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Rent a Nanotechnology Lab

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the I-only-need-it-for-a-nanosecond dept.

United States 45

SeanAhern writes "If you're an aspiring young nanotechnologist with an idea for a new product, you'll be happy to hear that the DOE has created five facilities called Nanoscale Science Research Centers, that you can rent. These Research Centers are located in National Labs scattered around the country: Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois; Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico."

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Who want want to work in a lab like that.. (5, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#22875994)

Who want want to work in a lab like that, they would never get in the door.
If you are going to rent out labs, they should be at least, 3 times bigger.

not a bad idea really (2, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876014)

when you consider the cost of the equipment you'd have to have in the lab, and the lab itself really, there's a huge overhead. We've seen so many things recently where non-intuitive applications of nanotech are suggesting huge benefits, now everyone can afford a shot in the lab to play with an idea and see if it's worth investing in.

Re:not a bad idea really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876404)

Yea, in sharp contrast to the usual model where you rent labtime......
I mean it's a much smaller investment to rent an intire lab then just to rent the labtime per equipment you use right?

Besides this point, the expensive equipment is not just expensive, its mindbogeling expensive, At the Danish Technical University they resently aquired a bunch of new high resolution nanoscopes. The operation price is so high that they have to rent them out at a huge loss, since otherwise it would be impossible for any company to cover the charge of using them, and they would only be used for university research. I'd like to se any start up rent the intire lab, just letting a nanoscope like that sitting idle for a day or two because they don't need it at the time.

Re:not a bad idea really (3, Funny)

The Great Pretender (975978) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877786)

Now the residents of /. can finally develop tiny sharks with tiny lasers on their heads.

Re:not a bad idea really (1)

bandmassa (951387) | more than 6 years ago | (#22886152)

When my middle daughter went to Canberra on her grade 6 school trip, she brought me back a miniature shark-shaped keyring that was a laser pointer, so I've had one of those for years. (Well, actually, it fell apart last year, shoddy workmanship - didn't come from Dr Evil's lab... or maybe it did...)

Zoolander Quote (1)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876016)

[Upon seeing the model of the "Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too"]

"What is this, a center for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building? The center has to be at least... three times bigger than this!"

Sweet, Where's Kurzweil. (4, Funny)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876094)

Awesome, now I can finally create the fabled Grey Goo [] !

Re:Sweet, Where's Kurzweil. (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876222)

Grey goo is highly unrealistic. I foresee an unholy alliance of nanotechnology and AI research producing killing swarms as in Crichton's Prey [] . After all, both Kurzweil and Crichton are airport paperback novels, so they each produce entertaining notions of the future.

Re:Sweet, Where's Kurzweil. (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877980)

Try Philip K. Dick's "Second Variety" (a short story though, not a novel). But ignore that part about the Soviets taking over and the rogue Americans on the moon, just focus on the replicating killing machines.

Question (1, Funny)

Joseph1337 (1146047) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876106)

If you use nanotubes instead of normal ones will the internet get smaller?

At Last! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876108)

I can finally build my army of self-replicating nanites to take over the world...

I, for one... (was:At Last!) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876158)

I can finally build my army of self-replicating nanites to take over the world...
I for one welcome our self-replicating nanite overlords. (Sorry, your statement is just begging for this response.)

Re:At Last! (4, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876258)

Don't forget to stand there in your wide lab coat and cackle, "Fools, I'll destroy them all!"

Re:At Last! (1)

Gideon Fubar (833343) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877736)

PROTIP: beware of heroes, nanites, liquid nitrogen, time paradoxes, killer bees, betrayal and nanites.

Wesley Crusher (1)

robvs68 (560549) | more than 6 years ago | (#22885924)

Just keep Wesley Crusher [] (and those with "clever nicknames") the hell away from this lab. I'm sure they'd fowl things up in no time.

Re:At Last! (2, Funny)

wsanders (114993) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877884)

Well, you can perfect your superduper bioweapon but since it's a DOE facility you'll just get arrested and the US Government will end up selling your invention to terrorists ... ... oh wait that never happens!

Re:At Last! (3, Funny)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879270)

Dear DOE;

We wish to rent your lab for a short time. Money is no object.


Tom Cruise

P.S. We have nothing bad in mind.

Re:At Last! (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877940)

I prefer the old "They'll rue the day..." line myself, but hey whatever works for ya!

Red tape waiting to happen (5, Insightful)

Cryophallion (1129715) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876216)

Brilliant idea... except for the red tape.

Let's be honest, a good number of people will want access to the lab (poorer university students, nanotech hobbyists, etc), and there will be a number of people who think they have a brilliant idea for nanotech that they want to try out. I'm sure there is a certain minimum amount of time each project would take anyway.

So, someone needs to decide who gets access to the space. Since it is government funded, will there be public review of who gets access? Will there need to be proposals? Is there a certain minimum amount of time devoted to "open-nanotech" research (for the good of the world at large)? Or will larger universities hog all the time?

I love the idea, and hope it would scale to other technology fields, I just worry about the gatekeepers.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (2, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876278)

Universities can afford their own lab. I see this as a way for medium size companies to get to peek their heads inside the world of nanotech and see if there's an angle they can follow up for real benefits.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

Cryophallion (1129715) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876416)

Large ones can, yes.

What about the small community college with a kid that has a ton of potential and is gifted in the area? Some schools have a "build your major" concept for students who fit their criteria. Say 1 skilled student per state even, who has the desire and interest, and the school wants to help them. With just a few labs, that can fill up the available hours really fast.

I'm just curious who decides which project is worth the time? What about the way out there idea that pans out and revolutionizes the industry? Will they get passed over for "safer" projects, or at least ones that don't seem as out there?

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

Fission86 (1070784) | more than 6 years ago | (#22885176)

What usually happens with government owned labs like these is that a group interested in doing research will submit a proposal to obtain facility usage. The proposal will contain what they plan to do, why they want to do it, and how long it will take. A committee made up of professional scientists/engineers and lab executives will convene usually once a year to evaluate how feasible and realistic these proposals are and weigh their feasibility against how likely the group is to produce useful results (regardless of success or failure, they will still produce results).

If the proposal is accepted it will be given lab time. What might be creating confusion is that these labs are NOT free and charge a good amount of money per hour/day/whatever which is decided by the amount of proposals the committee receives (supply and demand at its finest).

As for your "what about the small college students?" question, (having learned this from personal experience) these kinds of labs are hardcore, with big bucks on the line so I wouldn't think it wise to have an undergraduate hogging up time in a nanotechnology lab no matter how gifted he or she is. The undergrad could possibly get a position with the group but definitely will not get lab time solo; other than that REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates) will probably be hosted by the labs (which will probably just be lab slave work, but is none-the-less interesting).

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

leonidas (134452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22887012)

There are some misconceptions in your post, Fission86, a couple minor, one quite serious.

Proposal review panels do their more than once a year at most DOE facilities. At the two where I am a reviewer (see my post below for some of my observations of the review process), we do so 3 times per year. Surprisingly, lab executives have very little to do with the review or allocation processes -- the peer review by a panel of experts in the field of the proposal is, in most cases, the sole criterion (aside, of course, from the number of days in the operating calendar compared to the number of proposals submitted) for whether a proposal gets access to an instrument.

Your serious misstatement is about cost. Access to DOE x-ray, neutron, nanoscience, electron microscopy, and high magnetic field facilities is free for non-proprietary research. The researcher has to pay for travel, meals and incidental expenses, as well as for the cost of preparing whatever samples they bring to the lab. But the cost of using the facility is free. Zero dollars and zero cents. Amazing, but true. Proprietary research is done with full cost recovery -- as well it should be. The tax payer should not pay to make proprietary research happen, then pay for the results of that research. But research that goes into archived journals -- that is indeed free.

As for undergraduates, many of the faculty who come to my beamline at the NSLS x-ray facility bring their undergraduate researchers. I enocurage that, the lab encourages it, and DOE encourages it. Am I going to let rowdy kids do what they will with my $125,000 detector? Hell no! But will I leave a responsible, trained 20 year old alone to run the beamline? Yes. And I often do.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (3, Interesting)

WindowlessView (703773) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876298)

Since it is government funded, will there be public review of who gets access?

I am guessing your "Real ID" will barely get you through the front gate.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877434)

Whelp, there goes my plan to build nano-sharks with fricken nano-lasers on their fricken heads to clean out my arteries...

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876432)

A first-come-first-serve approach would probably work pretty well; it's not like everyone and their grandmothers will be running to these labs to do research. Something like $500/month would be a nice barrier to entry, at least making the 'poorer university students' and 'nanotech hobbyists' think twice about whether their research is worth it.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876492)

Do you think it's targeted towards university students and hobbyists? I wouldn't think so (since it would be a huge waste of our tax money) but perhaps I am wrong.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (5, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876600)

When I applied for beam time at one of these facilities (Argonne in Illinois through the standard review process, not in these new nanotech-for-hire labs) about six months ago, I competed with fifty-nine other proposals. Three of the proposals were given beam time for that beam cycle, and there are only three cycles per year.

When a new beamline opened up at Berkeley National Labs recently it was first-come-first-serve for the first few months, when it was sort of a secret. After a couple months of running sort of in secret, without any public announcement of the new equipment, there was a sudden explosion of awareness (probably someone blabbed about it) and within a very short period it was booked for the rest of the year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In summary, first-come-first-serve wouldn't work unless there were five hundred of these facilities. University research groups alone could take up all the time available even if the price were $10k/week, and there would be two universities willing to pay but unable to get time for every one that did.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876612)

Excellent point, you will have to write a proposal, I'm sure. Also see the little teaser at the bottom:
"If your research is non-proprietary and could help to solve a nano measurement problem that supports the production of nanobased applications you may be in luck. They may offer discounted fees or waive fees entirely."

That means you can get your research in there, but the cost may depend on how important the lab managers think the research is. It also answers one of your questions, there will be something approximating "open-nanotech" (maybe). I think the users will be who has funding, the national labs aren't flush with cash right now.

The larger Universities will definitely use these a lot. They all have their own labs, but they also have a ton of money. If there's something really important they need to do and their on-campus facilities are too slow or crowded, they'll be very willing to rent time (and people) somewhere else. It will be just like the regional micro-fab facilities, which are briefly mentioned in the article (being at a big university, I know people who have rented time at a regional micro-fab because ours was doing maintenance on some piece of equipment).

Wish I had mod points, your post is relevant.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22877732)

I predict groups will have to submit proposals to use the facilities, and that Universities will be the most likely to win them.
To be most efficient the labs would want to avoid duplicating previous work, and unless you are fully immersed in the field some random basement tinkerer's "brilliant idea" is quite likely to have been tried at least 5 years ago, or does not obey the 2nd law, etc.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

megamike23 (932627) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877740)

wouldn't it work in the same way they rent out other parts of the labs? like particle accelerators and x-ray diffraction? The highest bidder gets it or you send a proposal and they either approve or deny it.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

the_pooh_experience (596177) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879460)

The NNIN [] is about four years old. There is certainly a review process. My understanding is each facility has their own process, in part because each facility has their own areas of expertise. So you put in an application to a facility and a board of faculty from that facility (I think two or three) review the technical proposal. The two I have completed were composed of a two page document that outlines what you hope to accomplish, identifying metrics, and a "plan of attack," if you will.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22880912)

Since it is government funded....

The government "funds" lots of things, buck-o. Usually these funded projects wind up helping some project or company that already exists. I'm sure you can stop worrying about who will get time in the lab because the government has already decided on that.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

leonidas (134452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22881758)

Well... I am one of DOE's "gatekeepers", so perhaps I can shed some light on the nature of the red tape. Actually, I am a proposal reviewer for the Advanced Photon Source and for the National Synchrotron Light Source, the x-ray facilities next door to two DOEs nanoscience facilities. So I help mind the gates for the x-ray facilities, not the nanoscience facilities, which are the topic of this article. But the process for access to the nanoscience facilities is very similar to our process.

First, we are not a secret cabal. The names of the proposal review panel members are listed on the web sites for the two x-ray facilities for which I do this work. (For the sake of transparency, I am Bruce Ravel on the Spectroscopy panel at the APS - [] - and the
X-Ray Spectroscopy: Chemical and Material Sciences panel at NSLS - [] ) Reviews are signed by the panel as a whole, not by individuals, but you know who we are.

Second, the procedure is not a mystery. There is a standardized form that the proposer must fill out. We review the contents of that form to assure that the experiment proposed is feaasible in the sense that it is well-conceived and appropriate to the instrment requested.

Third, the demand for these resources is high. At the APS, virtually every instrument receives more requests for time that there are days in the operating calendar. It is inevitable that some folks will come away disappointed. I cannot speak for all of my fello reviewers, but I write (what I hope are) useful comments in every review to help the proposer write a stringer, more competitive proposal the next time. One of the comment farther down is from someone who failed to get timefor an experiment at the APS. My advice to him or her is to contact the beamline scientist at the beamline and/or the user office and ask for advice about how to make your proposal sringer next time.

Fourth, although the process is challenging in the sense that not every proposal is going to result in access, the resources being offered are quite extraordinary. A researcher from academia or a national lab gets free access to the instrument with no obligation to cover the operating costs of the facility or of the special equipment available at the specific instrument. Companies get the same benefit for non-proprietary work. (Proprietary work involves cost-recovery, but many corporations choose to publish much of their work.) Except for the proprietary work, all users are expected to publish in peer-reviewed, widely available journals.

Fifth, everyone enters pretty equally. I get good proposals from institutions of all sizes and poor proposals from the same mix of institutions. One of colleagues and a very fine practioner of my specialty is faculty at Sarah Lawrence College -- certainly not a huge unversity -- and he has quite adequate access to DOEs facilities.

My comments are, of course, specifically relvant to the x-ray facilities. But similar models are used for the nanocenters.

So, yes... there is red tape, but there has to be. There is far more demand than supply. There are safety issues that range from the mundane to the severe. Adn there are obligations both for the facility and for the user to perform and report science of the highest quality.

I interact with users of the DOE facilities on a daily basis. I think the system is highly succesful (although not without warts and blemishes) and so do the vast majority of the people I see every day.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

Cryophallion (1129715) | more than 6 years ago | (#22886100)

Wow, thanks for taking the time to explain the process.

It's wonderful to hear that there are still people like you who are trying to help people better their research and understanding, and who take the time to aid them in further proposals.

It seems the process is about as transparent as can be expected. Like I said, I think it is a brilliant idea, but we've all seen people who abuse their power and control, and who end up ruining a great thing. I think this should be expanded in as many areas as feasible (and cost-effective), just as long as there are firm methodologies and standards in place.

Thank you for the work you do, and for taking the time to allay my fears and doubts.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (1)

leonidas (134452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22887112)

Cryophallion, like most physicists, I sit up late at night and dream of actually having power and control to abuse! As much as Dr. Evil might be our role model, most of us are far more like the nerdy kid in a John Hughes movie.

Thank you very much for your kind words. Posting to Slashdot is a bit like hollering into the void. It is very gratifying that you (and the other poster who thanked me) found my explanation of the DOE review process helpful.

If you live near one of the DOE labs, you should look up the calendar on its website. There are public events and open houses several times each year which provide an opportunity to see what goes on behind the fence. And bring the kids.

Re:Red tape waiting to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22886726)

Seconded. Thank you for an enlightening post.

Nano-landlords (0)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876360)

And we lose the shirts off our backs because of all those nano-transactions. Stuff like each footstep taken inside the lab, each atom of graphite scraped onto each square centimeter of paper for research and engineering, etc.

I'm confused (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876610)

I drove to the nearest nanoscale lab, and I'm right here where the map says it should be, looking all around me, but for some reason I'm not seeing it.

Asbestos lawsuits redux? (2, Interesting)

beanless (1132589) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877154)

One thing I remember reading on /. was the potential carcinogenic effects of these substances, similar to asbestos. Where are these materials stored? Where/how are they disposed of? Surely the people creating these things make lots of proto-efforts; is there a plan for disposing/handling any of this?

Re:Asbestos lawsuits redux? (1)

turtleAJ (910000) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877546)

is there a plan for disposing/handling any of this?

At that scale, a small static discharge will destroy your entire year's worth of experiments...

Drexler (w00t! Thanks dude, you kick ass!) talks about such a system in his book Engines of Creation (get it!).

Basically proposed, a small nanofactory, with enough controls for "nothing" getting out of it.
Simple to do such a feat when each and every atom inside the "lab" is accounted for.

frist psoT (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22878770)

JC, This is Tracer Tong. (1)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879584)

I got another lead on some Universal Constructors we can use. There are four sites to choose from.

Re:JC, This is Tracer Tong. (1)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879604)

Damn, Tracer, you fail at counting. Sure you can operate this thing from a distance?

Damn damn damn shoulda previewed yes I know, joke fails.

DOE? (0)

denzacar (181829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879878)

So I guess the E stands for entertainment?
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