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Nanotechnology and Society?

Zonk posted about 9 years ago | from the what's-going-on? dept.

Education 134

VoiceOfZule writes "Bringing advanced sci-tech and humanities grad students to teach undergrads about nanotech and its implications is a great idea. I was in this class on Nanotechnology and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this spring, and a lot of the course materials were just put online along with a preprint paper about the new course, and some of the student research projects. The class was a lot of fun (some nano, some scitech studies, some scifi/future stuff), I learned a lot (about the reality of nanotech and its societal implications beyond the B.S. hype out there), and the world of nano now seems like a good career path to me. Are similar experiences going on across the country? In light of recent worries concerning science and engineering in the US, I hope so."

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134 comments

What a class! (4, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | about 9 years ago | (#13083150)

I hope there was very little homework....

iSeriesNetwork just got sql-raped! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083419)

Protecting Against SQL Injection Attacks [iseriesnetwork.com]

It's hilarous!

Re:iSeriesNetwork just got sql-raped! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083564)

Oh, and Certmag [certmag.com] too!

The Frenchies too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083655)

hehe [communautech.com]

Re:What a class! (0)

mister_llah (891540) | about 9 years ago | (#13083838)

It was either that or the homework itself was very little...

Re:What a class! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083866)

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Have you read his comics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084670)

He considers himself a wit. He's also under some sort of illusion that it's permissible for him to draw.

I'm taking one of these too.... (2, Informative)

tom8658 (899280) | about 9 years ago | (#13083171)

Alot of universities seem to be offering similar classes of late. In fact, next semester I begin a 4 semester course track about the implications of technology in our society with a focus on nanotechnology. I'm looking forward to all that extra time to nap on the oh-so-comfy 1970's era right-hand-only desks.

Re:I'm taking one of these too.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083899)

Do you think that in your bastion of intellectual eliteness that is university, somebody can drop-kick a dictionary up your rectum? ALOT IS NOT A WORD.

Re:I'm taking one of these too.... (1)

tom8658 (899280) | about 9 years ago | (#13084730)

I noticed that after I posted. If /. had a way to edit comments, I would have fixed it, as well as removed the superfluous word from "1970's era".

Re:I'm taking one of these too.... (1)

tom8658 (899280) | about 9 years ago | (#13084743)

I noticed that after I posted. If /. had a way to edit comments, I would have fixed it, as well as removed the superfluous word from "1970's era". I guess that's what "preview" is for....

May I suggest you also calm down? Just a bit? Just because you're anonymous doesn't mean you shouldn't be polite...

Recent descent to third world status you mean... (2, Interesting)

Baldrson (78598) | about 9 years ago | (#13083195)

recent worries concerning science and engineering in the US

You just said a mouthful there... Nothing is going to pull things out of this nose-dive but a radical restructuring of the US's political and social structures. Not even nanotechnology:

July 15, 2005

America's Descent Into The Third World [vdare.com]

By Paul Craig Roberts

The June payroll jobs report did not receive much attention due to the July 4 holiday, but the depressing 21st century job performance of the US economy continues unabated.

Only 144,000 private sector jobs were created, each one of which was in domestic services.

56,000 jobs were created in professional and business services, about half of which are in administrative and waste services.

38,000 jobs were created in education and health services, almost all of which are in health care and social assistance.

19,000 jobs were created in leisure and hospitality, almost all of which are waitresses and bartenders.

Membership associations and organizations created 10,000 jobs and repair and maintenance created 4,000 jobs.

Financial activities created 16,000 jobs.

This most certainly is not the labor market profile of a first world country, much less a superpower.

Where are the jobs for this year's crop of engineering and science graduates?

US manufacturing lost another 24,000 jobs in June.

A country that doesn't manufacture doesn't need many engineers. And the few engineering jobs [vdare.com] available go to foreigners.

Readers have sent me employment listings from US software development firms. The listings are discriminatory against American citizens. One ad from a company in New Jersey that is a developer for many companies, including Oracle [vdare.com] , specifies that the applicant must have a TN visa.

A TN or Trade Nafta [vdare.com] visa is what is given to Mexicans and Canadians, who are willing to work in the US at below prevailing wages.

Another ad from a software consulting company based in Omaha, Nebraska, specifies it wants software engineers who are H-1B transferees [vdare.com] . What this means is that the firm is advertising for foreigners already in the US who have H-1B work visas.

The reason the US firms specify that they have employment opportunities only for foreigners who hold work visas is because the foreigners will work for less than the prevailing US salary. [vdare.com]

Gentle reader, when you read allegations that there is a shortage of engineers [vdare.com] in America, necessitating the importation of foreigners to do the work, you are reading a bald faced lie. If there were a shortage of American engineers, employers would not word their job listings to read that no American need apply and that they are offering jobs only to foreigners holding work visas.

What kind of country gives preference to foreigners over its own engineering graduates? [vdare.com]

What kind of country destroys the job market for its own citizens?

How much longer will parents shell out $100,000 for a college education [vdare.com] for a son or daughter who end up employed as a bartender, waitress, or temp?

Dr. Roberts, [email [mailto] him] a former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former Contributing Editor of National Review, was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan administration. He is the author of The Supply-Side Revolution [amazon.com] and, with Lawrence M. Stratton, of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice [amazon.com] . Click here [vdare.com] for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083243)

Dude, this is both off topic and flamebait.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083297)

the post clearly pertains to the last link in the summary if you bothered to look at that... but i get it, if you don't agree with something its much easier to start the name calling than to actually address the real subject...

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083411)

Heh, the website it is from is pretty wacko, far more than the stripped down stuff in the wall street journal or even national review (where he says he used to work).

Typical Jim Bowery (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083467)

Bowery has a long history of usenet and online crackpottery. Back in the 80s he was advocating quarantine for all AIDs patients. When George Koopman was killed in a car accident (the head of AmRoc, a private space launch company), Jim was saying that NASA had arranged for him to be killed.

You have to consider the source.

Re:Typical Jim Bowery (1)

Baldrson (78598) | about 9 years ago | (#13084446)

"Anonymous Coward" asks us to "consider the source". This otherwise incredible request is perfectly understandable given the way he so mendaciously distorts the real history here:
  1. I was advising a member of Gary Hart's AIDS policy committee (Andrew Cutler) with whom I had previously worked on science and technology policy, when the topic of quarantine came up. The topic came up because Cuba had successfully contained the AIDS epidemic there by setting up towns for its HIV-positive population. Our proposal was less radical: Blanket HIV-antibody testing of the population, stiff criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of HIV status to the public, stiff criminal sentences for exposure of others to HIV infection, mandatory contact tracing and behavioral counseling for the HIV-positive population. The subsequent death toll of the AIDS epidemic has been homophobic and racially hostile to minorities. I wonder if our Anonymous Coward think this is "God's Judgment on sodomites and mud people". He can, of course, say anything he wants in response to this since he cannot be held accountable due to his anonymity.
  2. During this same period of time I discovered and was the first (and apparently only one) to report to the authors a serious error in the epidemiology model of AIDS published in the Nature cover story: May RM, Anderson RM: Transmission dynamics of HIV infection. Nature 1987, 326:137-142 which was corrected in the later article: Anderson, RM, May RM: Epidemiological parameters of HIV transmission. Nature 1988; 333:514-519. This error had apparently led a CDC-affiliated AIDS activist to spread the "good news" that the AIDS epidemic was over to various mass media outlets. Stupidity can kill. Bad judgement about who is a "crackpot" can kill even more.
  3. I wrote a short article for a locally published space newsletter describing a series of tragic deaths involving people who had been leading lights of opening up commercial space. Two of these figured most prominently: Malcolm Baldridge and George Koopman -- both men with whom I had contact during their fights with NASA because I was among the few space enthusiasts who were advocating a cut-back in NASA's role in technology and services in favor of patronizing the private risk takers. I offered no conspiracy theory although I did imply that NASA could not be held entirely blameless. For example, there is no conspiracy required to explain Koopman's death. He died in a single car accident on a desert highway early in the morning. He had been known for cocaine abuse during the filming of "The Blues Brothers" which contained one of the biggest auto-accident sequences in the history of motion pictures. The issue in my mind isn't Koopman's part in his own death -- but why hybrid rocket motor technology (a variant of which won the X-Prize) ended up going from a Silicon Valley firm "Starstruck" to the control of a man like Koopman. I'm not hostile to Koopman -- I did know the man and although I think he was the wrong man for the job and had real character issues -- it was the environment created by NASA contracting practices that led to the Starstruck's failure and to a man like Koopman doing a job for which he was ill suited. The stress probably ultimately killed him just as it killed the company. As for Malcolm Baldridge -- he was threatening NASA's space station program with commercial alternatives via his Office of Commercial Space in the Department of Commerce. He died when he was thrown from a spooked horse during a parade and his offices was subsequently taken over by the former chief counsel for NASA. The commercial alternatives promptly ditched. Maybe it was a coincidence. How much money has to be at stake for suspicions of foul play to be reasonable?

Thanks to A.C. for giving me the opportunity to restate this history, of which I am actually somewhat proud.

Its time to teach economics in elementary school. (0)

elucido (870205) | about 9 years ago | (#13083431)

The world has changed, its not about getting a job, its about learning to profit from the increases in global poverty. I want to make money whenever someone loses a job. I want to profit off the growth of nano technology, and its all about developing slick economic strategies to allow yourself to profit from the economic collapse NanoTechnology is guarenteed to bring. Capitalism was not designed to handle NanoTechnology so get what you can get while you can get it and profit from the crash. In a third world where human lives and jobs are worthless, be an owner, buy someone to raise your kids, or give your kids money to buy parents. Learn to buy and sell people, lets hire, maids, lets buy stock in NanoTechnology companies. Lets own the NanoTechnology and when everyone is dying of hunger we will own stock, land, and have maids to cook and clean for us.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (1)

ytm (892332) | about 9 years ago | (#13083525)

If U.S. companies don't want to hire U.S. engineers because of their salary, wouldn't that mean that prevailing salary for engineers is too high and does not reflect the value of their education and skills?

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 9 years ago | (#13084003)

You can certainly make that argument. But I would assert that conversely, U.S. companies want OTHER companies to support a highly-paid workforce, in order to buy THEIR products. In other words, it's a bit like the Prisoners' Dilemma. YOU pay YOUR workers top dollar so they can buy MY products. I pay my workers dirt, because I don't care if they can buy YOUR products. If everybody plays the game that way, everybody loses.

There are "high value products" for sale in the US that simply won't sell in any third-world economy. There are companies that will go under if these products lose their customers. Yet they're all destroying their customer base by destroying their US workforces.

Think large flat panel HDTVs, sports cars, high-end gaming PCs, latest'n'greatest video cards, commercial-quality home stoves. There are things that little real-world utility, or such luxurious implementations of basic utility that nobody without excess wealth would even think of buying one. Obviously - no probably, there will still be overpaid corporate execs in the US to buy these products, but they're not a big enough market to justify the business.

The real question for corporate survival:
Will economies like India rise fast enough to become customers of "high-value products" before the US economy degrades far enough to lose its customers?
On the side...
By the time India's economy rises to the point of becoming customers, will they have priced themselves out of the job market?
Will the company then go to another country, looking for cheap workers?
Are we really seeing "employment crop rotation?"

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (1)

randall_burns (108052) | about 9 years ago | (#13084379)

Not necessarily in a world in which the US currency is the international currency of reserve. Prices get so distorted by trade relationships that the only folks in the US that really make it are:
1) folks with property
2) folks in positions protected from both trade and immigration.

Doom and gloom crap (1)

HermanAB (661181) | about 9 years ago | (#13083535)

It is very easy to write doom and gloom stories, but it is difficult to come up with good advice.

Young people should look at the hot technologies and pursue those - that will give them a start in life. Biotech is one. Microwave is another. Of course there is also the old favourite: Military products.

It is the mature and sweatshop technologies that gets outsourced. Software development is one of them.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 9 years ago | (#13083590)

As a U.S. citizen and holder of a degree in Mechanical engineering, I don't especially like the movement of manufacturing to places other than the U.S. That said, you know what happens to third world economies? They become sources of cheap labor for other economies. So lets hope that the U.S. goes third world as fast as possible.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084065)

"A country that doesn't manufacture doesn't need many engineer"

This could not be more incorrect. There is absolutely NO need for a design engineer to be colocated with manufacturing. After the prototype is built,debugged and tested is it the manufacurer's (who will have thier own manufacturing engineers) responsibility to make it.
This is exactly why the fabless semiconductr industy flourishs. There is no reason for a company like Nvidia or Xilinx to own a fabrication facility. TSMC does NO design work but they are fantastic at operating semiconductor fabrication facilities. If the manufacturing process is your product(say you make paper) then yes, you should own and operate your facilities but for the vast majority of engineering this is not the case.
As far an India and China, most of what they do now is the grunt work of designs by European/American/Japanese companies. They are VERY good at this and know it.

USA != America!! (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 9 years ago | (#13084070)

I know you us guys think that the world is a state of the usa, but sorry. America does not means USA. Sure, most of south america are 3rd ord 2nd world, but you forgot canada. And at the end even if america would be completely 3rd-world-zone: USA is still not America! Get it!

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | about 9 years ago | (#13084714)

This is offtopic fearmongering. It isn't even coherent. The start of the rant doesn't relate to the rest of it.

Re:Recent descent to third world status you mean.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084726)

What kind of country gives preference to foreigners over its own engineering graduates?

When the foreigners will work for less? Any capitalist country in the world.

Country? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083210)

Are similar experiences going on across the country?

Country? Considering the small amount of population your country has compared to the rest of the world, wouldn't it be smart to ask for experiences around the world?

Re:Country? (1)

bobba22 (566693) | about 9 years ago | (#13083374)

Fair enough, but when you look at the percentage of the world's population who can actually study nano-technology at a university or college, asking for a country-wide view probably isn't so short-sighted. Having said that, UK and France are pretty hot movers in nano at the moment. Maybe he is just checking the job-placements competition;-)

Heh (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083212)


the world of nano now seems like a good career path to me

During my comprehensive exams, one of my committee members cynically advised me to rephrase my answer using the prefix "nano", since that's what funding agencies like to see on grant proposals.

Own or be owned. Learn economics or die. (1)

elucido (870205) | about 9 years ago | (#13083457)

Save your money and buy as much stock as you can, thats career.

Run your own business, sell your services to the rich, or be rich and buy stock. Forget about finding a long lasting "career" or "job" and learn to create your own job.

Everyone in this country should be given a free Economics class by the government when they learn to read and do math, because all the bullshit taught in school has nothing to do with survival. Knowing reading and writing will not help if you dont know how to do business and invest.

Own or be owned. Invest or die, these are the new rules of todays economy.

Before you bet the farm on this.... (1)

I am the Bullgod (797123) | about 9 years ago | (#13083214)

...you should ask Wesley Crusher how much trouble a bright young man can cause with those little buggers.

Silly bus (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 9 years ago | (#13083216)

This section of the syllabus seems to capture what the course is about the most concisely.

to consider the societal implications of nanotech in the context of social, scientific, historical, political, environmental, philosophical, ethical, and cultural ideas applied from other fields and prior work;

My question: How is this different from any other major technological advance? For goodness sake, there were backlashes against the railroad, against the first steam engines. More recently we have backlashes against cloning, and nuclear power.

Every time we run into some topic like this, we have a very polarized debate. In practice, society adapts to the change and goes on with life. Ultimately, the market decides which innovations become wide spread, and how they are implemented.

My impression from the syllabus: fluff class looking to cash in on a hot button topic.

Re:Silly bus (1)

tom8658 (899280) | about 9 years ago | (#13083271)

I believe this was addressed (albeit in a roundabout way) in the second post for this article. It absolutely is using the buzzword "nano" to generate interest in a class which has a much larger scope.

That is not to say that the class is worthless, social reaction to new technology needs to be studied (imo) more intensively than it is now (i.e. real funding, not just hyped up studies).

Re:Silly bus (1)

asreal (177335) | about 9 years ago | (#13083348)

You've got it completely right.

A lot of the funding today is going to actively involve the public in sci/tech policy. The controversy around GMO food and the Euro market (GMO-free until recently) being largely closed to the pro-GMO U.S. food industry has opened a lot of eyes. If we're going to avoid this kind of controversy in the future, we need to dump research dollars into finding out what people think about new tech and developing it accordingly rather than expecting people to just get used to whatever tech is developed.

Re:Silly bus (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 9 years ago | (#13083502)

Agreed. By the time I read the syllabus, and posted my comment, the other had appeared. Please don't tell people that I RTFA. I might get banned ;)

Re:Silly bus (2, Insightful)

Frumious Wombat (845680) | about 9 years ago | (#13083366)

Actually, *The Market* did not determine the fate of Nuclear Power, an underinformed public, led by demagogues on both sides, couldn't tell Reactors from Bombs and therefore litigated the industry into submission. Before that, the type of reactors to be used was determined in part by military desires (capable of producing plutonium), not by economic factors (thorium, for instance, which is more plentiful but doesn't produce divertable byproducts).

A class like this could be very valuable, if it trained those people likely to end up making decisions (humanities and business majors) in the actual science behind the technology, or the technologists in how to present to the unschooled what they're actually doing.

Remember, DuPont used to boldly proclaim "Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry". That's still true, but no modern Ad agency would dare say that for fear of reminding the undereducated that the world is made out of Chemicals. Courses that attempt to prevent that sort of dichotomy from occuring with Nanotech, etc, are frankly a good thing, as long as they're not led by the fear-mongering Rifkins of the world.

Not to go pop culture here, (but this is Slashdot), but I'd rather take my chances with the technology and live in the Blade Runner future, than in the unheated, unhygenic, Arthurian Agrarian past.

Re:Silly bus (1)

Trikenstein (571493) | about 9 years ago | (#13084026)

Remember, DuPont used to boldly proclaim "Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry". That's still true, but no modern Ad agency would dare say that for fear of reminding the undereducated that the world is made out of Chemicals. Courses that attempt to prevent that sort of dichotomy from occuring with Nanotech, etc, are frankly a good thing, as long as they're not led by the fear-mongering Rifkins of the world.
It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them. You've gotta tell them!

Re:Silly bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083481)

Simply because the society always adapted to technological changes in the past, is not guarantee that will be always able to do so.
Nothwithstanding what apparently a good percentage of US people believe, "the Market" have no special magical adapting power: nothing guarantee us that Everything Will Always Go Well In The End.

Re:Silly bus (1)

smallpaul (65919) | about 9 years ago | (#13083519)

My question: How is this different from any other major technological advance? For goodness sake, there were backlashes against the railroad, against the first steam engines. More recently we have backlashes against cloning, and nuclear power.

Some technologies disturb people due to the so-called "yuck" factor. They feel that it will lead to unemployment, societal breakdown or moral decay. Other technologies are aguably so dangerous that they threaten the very existence of human life (as opposed to the stability of human society). Cloning and steam engines could never have been construed threaten human life. Nuclear power might have been so-construed before it was properly understood. Nanontechnology is also so-construed [wired.com] . There is a 98% chance that everything will work out alright and we won't destroy all life on earth. But the other 2% chance is worth some thought and discussion rather than knee-jerk reaction. University is exactly the right forum for having that discussion.

The faith that new technology could never endanger human society is, in my opinion, in the same class as the faith that God (or aliens or leprechauns) will protect us.

Re:Silly bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084177)

"University is exactly the right forum for having that discussion."

Yes. But this is a short class for undergraduates, many of whom aren't even science majors! People with PhDs and research records are the only ones qualified and able to have that discussion. If they can prove that some application of nanotechnology is acceptably safe then it becomes a question of convincing the public to allow this application to go ahead; this is where classes for undergrads come in.

CBEN at Rice (3, Informative)

fermion (181285) | about 9 years ago | (#13083225)

CBEN [rice.edu] at Rice University, had a similiar program [rice.edu] directed to science teachers in the Houston area. It was a refresher course on physics and chemistry. It also explored the scope and uses of nanotechnology, predictably focusing on fullerenes developed at the university. It was nice because there was so much home grown knowledge on the subject.

The course also explored the possible environmental effects of nanotechnology, and the possible regulation that might help manage those effects. When dealing with one class of nanotech, like fullerenes, this is quite a broad and complex topic. When on introduces the everything that might be nanotech, it becomes nearly unmanageable.

Another project that has some popularity is the nanokids [rice.edu] .

There is actually quite a bit from the course that can be used in any number of high school courses. And, since Nanotech is likely to tbe defining technology of the next generation, kids who are familiar with the concepts are going to be better prepared than those who are not.

Re:CBEN at Rice (1)

grungebox (578982) | about 9 years ago | (#13083482)

There was a much better class than this directed at students at Rice called Nanotechnology: Content and Context [rice.edu] . I never took the class (I'm a grad student, not an undergrad), but from the syllabus it seems like a great course idea.

Now, the poster says nanotech seems like a good career path. Here are some things I can tell you right now that I never did as an undergrad that I should have:
1) Take chemistry. Lots of it. Even if you do physics, take at least up through organic, if not physical chem.
2) Take solid state physics. And no, solid state electronics is not the same thing. This isn't necessary, but it's helpful.
3) Do some reading. Start with Small Times [smalltimes.com] and work up from there. I came to Rice without really knowing what "nano" area I wanted to go into. There are a million nano areas out there and different schools do lots of different things. For example, Rice is very very good at nano chem, especially nanotubes and nanoshells and molecular electronics, and quite good in a lot of nanoscale physics studies, such as nanoscale plasmonics and whatnot. Its nano engineering work leaves much to be desired, though, and there's no nano robotics work and very few surface scientists. Knowing things like that about a school are important.
4) Do an REU (NSF research experience for undergrads) one summer. That's invaluable. Seriously. If I'd known about the program I would have done that. As it were, I volunteered at UTD one summer working for some PhD guy. A more structured program would have been cool. Your department/physics/chem counselor can guide you towards these things.
5) Beware of hype. We're in a time of an impending "nano tech bubble," so beware. Try not to read Wired for views on nanotech. Hell, try not to read Wired period. There's one mag subscription I won't renew!

Okay, done ranting. Mods, do your worst!

mod parent up!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084268)

Excellent advice, delivered concisely, with a smack at Wired. It's great.

Text book for class right here... (1)

ManyLostPackets (646646) | about 9 years ago | (#13083227)

Here's the text book [wikipedia.org] they used

nYOU FAIL IT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083234)

Pales to transhumanism (1, Interesting)

Eunuch (844280) | about 9 years ago | (#13083254)

Nanotechnology is interesting mainly in that it has uses in transhumanism(machine neuron interfaces and such). The singularity institute is forming ties with the foresight institute to tie transhumanism with nanotechnology.

But it's easy to see how transhumanism is the greater of the two. When we are posthumanism, we'll be able to analyze nanotechnology much better.

EH&S issues? (4, Interesting)

drphil (320469) | about 9 years ago | (#13083287)

I'd be interested in hearing what the course covered with respect to environmental, health and safety issues around nanomaterials. While these new materials bring interesting properties, they could also present some interesting, unexpected health hazards.
By virtue of their size, nanoparticles can cross the blood/brain barrier. For some materials this new route of entry could be the difference between toxic and nontoxic. Materials that previously were thought of as nontoxic in the micron and above particle range could now have toxic effects. - Material data safety sheets generally don't consider a material's particle size, except to state "dusty" type warnings.

That the nanoparticles can have this new route of entry is proven - that this results in new toxic effects for previously nontoxic compounds is not (at least not that I've seen in the lit) - so there may be no issue - or there may be a big issue. Hopefully we don't find out the asbestos way where we make the material ubiquitous then be stuck with huge remediation and civil lawsuit issues!

Understanding nano politics (3, Insightful)

argoff (142580) | about 9 years ago | (#13083301)

Politics 101,

Nonotech is a compettitive threat to a LOT of entrenched industries who have cozy monopolies. So you can better believe that there will be strong push to "regulate" it for peoples "safety" and the "protection" of society.

The inportant thing to understand is that there are two types of laws. Ones that seek justice by punishing people who make bad choices, and ones that try to "prevent" problems by limiting the kinds of choices people are "allowed" to have. It should always be understood that the former is usually good and the latter is almost always BS, and causes more harm than it "prevents".

Re:Understanding nano politics (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | about 9 years ago | (#13083593)

how is it a threat? There is no nanotech industry, it is a direction all industrial research is going in currently. How can an industry be threatened by their research?

Re:Understanding nano politics (1)

fermion (181285) | about 9 years ago | (#13083768)

The punishment part of laws do little to deter the problems. We punish people who rob and kill, yet the crime rate is little affected by the punishment. Crime rate is mostly affected by employment and policing to enforce expectations.

In business having a known set of expectations is even more important. Rational persons will want a known baseline so that everyone can compete from the same expectations. For example, builders have codes that must be followed. Without regulation, a builder might gain a competitive advantage by building, for example, a house that is not safe from a hurricane. Under your logic building that house should be allowed, and when the hurricane comes and the family of four dies, the corporation that holds the indemnification merely needs to pay off the lawsuit. If enough lawsuits occur, the firm will go bankrupt. Of course hundreds of people may have died, but that is better than limiting the choices we can make building a house.

In fact, at least in the US, the law is based on expectations, and punishments are based on violation of those expectations. One is expected not to steal. One is expected not to kill people. One is expected to have a papers to drive. We tend not to pull people in because they done someone wrong, punish them, and then figure out what wrong was done. We tend to arrest people for violating certain expectations and then decide an appropriate punishment.

Now, where it gets confusing is when specific expectations have not been established. So perhaps I pour unregulated chemicals onto my property and cause some harm to your property. Do I have to pay remuneration's, and perhaps a penalty. Even that is not punishment based, as normally if payment must be made it is because a reasonable person should have known better. Liquid flows, and the harm should have been forssen. As another example, a kid who wants to rob a liquor store for gamecube money, and shots the cashier in the process, probably never meant to kill the cashier. But the kid might still put to death because a reasonable person who brings a gun to a robbery should know that killing is a possibility.

Do they teach anything useful in university yet? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083342)

Seriously, "Nanotechnology and society"? Do they also offer courses on basket weaving? I bet you were all headed straight for your MCSE exams right after class.

With 'courses' like this, it's no wonder there are no good new graduate engineers and computer scientists. "Clicking Compile 4000 - Advanced right clicking"

Re:Do they teach anything useful in university yet (3, Insightful)

dballanc (100332) | about 9 years ago | (#13083432)

If you read the article you might notice this is a social studies course, not a science course. I suppose you also think that requiring a certain number of humanities courses to earn a bachelor of science from a 4 year college is useless too?

That's all we need, a buch of highly trained but out of touch scientists. Next thing you know we'll be fending off nano-sharks with tiny little laser beams.

A great many years ago (1)

BlightThePower (663950) | about 9 years ago | (#13084365)

C.P. Snow wrote about the great divide between the 'two cultures'.

Representative quote nicked from wikipedia entry although he wrote quite a bit more than soundbites on the matter:

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question -- such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' -- not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."


I think he had a point then and its unfortunate he still has one now. The divide must be bridged on both sides. My understanding is the course was in the general spirit of bringing two sides of an issue, located on different sides, together. It seems stunning short sighted of people not to understand that.

Re:Do they teach anything useful in university yet (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | about 9 years ago | (#13084667)

I agree completely. This course was a bit of fluff. If you read the preprint paper about the course you'll see that it is filled with the most gag-inducing edubabble imaginable. I have taught 10 year-olds about nanotech at a higher level than this.

The sources and readings were especially lame. For example, the only required book for the class was the 150-page SciAm hack job on nanotech. The readings had only one chapter from Engines of Creation and nothing from Nanosystems. Even the popular, non-technical stuff was not the best - why no Ed Regis or Neal Stephenson?

prestige (1)

softends (886321) | about 9 years ago | (#13083349)

I'll be applying to colleges next year. Is Madison a well-known school in the Midwest/Northeast? I hadn't heard of it until I started my college search. Are Madison grads typically presented with good jobs/career paths? If anyone knows anything about this school, I'd love to hear it.

Re:prestige (1)

mbius (890083) | about 9 years ago | (#13083576)

They have some fantastic people in the math department. The school's ranking and reputation, of course, depends entirely on what you plan to study.

Re:prestige (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083774)

It is very well known in the Midwest. If you're going into CompSci, it has one of the top 10 departments in the country in almost every survey and rankings guide. As a whole, the school is also very well regarded. I just got my Masters from Madison in a scientific field, and was presented with many job offers within weeks of graduation. My recommendation, if you know what major you're thinking of, research it for God's sake! Actually look at Madison's CS web pages to find out exactly what courses you'll be taking and what's expected outside those courses. If it seems interesting, good. Do the same for other unis your're considering. Email professors and ask questions too.

Re:prestige (1)

nonsequitor (893813) | about 9 years ago | (#13083875)

I'm a Madison alum, and I can't get the head hunters to stop calling. I graduated in 2003 and have been gainfully employed since then. First as a consultant doing software engineering for a fortune 500 company, now as a full time employee for a startup in Massachusetts. Though to find a job in software after graduation you have to put in your dues and intern or coop as an undergrad.

Its got a top-notch engineering school and also is in the big ten. If you're looking for a school to get a world class education in a relaxed atmosphere, have fun, meet lots of women (unlike some tech schools) UW has a med school, law school, and a variety of graduate programs. I wouldn't go back and trade my time as an undergrad there for anything, though I got into more prestigous schools, the cost/value ratio appealed to me and it was a blast. Sorry to ramble on, but I highly recommend UW Madison.

PS: Its also known as a party school.

The class: science for dummies (3, Insightful)

sakusha (441986) | about 9 years ago | (#13083361)

This class represents everything that is wrong with modern college education. Some poor physics teacher is stuck spending hisr time giving "Science and Society" classes to students seeking an easy A to fulfill their core science requirements. What ever happened to teaching real science classes involving math and physics, instead of "soft science" classes involving primarily politics and social issues?

Re:The class: science for dummies (2, Insightful)

Carnage Pants (801975) | about 9 years ago | (#13083418)

Because not everyone is a science major. I'm going to be majoring in English in the fall, why would I want to spend my time taking grueling math and science classes? I have far more important things to worry about.

Besides, I feel classes that discuss the social repercussions of science are plenty valuable. Science always has to answer to society, it doesn't have carte blanche to do whatever it chooses (at least, here in the US, I can't really speak for the rest of the world). Generally, a new technological advancement doesn't become commonplace until it is accepted by the public. Think about cloning, we have the technology, but many people have problems with it. I personally encourage it, but I think if one is majoring in some sort of science field, it is important to realize how new advancements affect the populace

Re:The class: science for dummies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083754)

Always answer to society? I generally agree but i think 'always' is strong wording. We'd sink back into the dark ages if science was some sort of democratic process where society-at-large's opinions counted. There are too many people out there ignorant about science and there are others who would love to see science crumble.

Re:The class: science for dummies (1)

sakusha (441986) | about 9 years ago | (#13083803)

Ah, I see. What you're saying is that English majors should be ignorant of Math and Science, they don't have to bother with such things.

I take it back. The Nanoscience and Society class is not representative of everything that is wrong with college education. It is people like YOU who represent everything that is wrong with college education.

Re:The class: science for dummies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083474)

Most universities will not let you take this kind of class to fufill a science requirement for, say a engineering or science degree.

This is the kind of course that a sociology, business, or lit major might take (of course, anyone might be able to learn something interesting out of it).

Re:The class: science for dummies (1)

EnergyScholar (801915) | about 9 years ago | (#13084487)

Speaking as a trained Physicist, I think it's vital to teach technologists to understand the social and political implications of science. Also, it's vital for non-scientists to learn the rudiments of science. The existance of this sort of class in no way precludes 'hard science' classes. Arguing that this sort of class has no place smacks of over-specialization.

America's Downward Spiral (2, Insightful)

Carnage Pants (801975) | about 9 years ago | (#13083362)

America is facing a serious fulcrum. Either we can continue to busy ourselves with our moral and ethical dilemmas which I feel partly stem from our Puritan ancestors and let the rest of the world pass us by. Or, we decide that we'd like to be a recognizable technological force in the 21st century and realize that our ethical dilemmas are rather unfounded.

The rest of the world doesn't seem too have much trouble figuring out where they stand on issues like abortion, gay marriage and nanotech. Why do we?

Re:America's Downward Spiral (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083645)

Of course, the niggers and spics are ruining it for everyone. Think about it.

Re:America's Downward Spiral (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | about 9 years ago | (#13083713)

The rest of the world doesn't seem too have much trouble figuring out where they stand on issues like abortion, gay marriage and nanotech. Why do we?

Really? I think "rest of the world" is overstating it a little bit. Have you had extensive exposure to foreign media or residents on a global basis to know that these issues have been resolved universally? Seems like we don't hear that much here in the U.S. about other countries social issues unless it involves people getting blown up. I don't really see what abortion and gay marriage has to do with this anyway.

It is not like Europe is all for all new technology either. The anti-GM foods movement is as great if not greater over there than here.

I don't think the U.S. is on such a dire situation that we need to throw our morals and ethics out the window just yet.

Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

Saeger (456549) | about 9 years ago | (#13083373)

The implicatations of democratized Molecular Nanotechnology [wikipedia.org] in the near future is not "bullshit hype" as implied in the summary. A bottom-up molecular manufacturing device, or "replicator", in every home, will be hugely disruptive to the current scarcity-based, top-down manufacturing economy, but will ultimately be the great economic equalizier.

When anybody can make anything, virtually for free(1), they are then self-sufficient and truly liberated from the wage-slave supply-chain-gang. This "make anything" device is not too good to be true either - it's physically possible, and will be invented. Nature already does it.

And ultracheap manufacturing isn't the only thing to be "hyped" about. There's cheap access to space thanks to diamondoid space-elevator material, environmental cleanup, medical advances, and much more.

(1) The main cost is time. It will take a certain amount of time to assemble a given object in a given period of time, but the rest of the ingredients are essentially free: recycled molecules which compose the desired object + stored solar energy from solar arrays you bootstrapped yourself + molecular "3d" blueprints (of closed, or open source design).

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083518)

>The main cost is time. It will take a certain amount of time to assemble a given object in a given period of time, but the rest of the ingredients are essentially free: recycled molecules which compose the desired object + stored solar energy from solar arrays you bootstrapped yourself + molecular "3d" blueprints (of closed, or open source design).

That's ridiculous. Those "recycled molecules" will most definitely not be free and they're definitely not just lying around in large amounts for anyone or you to use - even when such a device is made, economic laws will still apply.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

Saeger (456549) | about 9 years ago | (#13083615)

The air you're breathing - who owns it?

Even assuming some post-scarcity robber barrons were hoarding every square inch of land and sea, you could still extract nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and other elements directly from the atmosphere, and return them back when disassembling the old object.

A person doesn't require mass quantities of molecular feedstock, either. Even billions of people would only be using a fraction of the Earth's abundant mass as at any one time.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 9 years ago | (#13083539)

A bottom-up molecular manufacturing device, or "replicator", in every home, will be hugely disruptive to the current scarcity-based, top-down manufacturing economy, but will ultimately be the great economic equalizier.
Maybe. On the other hand, our relatively new-found ability to store and transmit large quantities of information has not destroyed the scarcity-based economy of information. Rather, we have devised laws to create scarcity.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

Saeger (456549) | about 9 years ago | (#13083661)

On the other hand, our relatively new-found ability to store and transmit large quantities of information has not destroyed the scarcity-based economy of information.

That's largely because the scarcity that matters is material, so while that's still a fact of life, many will want to create artificial scarcity in order to trade to put food on the table, and clothes on their children. But, once material scarcity becomes material abundance, the incentive for artificial scarcity is MUCH less.

However, material abundance will not completely eliminate the desire to impose artificial scarcity on others, simply because of our primitive evolutionary psychology: if everybody is extremely wealthy, some will still want to be relatively MORE wealthy, in order to be the alphamale/female that can better secure their gene propagation.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084129)

Um no. For many industries the main cost is the engineering costs. Zero-cost manufacturing would result in everything turning into software development.

BTW, Nature never made Plutonium.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

Jasin Natael (14968) | about 9 years ago | (#13084181)

There will still be wheeling and dealing SOB's out there, until you can tell me there's a machine that can create a SAFE and delicious range of food products in a very short period of time. Food has always been the one scarcity that is not only real scarcity, but a life-and-death issue.

Jasin Natael

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

drxray (839725) | about 9 years ago | (#13084208)

"Nature already does it."

Sorry, what do you mean? Living creatures replicate themselves but there are no general purpose programmable replicators in nature that I'm aware of.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | about 9 years ago | (#13084701)

They're called ribosomes, and they can make any type of biological protein from the appropriate sequence of RNA instructions.

Re:Implications of MNT not BS hype (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084826)

...hits wikipedia...

Thanks!

drxray

Understanding nano politics (part II) (1)

argoff (142580) | about 9 years ago | (#13083378)

Politics 102

Once nano takes off, people will likely be able to manufacture things in their homes, and there will be two types of industries.

One will see the entire purpose and meaning of the nano age as a tool to leverage their patnet holdings for unlimited growth and profit, extracting royality for every last thing that everybody creates in every private home. They will try to secure this "right" by force.

The other side will see the entire purpose and meaning of the nano age as an opportunity to provide creation services, consulting, and customisation, and support with no restrictions or royalities on what people create.

When they collide, all hell will break loose.

(if this sounds allot like the copyright vs tech industries today, that is not a cooncidence)

This is why we must all go to law school now. (1)

elucido (870205) | about 9 years ago | (#13083685)

Now is the time for each of us to go to Law School and prepare. When Nano Technology comes there will be plenty of law positions open in the market.

Talked to a nano researcher the other day (1)

Illserve (56215) | about 9 years ago | (#13083397)

He's working on molecular computers or something.

Apparently 1/4 of every dollar has to go to impact research, evaluating whether it will destroy the world.

I think Bill Joy has done more than his fair share of damage, this field of research is hamstrung by paranoia about the possibility of a grey goo which is impossible.

After all, Bacteria would LOVE to be a grey goo, eat everything, reproduce endlessly, destroy the world. That's really what bacteria are all about, they just can't manage it. So how in the hell is mankind supposed to outdo several billion years of evolution's attempt to make grey goo.

It just can't happen, the power consumption is too great, and even if it weren't, lack of heat dissipation would melt the goo from the inside.

Re:Talked to a nano researcher the other day (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 9 years ago | (#13083758)

I think Bill Joy has done more than his fair share of damage, this field of research is hamstrung by paranoia about the possibility of a grey goo which is impossible.

After all, Bacteria would LOVE to be a grey goo, eat everything, reproduce endlessly, destroy the world. That's really what bacteria are all about, they just can't manage it. So how in the hell is mankind supposed to outdo several billion years of evolution's attempt to make grey goo.


That's because bacteria live in an ecosystem with natural selective pressures that restrict their growth. Look at what happens when we transplant a seemingly innocuous species into an environment that isn't ready for it. Now think about what happens when we have artificial life forms that can't be predated upon, get disease, etc. Eventually the ecosystem would come to a new equilibribum, but how many species would die first? Would man be one of them?

Fungus: the ultimate grey goo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084643)

genetically modified yeast & sime molds could well end up being "grey goo". There was a US government-funded research project to develop a geneticaly modified fungus to eradicate coca in the Amazon basin a few years ago, I seem to recall...

Think outside the box (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083399)

and indeed, think outside your own national borders. The US appears to be in the grip of religious cultists and their influence appears set to only rise. If you are serious I'd consider looking further afield rather than you and your career is trapped in what is almost already a theocracy by proxy. Theres a whole world to see, you could begin to see a bit more it by looking a bit further than your local college (also, it might well be cheaper to go overseas anyway).

Societal effects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13083404)

Nanotechnology is one of the primary causes of science fiction in the last 10 years, and will probably continue to be so for years to come.

NanoTechnology makes humans obsolete. (1)

elucido (870205) | about 9 years ago | (#13083408)

Nano Tech will make us all jobless, will make all our lives worthless, and will eventually help computers replace the majority of us. The survivors will be the owners of the NanoTech companies and people who are lucky enough to live in socialist or communist countries.

How will NanoTechnology influence the economy and how can us smart individuals profit from the massive job losses, homelessness, and poverty?

Seems like alot (1)

mfloy (899187) | about 9 years ago | (#13083434)

Personally, I have seen quite a bit of nanotech at various research and academic institutions. Right now it isn't huge, and there isn't alot at undergraduate levels, but the graduate/post-doc research is very active.

my career advice (1)

techrunner (897148) | about 9 years ago | (#13083446)

Nanotechnology is probably too broad of an area to specialize in. I think picking one particular area of nanotechnology would be a good idea. There are many areas of science and engineering that fall into this area.

For example, most of electrical engineering is now nanotechnology. Microbiology is where most of the work in biology is being done.

Re:my career advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084639)

Amen.

Other schools (1)

elchican (764688) | about 9 years ago | (#13083450)

I recently graduated from Louisiana Tech University [latech.edu] . During my last quarter there, the university was offering a NanoSystems Engineering intro course similar to the one the parent thread talks about. LaTech has actually been approved for a Nanotechnology Undergraduate degree [nanotechwire.com] , the first in the U.S. I belive.

nano hype (3, Insightful)

mako1138 (837520) | about 9 years ago | (#13083531)

"Nano" is getting redundant, because most technical fields have an interest in getting to smaller and smaller scales. Whether it's electronics or chemistry, things are going nano. It's not like you can major in nanotechnology alone and expect to handle anything in the nanoscale. Realistically, you have to choose a field of concentration.

Can someone give some real examples... (1)

Ben928 (900348) | about 9 years ago | (#13083733)

I am a student at UCSB and we just got built a $200+ Million dollar Nanotechnology facility. Ive been wondering what practical uses there are for nanotech (I know there are plenty) But i dont know WHAT they actually are... Can we make a nanotech comb that brushes away dandruff and fixes the scalp? Anyone done any brainstorming or have articles pointing to already accomplished processes?

Why nano weapons won't happen (2, Informative)

Veteran (203989) | about 9 years ago | (#13084155)

These are first order "back of the envelope" calculations about the effects of making things small.

For reasons which will become apparent as you read this I doubt that true nano scale weapons will ever exist. What could possibly be built are micro
scale robotic devices of a non self replicating type which could possibly be used as weapons. Let us find out how practical they might be.

Let us start by examining the effects of scaling on things. We'll start with my Nissan Maxima and reduce it in size by a factor of ten. Instead of being about 17 feet long the scaled car will be about 1.7 feet long. Instead of weighing about 3000 lbs it will weigh about 3 lbs. Why is that? The answer is that the mass of a scaled object is proportional to its volume - which goes as the cube of the dimensional ratio. Ten times as long, ten times as wide, ten times as high has 1000 times the volume.

The scaled engine would be 3 cc in displacement instead of 3000 cc. Instead of 222 Hp it would produce .222 Hp. Fuel consumption at this level would be one thousandth of that of the full size engine. Since the fuel tank is also one thousandth of the size of the full size vehicle one might be tempted to think that the distance between fill ups would be the same.

However, the fuel consumption of the smaller vehicle is proportionally greater. Why? The smaller vehicle is one thousandth the weight but the frontal area of the vehicle - the size of which determines the drag - is one hundredth of that of the larger vehicle. Thus at the same speed the drag of the smaller vehicle is proportionally ten times as great as the larger vehicle.

The optimal speed of the smaller vehicle is lower than that of the larger vehicle. Because drag goes as the square of the velocity, one thousandth of
the fuel consumption will drive the smaller vehicle at a speed which is about 32% of the speed of the larger car and its range will also be about
32% of the full sized car's range.

If we tried to make a car scaled down by a factor of 100 its speed and range would both be only one tenth (square root of a scale factor of 100) that of a full size car. We are forced to conclude that the product of speed and range of any vehicle with an internal fuel supply will scale directly with
the scale factor.

For example reducing the size of a jet plane by a factor of 100 makes it fly at one tenth the speed and one tenth as far. By the time we scale to nano
sizes we have objects which won't go very far or very fast. A nano device is an exceptionally crappy weapon delivery system compared to a full sized device; it can only move slowly, and it can't go very far.

However there are other things which occur which would effect our attempt to simply scale an engine down in size. The first of these is the change in
heat loss. In simplest terms the rate of heat production is proportional to the volume of a heat source, which means that heat production scales with the cube of the scale factor, but heat loss is proportional to the surface area of the object which scales as the square of the scaling factor.

A smaller engine requires much less of a cooling system than a large engine does, if the engine is small enough it doesn't require a cooling system at all - it will lose heat naturally fast enough without one.

Because of the square - cube relationship for heat loss there is a minimum size flame which is possible. A small ball of flame loses heat faster than a large one. If a ball of flame is too small it can't produce enough heat from internal combustion to maintain its temperature above the ignition point, and the flame can't exist.

This means that if we try to scale our engine far enough it will refuse to run, it will lose heat too fast for the fuel to burn. Even making the engine out of heat resistive materials like ceramics only works to a certain size;
eventually the heat loss will keep things from burning.

This is part of the reason that biological cells use chemical reactions instead of combustion processes to produce energy. For these reasons we are forced to realize that if we are to produce any sort of self propelled small device we have to use similar chemical reactions for an energy source since combustion won't work. If we use chemical reactions the temperature of
these reactions has to be lower than a flame - otherwise we could have combustion instead.

The efficiency of any heat engine is directly proportional to the difference in temperature of the heat source and the temperature of the waste
discharge; when the heat source is lower in temperature the efficiency of the heat engine declines. (Any biochemical system is a heat engine, the laws of thermodynamics apply to them just as much as they apply to a simple heat
engine like an internal combustion engine.)

Thus any nano chemical engine will be less efficient than an internal combustion engine because of the lower hot side temperature of the reaction.

As an example: if we create a device which is 5 microns long instead of a car of 5 meters in length, the scale factor is one million. This implies a range one thousandth of the full size car, and a speed one thousandth as great. The 5 micron device will crawl about .4 miles in about 6.66 hours and then run out of fuel, if it is as efficient as a car - which it won't be. Thus our micro weapon could out run a snail, but anything else could simply walk away from it.

Clearly a chemical power source for a nano device is insufficient. How about nuclear power? The ratio in energy between nuclear and chemical is about one million to one so the potential to achieve long range and high speed could possibly be raised to useful weapon delivery levels with nuclear power.

If we investigate nuclear power for small use a few problems begin to occur. A controlled nuclear reaction such as fission or fusion won't work at nano scales. Both fission and fusion require physically large objects. In fission the mean free path of a neutron before a fission occurs is on the order of fractions of an inch. The only way to decrease that distance is to increase the density of the fissionable material.

However the highest pressures that humans can create causes a fissionable material to compress very little; imagine trying to squeeze a solid steel ball to one tenth its radius to see the problems. To get fission at nanoscale would require densities approaching that of a white dwarf star - which is wildly beyond the capability of anyone to create. Fusion is even more ridiculously out of reach - we are unable to achieve controlled fusion at a net energy gain even on a large scale, let alone at the nano level.

This leaves us with uncontrolled radioactive decay as the only nuclear energy source available. If we are to restore the speed and range of our full size car in a nano device we would need a adioactive isotope with a half life on the order of 7 hours. We would also have to fuel the
weapons just before using them. Since the radio isotopes would start decaying as soon as they were created, any delay in use after fueling just wastes energy.

Both Gamma emitters and Beta emitters are practical for small use; the rate of energy deposition in the device would be minuscule with a device size of 5 microns. The radioactive emission which stands the best chance of being used is an alpha particle. Alpha particles with an energy of 5 million electron volts have a range in air of several cm. According to Lapp and Andrews text book "Nuclear Radiation Physics" page 119 equation 6-7 the same alpha particle would be stopped by about 20 microns of aluminum. If we use gold instead of aluminum we could absorb the alpha in about 7 microns which is in the ball park of the size of our device.

There is no hope of making such a device a self replicator, since once the radioactive fuel is expended the weapon dies. In order to create an active micro (it is too large to call it a nano) weapon with such a nuclear fuel we would need to expose our micro weapons to a flux of activating neutrons from a reactor or particle accelerator. We would wind up with a device with about the performance of a standard automobile (That is, if we were able to get all of the energy of the atomic decay into useful propulsive energy, which
simply isn't going to happen.)

In order to use these weapons they have to get within about 400 miles of their target before they are activated, assuming their target is in the open air like a person, and also assuming that there is a road available which appears smooth to the micro device (an example of such a road would be optically flat glass plate polished to within 1/10 of a wavelength of light. If such a flat road is not available and the micro weapon has to deal with nature then tiny, barely visible, clods of dirt will look to it like a mountain with no roads. One burns rather a lot of energy and time in getting over just one of these).

If the target is hardened the micro weapons have to burrow their way through the concrete and steel at the target. Their range and speed in hardened material would be greatly diminished compared to that in air. I would like to point out that we can forget about flying micro weapons: even nuclear power is barely theoretically able to produce enough energy for an automobile style performance.

Underwater micro weapons are even more grossly limited in performance; water drag is far greater than air drag. Even nuclear powered micro weapons have extremely low range and low speed. Unlike a nano device - a micro weapon can't gain easy access to a submarine by moving a few atoms aside, it has to bore its way in. Sorry, that is not going to happen. Even the tiny amount of nuclear power a micro weapon could carry is insufficient to do that.

On land, stopping an attack of micro weapons is fairly simple: because the weapons are so small they are very vulnerable to heat. The square - cube heat relationship means that an external heat source raises the temperature of the micro device very quickly. For example attacking micro weapons could be destroyed with something as simple as Thermite or Napalm. Thermal expansion from the external heat would distort, bind up and thus ruin any moving parts in the nano device.

Bottom line: in the real world, and not the world of science fiction even ridiculously exotic nuclear powered micro weapons just aren't very good weapons. If they were sent to attack conventional nuclear weapons, the nukes could be used long before the attack could be completed.

There is one possibility of an energy supply for a micro weapon: solar power. Solar power for micro devices has one gigantic advantage over just
about any other potential energy source for these applications; it scales properly. Solar cells are surface area dependent instead of volumetric
dependent. Because of this they are not subject to the square - cube law tyranny, and maintain the absolute performance of the device as it is
decreased in size. There are limitations to solar power for powering micro weapons:

1. It works only in bright light.
2. There are size related electrical effects.

Let us examine the first point. Any attempt to store energy from the solar cell internally in the micro device is subject to the cube - square law
problem of any internal fuel supply. The range of the stored energy in darkness is very small and the speed available is poor.

Now let us talk about the electrical effects of scaling. The very best insulating materials which exist have a maximum insulating capability of
about 10 million volts per meter, above this electrical field level the insulator breaks down and shorts out - becoming useless. At the one micron level the maximum voltage possible is 10 volts.

In order to withstand the voltage produced by a solar cell (.6 volts) the minimum theoretical thickness of the insulation of the wires to the cell would have to be 60 manometers. Given practical engineering constraints the actual insulation thickness would be on the order of .15 micron. Note that this insulation thickness has to be maintained inside the electrical motor also, to keep the motor from arcing over. Since the insulation is all around the wire the diameter of the wire simply from insulation would be .3
microns.

If your car had to have insulation to that scale (5 micron device size) the wires would be 3 meters in diameter, including the wires inside of your
starter motor! Clearly building an electric motor which could fit inside of a car with such wires is a fool's errand, as is building a motor for a
scaled down 5 micron weapon. The bottom line is that 5 microns is too small for a solar powered device. A more possible size might be on the order of 150 microns - which would give the equivalent wire sizes in a full size car of about one cm. The motor with such wires would be big and bulky, but it could be built.

The energy source, speed, and range problems I have outlined at the micro level become much worse at the nano level, where neither nuclear power or
solar power can work. The only conclusion I can reach is that Nano weapons simply won't be practical because of those problems. There are other power problems which occur at the nano scale level but I see little point in beating a dead horse.

nanotech is the next hacker / cracker paradise (1)

rcamans (252182) | about 9 years ago | (#13084186)

If it is so easy for socially irresposible brats (script kiddies) to disrupt society by writing or modifying computer viruses / worms / trojans / backdoors, then think what wiil happen when it is easy to give those evil code snippets nanobodies?
Total disaster.
The end of the world as we know it.
THe sky is falling!

The other section was a joke.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084203)

I took this class last semester, although it was with a different TA. Nobody took it seriously (not even the TA). The class was only really about nanotechnology for the first few weeks. We spent most of the remaining time learning about STS (Scientific and Technology Studies) theories and how they could be related (loosly) to nanotech. There was one midterm that was ridiculously easy, and no final. We emailed all our papers and never received comments or grades for them. The class was 75 minutes twice a week, and we probably spent 45 minutes per class period just talking in our "small groups". On a related note, our TA received a $500 grant to make this http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~rleung/sts_201/ [wisc.edu] (visit for a laugh) which was only updated a couple of times. It was clearly made in a few hours time (and never finished). I guess I wish I was in the other section of this class if someone else actually found it useful.

Univ of Florida (1)

lababidi (879163) | about 9 years ago | (#13084368)

The ECE Department at UF had Dr. Scott Thompson [ufl.edu] , an Intel Fellow and former Director of 90nm Logic Technology at Intel, teach a class on semiconductor nanotechnology. This was a great class because Dr. Thompson didn't overburden the students with tedious homework but rather would assign projects to help us get a better understanding of the different nanotechnologies. He lectured about the future of these technologies and how soon we could be seeing such technologies. [slashdot.org] He went into great detail about MOSFETS, CNTFETS, spintronics, Single Electron Transistors, Resonant Tunneling Diodes, Quantum Cellular Automota, Molecular Electronics. I highly recommend anyone interested with new technologies to try out a class like this if its offered at your school.

Nano not as exciting as one first thinks (2, Insightful)

typical (886006) | about 9 years ago | (#13084484)

My first thoughts on nano were probably the same sci-fi ideas that everyone else has -- self-assembling nanobots could build just about anything, and do anything.

But real-life applications of nano are much less groundbreaking, and much more mundane -- making circuits and storage a bit smaller, and so forth. Nano is more of a psychological barrier than anything else.

If self-assembling robots were really such an awesome idea, for getting work done, we would have done them at the far-easier-to-work-with size scales that we are comfortable with.

Lame class, no MNT (1)

seven of five (578993) | about 9 years ago | (#13084777)

Reading thru the various materials, the person who put the course together chose to follow the mainstream ingore/dismiss MNT ideology. Too bad.

The NNI promotes this kind of thinking. I call it 'Nanotechnology: By Chemists, For Chemists' because it shies away from the most powerful applications of molecular manufacturing in order to not offend the gray-haird 'experts' trying to defend their turf.

So what we're left with is buckyballs and other stuff we can already do with bulk processes. Yawn.

I just saw the season finale of Justice League... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13084848)

Dude nanotech is scary, and we don't have Superman and friends to save us...
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