has had its accompanying Luddites the skeptics, the fearful and opportunists who express their outrage at progress. Today, their latest fear is nanotechnology."
Cleland, who is director of the Center for Technology Freedom at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Lewisville, Texas, writes "already the fear-mongers are lining up to proclaim that nanotechnology will bring about the end of all humanity a familiar refrain from those who fear the future. Much as Chicken Little did, these folks scream that the sky is falling even before they know the facts."
As has been argued elsewhere, Cleland says it is no solution to abandon or relinquish technological research and development: "Technology's track record is one of progress, not destruction. . . . This is not to say that technology is essentially good, but neither is it evil. It is the users of technology who decide whether it is used for good or for evil. . . . The future worth fearing is one where the good guys don't get there first, and the "bad guys" better understand, control and access superior technology. Restraints on the development of technology by the civilized world only give the upper hand to those who are not going to obey the law anyway."
Cleland concludes: "Many will try to regulate the advancement of nanotechnology for their own ends or because of their fears. But policy makers should resist the temptation to regulate nanotechnology. . . . Nanotechnology holds great promise for many areas of life. Those who fear the future will continue to whip up fear and concern rather than to engage in logical and productive analysis. Because to fear the future rather than to shape it correctly is a sure means to a disastrous outcome."
In its 4 January 2002 issue, Business Week magazine profiles a number of "Gurus of Tomorrow's Tech". The researchers profiled include Kaushik Bhattacharya at CalTech ("Materials Made to Order"), a specialist in active materials, some of which employ nanoscale components; and Len Adleman at USC ("Tapping DNA Power for Computers"), who is a leading researcher in the use of DNA molecules for computing.
An article on the NanotechPlanet website ("Zyvex: Building Nanoscale Machines with Microscopic Engines", by Allen Bernard, 14 February 2002) profiles the steady progress Zyvex is making along a "top-down" pathway toward nanotechnology by attempting to create machines designed to build yet smaller machines that, in turn, build yet smaller machines that manipulate matter at the molecular level in the manner envisioned decades ago by Richard Feynman.
"We'll build the first machine by hand," Zyvex founder and CEO Jim Von Ehr told NanotechPlanet. "And that machine will build other machines ... and each of those machines can be ganged together in parallel with other similar machines to build products or another generation of machines."
The strategy is being implemented with the help of a $12.5 million National Institute of Standards and Technology matching grant in October 2001 (see Foresight Update #47). "What we want to end up with after this five-year NIST program is reasonably parallel sub micron scale systems handling sub micron scale parts," Von Ehr said. "I want to be careful about nanoscale. We're not really trying to build with molecules in this program."
An article in the Christian Science Monitor ("Whose idea is it, anyway?", by Ruth Walker, 17 January 2002) presents arguments from many sides of the issue that while patents have been essential to ensuring innovation, the U.S. may now be limiting innovation by putting too many new developments under patent protection.
Among those quoted in the article is Chris Peterson, Foresight Institute President, who "thinks the patent system has been overextended not just in volume but in kinds of patents. . . . The US economy has prospered, she says, in part because of the strength of its property rights, including patent rights. 'We have deeply learned the lesson of private property ... but we've gone too far. As far as I can see, the property rights model works with physical things, but not ideas. We're pretending they can't be shared.' "
The article also notes that "Patent skeptics, such as . . . Peterson, argue that to treat ideas like physical things "rounding 'em up and branding 'em like cattle" is to deny everyone the full benefits of an economy based on infinitely sharable ideas. The patent advocates counter that it is precisely because so many of today's new products are almost pure "idea," with little physicality, that robust patent law is necessary."
The New York Times published a laudatory review of Lawrence Lessig's passionate new book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World in the 6 January 2002 issue. As the review notes, Lessig argues that America's concern with protecting intellectual property has become an oppressive obsession. "The distinctive feature of modern American copyright law," he writes, "is its almost limitless bloating." As Lessig sees it, a system originally designed to provide incentives for innovation has increasingly become a weapon for attacking cutting-edge creativity.
An article on the Small Times website ("U.S. patent examiners may not know enough about nanotech", by Doug Brown, 4 February 2002) describes some potential problems faced by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in evaluating what is expected to be a sharp increase in the number of nanotechnology-related patent applications. The article describes problems with both a lack of staff expertise in the relevant fields and the fact that there is no well-defined group or office within the USPTO that can develop the necessary deep expertise or consistency in examination policy. As the article notes, "With examiners ignorant of the scope of nanotechnology, companies would be faced with patents that are either rejected improperly because the examiner mistakenly concluded that the application is not new, or overly broad patents that would give a single company far too much control over a particular swath of a technological field. . . . Now, nanotechnology patents are scattered from technology center to technology center. As a result, patents live in isolation within different art units. The agency doesn't necessarily need to launch a nanotechnology center, . . . but it should put in place a system that funnels nanotechnology patents to specific people tutored in nanotechnology within the different technology centers. The nanotechnology specialists can communicate with one another, which would help ensure that only the right patents are granted for the right reason."
An article in the New York Times ("Apostle of Regenerative Medicine Foresees Longer Health and Life", by Nicholas Wade, December 18, 2001) profiles Dr. William A. Haseltine, chief executive of Human Genome Sciences, a biotechnology company in Rockville, Md., and his views on the potential for regenerative medicine, the concept of repairing the body by developing new tissues and organs as old ones wear out. The article describes how Haseltine sees the field advancing in four stages:
The first, making use of the body's own signaling factors to stimulate healing processes, is already being implemented. According to the article, the second phase of regenerative medicine, in his view, "kicks in when the body is injured beyond the point of repair, at which point you want to put in a new organ," he said. Tissue engineers have already learned to grow sheets of skin and are starting to learn how to grow replacement organs such as blood vessels and more complex tissues.
"Further in the future, he believes, biologists may learn how to fashion new organs outside the body from adult stem cells, the body's guardians and regenerator of adult tissues. These would be taken from the patient's body so as to avoid problems of immune rejection. . . . This, he says, is the point at which regenerative medicine merges into rejuvenative medicine. . . . 'Since we are a self-replacing entity, and do so reasonably well for many decades, there is no reason we can't go on forever,' Dr. Haseltine said."
"In the fourth phase of regenerative medicine, according to Dr. Haseltine's timetable, nanotechnology microscopic-scale mechanical devices will merge with biological systems. Humans are already becoming partly inorganic when they receive organ- mimicking machines like the AbioCor artificial heart. Artificial devices are likely to improve to the point that they will eventually interface with evolution's form of engineering. . . . Some people find immortality disturbing, seeing it as transgressing the line that separates people from gods. Dr. Haseltine sees it as an inherent property of life. . . . 'What distinguishes life from other forms of matter is that it is immortal we are a 3.5-billion-year-old molecule,' he said, referring to the time when life on earth began. 'If it were ever mortal, we would not be here. The fundamental property of DNA is its immortality. The problem is to connect that immortality with human immortality and, for the first time, we see how that may be possible.' "
Another article in the New York Times ("Doctors Advance in Helping Body to Repair Itself", by Gina Kolata, 15 January 2002) reviewed current work in regenerative medicine, particularly recent research with pancreatic cells and the heart. The article notes comments from a recent editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine which noted that the findings regarding self-repair of the heart had enormous implications, because scientists may be able to prompt that repair. "Such approaches to therapy, which previously were only pipe dreams, are now realistic goals that may soon be within reach."
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From Foresight Update 48, originally published 31 March 2002.
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