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Facing the Dangers of Nanotech

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the he's-not-looking-for-a-diamond-age dept.

172

bethr writes "Technology Review has a Q&A with Andrew Maynard, the science advisor for the Woodrow Wilson International Center's nanotechnology project regarding the dangers of nanomaterials and why we have to act now." From the article: "Individual experiments have indicated that if you develop materials with a nanostructure, they do behave differently in the body and in the environment. We know from animal studies that very, very fine particles, particles with high surface area, lead to a greater inflammatory response than the same amount of larger particles. We also know that they can enter the lining of the lungs and get through to the blood and enter other organs. There is some evidence that nanoparticles can move into the brain along the olfactory nerve, so this is completely circumventing the blood-brain barrier."

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172 comments

I smell nanoparticles... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887540)

Arrrgh! help! they're in my brain!

Re:I smell nanoparticles... (1)

SueAnnSueAnn (998877) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887702)

Great idea for a weapon, Isn't it?

Sue

When it's time,
it's time
and it may be sooner then you think.

Re:I smell nanoparticles... (1)

Thansal (999464) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888222)

not unless we can reliably clean up after them.

And so long as we don't care about destroying the local exosystem (unless we can make something that will only assault human brains).

Then again, I thought that biological/chemical warfare was one of those big nonos that we all sorta agreed on....

Re:I smell nanoparticles... (4, Interesting)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889208)

Great idea to treat brain cancer too.

The idea is to modify certain magnetic nanoparticles so that they can attach to the cancer cells. Then by applying a vibrating magnetic field, we make make the nanoparticles vibrate and generate heat. As a result, the cancer cells get killed and the amount of affected good cells is very small.

But, I think I need a tin foil hat.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887546)

ead noobs

But, but, but... (1, Interesting)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887570)

Haven't we had nanotechnology for ages?

Didn't I just read something about ancient swords [slashdot.org] using nanotubes?

Re:But, but, but... (5, Funny)

naoursla (99850) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887700)

Yes, and having one of those enter your brain along your olfactory nerve can cause serious health issues.

Re:But, but, but... (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889238)

How the hell is that offtopic?

We have been using nano particles for centuries and they have existed for much longer.

Off-topic... (-1, Offtopic)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887616)

What the heck is up with this "experimental" threading? Can someone explain it to me?

Re:Off-topic... (3, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887694)

Oh crap!

You mean you can see the Experimental threading indicators?
Thats bad - it means the nano threading weaved into the webpage has escaped and made its way into your optic nerve.

In reality I don't know and was wondering the same myself.

Re:Off-topic... (1)

udderly (890305) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888066)

BWAHAHA...SNOOOOOORT!!! Cough, cough, cough.

What is that you ask? The sound of a Diet Code Red Mountain Dew going through my nose and onto my keyboard.

Thanks a lot.

Re:Off-topic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887966)

they don't know how to do experiments on a test database, but instead do it on the live one. Typical.

Re:Off-topic... (1)

diersing (679767) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888046)

Where is the experimental undo threading button once you click & and collapse a thread?

I for one welcome our experimental threading overlords!

Re:Off-topic... (1)

brunascle (994197) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888246)

Where is the experimental undo threading button once you click & and collapse a thread?
it seems to be "Two"... no wait... they all do the same thing...

the bloody hell?

am i the only one starting to suspect this is a psychological "experiment", rather than a technical one?

Re:Off-topic... (1)

celardore (844933) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889492)

it seems to be "Two"... no wait... they all do the same thing...
What about two and two? Oh wait there's no five option.

Gray Goo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887624)

That isn't exactly what is usually called "gray goo" by nanotech critics, but nanostructures entering the brain comes pretty close.

Nanomaterial == molecules (2, Insightful)

gregor-e (136142) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887646)

Since assembly-based nano isn't anywhere near yet, whenever news articles use the term 'nano', what they really mean is something more like 'chemical' or 'molecular'. TFA is no exception, really. So when he says 'There is some evidence that nanoparticles can move into the brain along the olfactory nerve, so this is completely circumventing the blood-brain barrier.' we can easily translate this as saying 'There is some evidence that molecules can move into the brain along the olfactory nerve, so this is completely circumventing the blood-brain barrier.' Yeah, some molecules can pass the blood-brain barrier. What's his point? It's all nano-FUD, IMO.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (5, Funny)

Saige (53303) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887796)

OMG! The three-quarteres of the Earth is covered in very deep bodies of liquid nanoparticles! Even worse, the atmosphere now consists almost entirely of nanoparticles! We inhale huge amounts of them with every breath!

WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888478)

> We're all gonna die!

Correct.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16889304)

Precisely.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889404)

Even worse again, almost all of the land on the Earth are covered with nano-layer or nano-needle like stuff named clay. And those black heart constructors even use the clay product to build houses!

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889426)

OMG! The three-quarteres of the Earth is covered in very deep bodies of liquid nanoparticles! Even worse, the atmosphere now consists almost entirely of nanoparticles! We inhale huge amounts of them with every breath!

WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!


Yeap, usually in around 78 years is the average amount of time it'll take nano particles of water vapor in the atmosphere to kill you. I invite you to experiment breathing other types of atmospheres to see how long you life though.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889704)

"nano particles of water vapor in the atmosphere to kill you"

I don't think it's that which kills you...

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887978)

Since assembly-based nano isn't anywhere near yet, whenever news articles use the term 'nano', what they really mean is something more like 'chemical' or 'molecular'.

No, they mean really-finely-ground-up-stuff, that's a lot bigger and more complex than the sort of thing (oxygen molecules or glucose) that normally crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888026)

What's his point? It's all nano-FUD, IMO.

I think his point is that we are dealing with familiar materials in unfamiliar configurations. When dealing with anything unknown a certain amount of uncertainty, doubt, and yes, even fear or trepidation is called for.

Sure you can probably get away with treating that which is unknown in a cavalier fashion, making the assumption that it is perfectly safe until otherwise demonstrated to be unsafe. But of course when approaching that which is unknown in this fashion there are always going to be the cases where things that are unsafe are not recognized as such until something bad happens.

Maybe these things ring a bell: lead, radium, thalidomide.

Even things which are generally recognized as safe when handled or used properly can still be unsafe when misued. I won't bother listing examples of these. Your house and surrounding environment are packed with them.

Poor logic.. (5, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888142)

So essentially your argument is:

There exists some molecules that already enter the blood-brain barrier without problems. Therefor all molecules entering the blood-brain barrier have no problems. One could prove anything (including known falsehoods) using that kind of logic.

What I read in the article was that when we create very very fine particles out of substances they behave differently in biological organisms than they do when they aren't in very very small particles. We really have no information on how these very fine particles might behave in biological organisms, so we really should be more cautious in including them in food products, or anything else people might injest since they really haven't been tested yet.

Re:Poor logic.. (2, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889614)

"Whenever I hear the word activist, I reach for my revolver."
The founding fathers were activists. As was Any of many people that caused changes.

Just thought you might like to know that.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (4, Insightful)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888176)

I was originally going to write a post to show that you might not be totally justified in what you're writing, but then I realised that nano is the SI prefix for 10^-9, while a hydrogen molecule is 1.06 * 10^-10m, so you might not be completely off in saying that this is nothing new, so this is one score to you.

However, I have to mention that the size might not be the problem, but rather the properties of these nanoparticles.

The most important thing to remember when talking about nanoparticles, is that a lot of these materials have a unique thing in common, quoth wikipedia, "vastly increased ratio of surface area to volume". Remember for example lunar dust [wikipedia.org] and the problems associated with it? Imagine that effect on a much worse level.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (5, Insightful)

Ken D (100098) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888198)

No, this is not FUD. Forget gasses and liquids, this is about solids. Solids come in non-molecular chunks. Out bodies (and the bodies of every other living thing out there) are accustomed to encountering solids that are in fairly large sized chunks. If you can find a way to process those solids into much smaller chunks then you have a nano-material. This is the stuff that's dangerous. It's true of non-nano tech too. For example if I had a large piece of asbestos, that's not really dangerous, but if I pulverize it into dust it is. These new nano materials open up the possibility that alot more materials could be dangerous.

If I swallow a quarter, ....it'll pass. What if I swallowed something that contained a quarter shredded into pieces no larger than 100nm, will that pass? Or will large amounts get trapped in various nooks and corners in my guts, and what effect will it have if those bits stay there for 30 years? What if I breathe it into my lungs? Will it do something like asbestos dust?

See http://www.kemcointernational.com/NANOPHASEAPPLICA TIONS.htm [kemcointernational.com] for cosmetics and foot powder containing Iron Oxide and Zinc Oxide nano materials that you can easily ingest or breathe.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1)

Captain Jack Taylor (976465) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888534)

I'd mod this up if I had mod points, this guy's right. I for one am strongly concerned about some of the applications here, we've seen similar idiocy in the past.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (1)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888594)

While I don't think they shouldn't study the dangers of these new materials I think the extremist that start calling for us to abandon such new technologies are idiots that ought to be ignored. As with anything new we should carefully study it and see what the risks and benefits are and how we can lower the risks while increasing the benefits. Science isn't always safe. What major breakthrough has ever happened where someone wasn't hurt along the way? How many people died or suffered horrible damage from X-Rays for example? Would we have been better off having never developed X-Ray technology into working products?

Throwing experimental materials into cosmetics is a little rash but I expect they ran lab tests on the materials first. If it's not immediately dangerous then you might as well give it a shot. Maybe it's sad but mass product releases often are the best test. It could take 30 years of careful testing to find out the results you'd get by just releasing it on the public. People get sick and die from eatting vegetables so you have to realize that life is never going to be fully safe.

If it doesn't kill us all in it's infancy I expect nano to make most of us live a lot longer and higher quality of life. It's worth a few risks.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888916)

You do realize that killing other people (outside of self defense) for your personal gain is the height of sociopathy, right? Were you planning on donating the possibly deadly products to the public for testing, or just letting them pay for the privilege of dying to improve your quality of life?

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (4, Insightful)

cweber (34166) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889082)

I find your post rather callous. While you may be right that breakthroughs don't happen without associated risks and the occasional negative or outright dangerous result, I believe we've been extremely careless during the 20th century. Your Xray example is a good one. Physicists and biologists knew fairly early on Xray radiation was ionizing, but for quite some time it didn't occur to anyone to not expose themselves or others to high doses. How hard would it be to remain a bit cautious? And maybe save a few lives and make countless other better in the process.

TFA simply advocates caution and diligent research into negative consequences of nanotech while the technology is being developed. TFA never urges abandoning anything. I agree with the author that we should keep close tabs on this stuff and watch it for long term effects.

Re:Nanomaterial == molecules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888244)

A tiny crystal isn't really a molecule, and you rely on millions of years of evolution to protect you against molecules you may encounter in everyday life. Some of the nanoparticles that are engineered are totally new, so your body can't be prepared for them.

Marketing is everything (4, Funny)

realmolo (574068) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887666)

All that the producers of nanomaterials need to do is put a cartoon Camel on the box, and all the cool kids will be breathing nanonmaterials.

They're perfectly safe, and prevent acne.

Blood Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887670)

Coinciding with the recent Greg Bear questions as /., Blood Music is an excellent short story by him that offers once such nightmare scenario. Friggin awesome btw.

Fp tRollkore (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887726)

OF aMERIcA irc With THOUSANDS of

More idiots (2, Insightful)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887732)

Lets see, they advocate the government looking over the shoulder and using Wikipedia to determine danger.

First, there is a problem with governmental idiots in charge of something they don't understand.

Two, I don't buy Wikipedia as an authoritative source. While it is source, it could be a start point, not an end point.

And of course this would not apply to marketing hyped products -- the nano-tech car wax and nano-tech hair shampoo; Right???

That's NOT what he is advocating! (1, Offtopic)

CyberLord Seven (525173) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887926)

First, from the article:

The Widipedia idea is something that has been talked about. And I think that either that or something like that is a very exciting idea. Of course you've always got the issue of validating the information which is there. (emphasis mine)

Second:

That's where you come down to talking about "oversight" rather than regulations. (some content removed) So there are ways of dealing with challenges in the near future that don't necessarily mean resorting to regulation.

Given Andrew Maynard's actual comments I don't see why you have to call him an idiot. In many ways he agrees with you.

missed the memo (1)

netsfr (839855) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887754)

can someone forward me the memo about today being Nanotech day on /.?

Re:missed the memo (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887800)

The memo is displayed on the front page, however the font size is so small you need an electron scanning microscope to read it.

Re:missed the memo (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889530)

Sorry, but the memo went into my brain along the olfactory nerve, completely circumventing the blood-brain barrier.

Yum! (2, Funny)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887794)

There is some evidence that nanoparticles can move into the brain along the olfactory nerve, so this is completely circumventing the blood-brain barrier.
Anyone want to try my NanoBeer?

It will happen, you know it.

Nature is full of nanoparticles (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16887868)

This seems to be a rising hobby, alarmism as a way of raising your personal profile. It happens every few years with each new technology, and the facts are no deterrant.

The facts in this case are that the natural environment is FULL of nanoparticles of all sizes --- we live in a sea of them. Nature doesn't have any personal preference for particles of any given size.

To say that something we manufacture could be dangerous is fine, but singling out nanoparticles is just plain silly. And yes, materials of all kinds change their properties depending on particle size. Again, singling out nanoparticles for this honour is more about alarmism than about objectivity.

You're ignoring the "high surface area" part. (1)

CyberLord Seven (525173) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888030)

Yes, it's true. There are naturally occuring particles that are extremely small. In fact this reminds me of a photograph I saw once of a mite or other small insect that was on the leg of a flea. There was a caption about how something as small and bothersome as a flea had it's own pest.

OK, I'm through digressing. Back to the point.

Andrew Maynard is concerned that "very, very fine particles with high surface area, lead to a greater inflammatory response...". (emphasis mine)

Re:You're ignoring the "high surface area" part. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888746)

Idiot. All "very fine particles" have "high surface area", it can be proved mathematically.

You misquoted the guy. The exact quote is
very, very fine particles, particles with high surface area, lead to a greater inflammatory response
(emphasis mine) Open your English textbook, the sementic meaning of "A,B,C" is "A (therefore B), C", not "A and B, C".

More Fun... (2, Funny)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887870)

...than a packet of greased up Yoda Dolls on a Saturday night at Karl Rove's place when Jim Jeff comes over. Wootz!!!

You know what this means... (3, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887884)

If there are "dangers" associated with them, they will be PERFECT for the DoD to pickup on and investigate.

what would be better than a bomb that goes off and you breathe in particles that can easily penetrate your organs

Re:You know what this means... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16889058)

nano-bombs are cool, but i've got a better idea:

a bomb that goes off and small (but not nano) pieces of jagged metal (let's call them 'shrapnel') get shot through your body at very high speed. pretty revolutionary, eh?

Re:You know what this means... (2, Interesting)

Deoxyribose (997674) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889462)

Neal Stephenson had the idea in his book "The Diamond Age." IIRC they were called cookie cutters and used in prisions to discourage escape and as a method of execution. The book is one of my all time favorites and a great read for anyone remotely interested in nanotech.

Re:You know what this means... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16889552)

Er..left out that they were nanotech and ingested. Bleh

Disappointed (1)

Non-CleverNickName (1027234) | more than 6 years ago | (#16887910)

I for one am shocked that The Magic School Bus conviently decided not to warn us of these dangers of nano-scaled foreign objects travelling through the human body :(

wouldn't you just know... (1)

stupidsocialscientis (689586) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888006)

a guy that deals with nanotubes is going to have a difficult time understanding the relative size of a problem, and blows it all out of proportion. Nanotubes are small... you know- kinda like atoms, we don't worry about atoms do we? silly.

Down with the Precautionary Principle! (3, Insightful)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888028)

Progress requires risk. Deal.

Re:Down with the Precautionary Principle! (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888212)

Progress requires risk. Deal.
True, some risk, but the issue is whether this example of progress increases overall risk.

Re:Down with the Precautionary Principle! (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888256)


Progress requires risk. Deal.

On some level, I agree. The question of course is how much risk, and how do you manage that risk?

I'd hope you wouldn't argue that we totally eliminate the FDA and just let people deal with the risks of the effects of untested drugs. That would be, IMO, insane.

The arguments in the article seem entirely reasonable to me. Small particles behave differently in biological organisms. Before we go full-tilt into deploying new nano-scale materials into food products and anything else people might injest, maybe we should actually test these things and learn more about how they behave in biological organisms.

Re:Down with the Precautionary Principle! (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888342)

Calculated risk, or blind risk?

Progress has to be an improvement over what came before. Mesothelioma, the result of one of our previous experiments with using materials, was not progress.

New stuff needs to be tested. That's simply good engineering.

Two edged sword (2, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888040)

For precisely the same reason that nano sized particles will be revolutionary to the world of pharmaceuticals, they may prove to be toxic in other applications.

Scale matters (5, Insightful)

macklin01 (760841) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888058)

Nature is replete with examples where scale matters. Insect-scale airfoils don't work particularly well. Jumbo jet-scale insects wouldn't fly, either. At the molecular level, flagella give great propulsion in fluids, but the same wouldn't hold at the macroscopic level.

The same is true in biology. I remember having read a study done at NASA on the effect of iron nanoparticles in lungs. (Alas, I can't seem to find the link anymore.) They concluded that at the nano scale, the iron particles could escape the normal protections and remain in the lungs (in the interstitium and cells themselves), where they could collect and have a toxic effect, including diminished lung function. (The test rats became lethargic, etc.) All this at exposure levels that wouldn't be considered toxic at other scales.

I've seen similar research on sunscreen. Zinc oxide particles are great protecting at UVA and UVB. However, at large scale, they're quite visible and hard to blend in. Make them smaller, and that problem goes away, but they get absorbed deeper into the skin. Make them smaller still, and it's quite possible that they'll be absorbed into the cells themselves, leading to new potential health effects. (e.g., does zinc oxide become carcinogenic when they remain in the cells for too long? Does the motion into the cells increase the likelihood of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) accumlating inside the cells, rather than outside?)

I'm not a biochemist or a biologist (I'm a biomathematician), so I don't have the answers to these questions. But it's clear that scale really does matter, and it needs to be considered. Is the danger overhyped? Possibly, or maybe not. That's why it needs to be studied. But it's going to be important to understand these effects when we move from the low levels that occur naturally to the high levels that will occur in human-made materials and products. -- Paul

Re:Scale matters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888186)

Here's a link [cdc.gov] that has the type of thing that I had in mind. I still can't find the iron studies I remember, but the carbon and silica studies are similar.

Re:Scale matters, and so does hype (4, Insightful)

NorbrookC (674063) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889248)

Is the danger overhyped? Possibly, or maybe not. That's why it needs to be studied.

I'm old enough to remember something very similar to this back when gene splicing first became practical. Recombinant technology had a lot of hype around its promise, while at the same time there was an equal amount of hype about its dangers. Depending on which "expert" you were listening to, it was either going to solve all our problems or wipe humanity off the planet.

The compromise was to put stringent safeguards on it. Twenty years later, we can look back and see that a lot of them were unnecessary, and that much of the hype was overblown on both sides. I think we're going to see something similar arising from nanotechnology. Yes, there's a lot of promise, and yes, there are some dangers. Until we better understand the technology, it's better to put in some safeguards, with the idea in mind that we can always relax them or tighten them.

It's always instructive to look back, and to take some lessons from the past. Banning a technology outright because of fear doesn't work. Someone will eventually use it. At the same time, embracing a technology unreservedly also doesn't work. There are many examples of it blowing up in someone's face after-the-fact. It's not anti-technology to be aware of potential dangers and to take steps to mitigate them as you move forward. But neither should the dangers prevent you from moving forward.

Re:Scale matters, and so does hype (4, Informative)

radtea (464814) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889632)

I'm old enough to remember something very similar to this back when gene splicing first became practical. Recombinant technology had a lot of hype around its promise, while at the same time there was an equal amount of hype about its dangers.

There was actually a voluntary suspension of recombinant DNA research for a short time back in the '70's. Everyone started doing it again when the truth became clear: recombination happens in nature all the time, and the mechanism was such that naturally occuring recombination was doing all the things that scientists wanted to do. Given this, it was felt there was little risk of uncontrolled side-effects. It is worth adding that this is different from believing that there is little risk (social, economic or environmental) from GMOs specifically designed to cause harm to others for the profit of some, like those containing Monsanto's Terminator gene.

The situation with nanoparticles is a little more ambiguous. There was as story on /. today on carbon nanotubes in ancient steel, and of course the first discovery of exotic carbon allotropes was in smoke, which is not exactly a rare substance. This suggests that some forms of nanoparticles have been around in the environment for a long time. However, it does not follow from this that naturally occuring nanoparticles are similar to the ones we are trying to create. Some, like carbon nanotubes and buckyballs, are unlikely to cause harm. But given their ability to infiltrate the body's natural defenses there needs at least to be careful assessment of new nanosubstances before any are allowed to released into the environment.

Nano-materials are nothing more than large molecules, after all, and you wouldn't want people releasing large amounts of potentially deadly substances into the environment in the fond hope that they won't harm anyone with sufficient money to sue.

Michael Crichton's Book (0, Flamebait)

s31523 (926314) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888120)

This is very erie... Anyone read Prey [michaelcrichton.net] by Michael Crichton? I think the developers of this nanotechnology should read this before proceeding. Interestingly, the bibliography of this book is quite extensive...

Re:Michael Crichton's Book (3, Insightful)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888504)

Noone should read Michael Crichton and base scientific policy on it, most importantly because what he writes is fiction. It may a good thing for provoking some thoughts, but nothing else. Scientists taking advice from him? I would think we would know better than that to propose such thing especially after his State of Fear [wikipedia.org] (the book where he portrays global warming/climate change as fud making terrorists).

I wouldn't take even Asimov novells as anything to be read if I would want to do science in a particular field. Fiction!=Science, no matter how good fiction it is.

Re:Michael Crichton's Book (3, Informative)

mblase (200735) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888538)

This is very erie... Anyone read Prey by Michael Crichton?

Yeah, it was replete with pseudoscience that would make a great movie, but terrible research. Nanobots that are as intelligent, sophisticated, and above all mobile as the ones in that story aren't just impossible under current technology limits, they're impossible at all.

Sixty years ago, tech enthusiasts were absolutely certain we'd have a colony base on the Moon by now. Sixty years from now, nanotech will be just as stunted compared to where we imagine we'll be.

Re:Michael Crichton's Book (1)

freeweed (309734) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888560)

Why on earth isn't this at least modded up Funny?

Using Prey as a reason to be concerned about nanotech research makes about as much sense as using Jurassic Park as a reason to be concerned about the Human Genome Project.

Re:Michael Crichton's Book (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889054)

Hate to say it but you can get more hard science out of a Hitch Hikers Guide book. Prey wasn't exactly one of Crichton best. The premise was silly and had been done countless times before in lame low budget scifi films. The grey goo senario is interesting but a little too extreme. I'm more concerned with cancer and genetic damage. Otherwise inert materials can be highly reactive on a Nano level. A lot of the materials exist in nature but in tiny trace amounts. In high concentrations it's hard to say what reaction they will have on the human body and the environment. Since they do react differently our current regulations are woefully inadequate to regulate their use. In a sense we're in the same position with nano particles that we were in with the birth of industrialization. Remember lead and mercury were extremely common and even used in medicines. False teeth used lead. In Roman times they used lead for water pipes. They simply didn't know better. The potential for good is extreme but so is the potential for harm. Better to use some common sense and do the testing before the materials are used then find out an explosion in the cancer rate is the result of heavy use of nanoparticles. We can live without them so the bigger concern is can we live with them? I grew up when asbestos was common and all white paint had lead in it. You'd never consider using ceiling tiles with asbestos in them today but they used to be common. They put asbestos in cigarette filters for Christsake. You don't have to be paranoid to want some caution. History shows there's a good chance that some of the materials will prove hazardous to health. Corporations aren't very responsible and they have a bad habit of releasing products and dealing with the lawsuits later.

No Problem (1)

javaxjb (931766) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888134)

Just call Wesley, he'll crush them.

Re:No Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888566)

ahahhaha nice TNG referance; we're safe so long as the dont make sweet nano love

Uh... that's f*cked up. (5, Interesting)

neo (4625) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888138)

I played a thought experiment with a very smart fellow. The goal of the experiment was to come up with a safe way to create self replicating nanites that could cure cancer. We had 1 nanite that would cure cancer, but it was, of course, slow. The goal was to create enough to heal an entire body.

So the best way to make more nanites is to have the nanites make more of themselves. Seems pretty straight forward... only everytime we go about doing it we run into this little problem.

Mutations.

So we build these guys to start replicating and to stop replicating when we want them to... but when you make a billion of something you end up with some odd mutations. Even if you are talking about .001% mutation that's still 100,000 self replicating mistakes. If even one of those 100,000 mistakes is a mutation that just doesn't turn off self replication you now have a very bad problem.

Released, this nanite could theoretically convert the earth (see "grey goo") into a giant ball of itself.

Now I know this thread is going to be long, because so many of you very smart people will have so many smart ideas about how to make this safe. I'm glad you have these ideas and I'm glad you're voicing them. Some of them might even work.

What scares the hell out of me is that you're not the people working on this.

Re:Uh... that's f*cked up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888350)

A non-perfect replicator that makes non-perfect copies of itself may become subject to natural selection. Hence evolution.

The early Earth was in some ways a ball of green-goo, it still is today.

I think caution should be taking when (or if) we ever get to the point of nano-fabricators and replicators, but by no means should it be forbidden! This technology would bring humanity into a new age.

Basic physics... (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888364)


Released, this nanite could theoretically convert the earth (see "grey goo") into a giant ball of itself.

There's this little problem with replication called "energy", and the laws of thermodynamics. Making order out of disorder requires energy to be expended. Exactly where is all the energy going to come from to turn everything into "grey goo"?

Re:Basic physics... (1)

mikiN (75494) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889546)

Exactly where is all the energy going to come from to turn everything into "grey goo"?

Well, there's this great ball of fire up in the sky. Plants and some other critters with chlorophyll use it to create carbohydrates out of thin air (think CO2) and water. Also, there's a big furnace burning below ground, enough to supply the activation energy for many chemical reactions. Not exactly nano stuff, but just imagine hooking up nano and bio together (they're working on that) and yes, I think you could have your 'grey goo' alright...
Other prime candidates for the stuff are generically engineered bacteria (think about 'oil-eating' bacteria running amok) and viruses (think about an Ebola from Hell that attacks all living things).

The key factor in all of this is the K factor. Same as with nuclear chain reactions, when K > 1 you get a chain reaction. When there is enough source material and you cannot control it so K becomes < 1 again, it just keeps on going. This is what we have to worry about in all these scenarios.

Re:Basic physics... (1)

zolaar (764683) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889638)

The human body generates more bioelectricity than a 120 V battery and over 25,000 BTU's of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion the machines had found all the energy they would ever need...

Re:Uh... that's f*cked up. (2, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888416)

A few dozen independent mechanisms that run a checksum and which work at different points in the process to prevent reproduction, sabotage reproduction, make the mutants non-viable, make the second generation sterile, etc.

The problem is you'll probably find out that in order to keep up with rapidly mutating and adapting cancer cells, the nanites will *need* to mutate.

Re:Uh... that's f*cked up. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889064)

Yup, self replicating minature machines will definitely convert the world into themselves. Wait... we've had self replicating minature machines around for a couple billion years and they haven't done it yet. Hm.

Ooooh scary. (0)

asciimonster (305672) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888216)

I thought that people investigated BECAUSE the body responded diffentently on nanotechnological materials. And also BECAUSE materials combined and shaped in unusual ways got unusual results.

P.S. The nanotechnology hype is over. It has been for some time now. All nanotech products I've seen so far is an anti-fog, anti-rain spray for your cars widscreen. Just like the dot-com bubble it didn't live up to the high expectations that (mostly American) scientists created.

Re:Ooooh scary. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#16889586)

no it's not, nano-tech as we talked about 10 years ago is completely different then what they call nanotech today.

ohnoes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888458)


it's a very very small trap!

Nanopathologies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888486)

There are 2 researchers, in particular, who are studying the effects of nanoparticles on human body: Stefano Montanari and Antonietta Gatti. They showed, among various human tissues "contaminated" by nanoparticles, that nanoparticles could invade sperm, the lymphatic system and even penetrate the cell nucleus.

Unfortunately they're not widely known, as their work, outside Italy.

If you can understand Italian try to read here:

http://www.nanodiagnostics.it/ [nanodiagnostics.it]
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanopatologia [wikipedia.org]

seriously... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#16888532)

the fact that nanotech is here to stay and corporate fat cats will all be stampeding like cattle to market this stuff when it comes of age, with no thought for safety concerns, only PROFIT; it behooves geekdom to apply pressure for researching nanotech on human health NOW, before the horse breaks out of the stable and we're stuck dealing with the health issues after the fact...ass backwards, like usual.

sorry for the run on sentence.

Huh? ... another BigChicken (2, Insightful)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888622)

I remember the 1950s, sounds like the atomic bomb again, radiation poising, evil mad science, nature-gone-wild ... sounds like more B-grade scifi movies are on their way, or the new-conservative plutocrats are justified in keep everyone from behaving responsibly by not having a gun, stem-cell, nuke .... NanNO Borg the monster was a human infected by terrorist spread necrotic-nano-bots from Mars.

If we are going to destroy our species, I wish would just get it done. Anything is better than accepting domination by fear-mongering idiots in charge (Neo-Nazi, Neoconservative, Neo/Pseudo-Christian/Moslem/Jew ...) who are continually gucken up the world for humanity.

Give me liberty, or give me death, from the all KnowWhatsBestForYou powerful of this world.

Like asbestos? (1)

ribuck (943217) | more than 6 years ago | (#16888874)

Consider asbestos: it's harmless in a large piece. But once that piece starts crumbling, asbestos tends to split lengthwise into thinner and thinner fibers (rather than shorter and shorter ones). Breathe those in and you might end up dying an agonising death.

So yes, we do need to study nanoeffects of materials, even when we already know the bulk effects of those same materials.

The interview in TFA is a bit non-committal, but one very good point was made: a set of "best practises" should be drawn up to help bridge the gap between today's exploration of the possibilities of nanotechnology - and the hindsight that will surely come in the future.
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