Friday, March 31, 2006

Why brush your teeth if you have nano?

Researchers at the Universität Witten/Herdecke just reported a new invention that will make brushing your teeth a thing of the past. Using nanotechnology, the German researchers developed a lacquer that will protect teeth. When a person chews, tiny nanoparticles in the lacquer burst and release fluorides that prevent cavities. The nano-based lacquer also prevents tartar and comes in a menthol version that keeps your breath fresh at all times.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Buckyballs in cosmetics: More info on testing?

Chemical & Engineering News just published a piece on Fullerenes for the Face, urging caution about the use of C60 fullerenes in cosmetic products. Interestingly enough, the article does not make an argument against the use of C60-based cosmetics based on toxicity or other scientific research. Nor does it argue that there hasn’t been enough internal testing by pharmaceutical firms. Rather, it criticizes the lack of public communication about the testing that has been done:

“In the course of his work as chief science adviser with the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Andrew D. Maynard has learned that many manufacturers have been diligent about carrying out safety tests, some going so far as to have independent safety tests conducted outside the company. ‘They don't seem to have thought about telling anybody that they've done it,’ he says. ‘There is very little out there that the manufacturers have made publicly available. We find that consumers usually have to ask the manufacturer for that information. It's not something that they seem to be publicizing widely.’”

(Click here for the full story.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

When your clothes are smarter than you are

Nothing to add to this UPI headline ...

"LONDON, March 26 (UPI) -- Smart casual takes on a different meaning in Britain, as synthetic computerized smart clothes monitor cardiac health, muffle smells or download podcasts.

The nanotechnology clothing can also change texture and tell a washing machine which cycle it should use. Soon smart apparel will advertise sexual availability and display its owner's changing emotions in kaleidoscopic color, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

High-tech firms such as Sony Corp., Bosch Group, Motorola and DuPont are pouring money into research and development projects involving "intelligent" fabrics.

Soon, most garments may have some kind of microchip technology sewn in -- and for the sloppy, more and more clothes are including stain-resistant or spill-resistant finishes."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New European study: The importance of understanding nano … and the public just reported on a study by researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH) today on the risks and opportunities of nanotechnology. The study examined research practices and opinions of researchers in 32 companies in Switzerland and Germany. The researchers also conducted a national survey of almost 900 Swiss citizens on their views of nanotech and nanotech regulations.

I will post more specific details once I have seen the report. But here are a few interesting findings, based on the report:

“The findings concluded that people are happy to use products such as skis, but were not so keen to consume nanoparticles or put them on their skin in the form of sun lotion or cosmetics.

The science of nanotechnology could founder on the same negative publicity that dogged genetics unless more is done to assess risks, a Swiss report warns.

Researchers from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich found a lack of guidelines and effort to identify potential side effects, but the Swiss authorities are working to redress the problem.”
And given the lack of federal guidelines, the following findings are not very surprising:

“Only two of the 32 companies in Switzerland and Germany surveyed by the institute had investigated the effects of absorption of nanoparticles by living organisms. Three-quarters admitted they had not carried out risk assessments on research or on their products.

One in five had examined whether products containing nanoparticles could be toxic while a quarter did not know whether tests had been carried out.”

The other interesting aspect of this study, summarized in a separate press release on ETH’s web site: NGOs apparently have dropped the ball on this so far:

“In order to build trust, however, more information is needed–and this is where the stumbling block lies. To be sure, the view of the actors in the nano business is that it is the responsibility of the media, NGOs and governing bodies to inform the population. In reality, however, they are not fulfilling this function. ‘The NGOs don't seem to have discovered this theme, yet’ surmises [Arnim] Wiek [at ETH]. Switzerland's Federal Office for Public Health (BAG) and the Swiss Agency for the Environment (BAFU) are currently working on the construction of a new information platform on nano-technology.”

Michael Siegrist, an expert on risk perceptions and trust related to new technologies and a senior researcher at the ETH Zurich, summarized the findings on

“‘We found that lay people perceived more risks than the experts,’ he said: ‘The problem with this is that we might end up in the same situation as we had with gene technology.’

Siegrist believes communication and targeted marketing are the keys to the industry's success.

‘If the industry resists making claims they cannot fulfil and provides applications that are useful to consumers, then we could avoid the problems we had with GM [genetically modified] food,’ he said.

‘People are more prepared to accept potential risks of mobile phones than they are with GM tomatoes that have a longer shelf life.’”

Monday, March 20, 2006

A new addition to the toolkit for nano researchers: plants

Researchers at the John Innes Plant Science Research Centre used a virus that usually infects black-eyed peas to create new electronically active nanoparticles. The research was published in the journal Small.

Nanobiotechnology will be an interesting area to watch in term of public reactions. Using plants to create nano particles is probably perceived as good science. Anything that even remotely resembles the opposite, i.e., nano being used in connection with food-products or crops, will be a very different issue.

Click here for the full article from

"UK scientists from Norwich have used a plant virus to create nanotechnology building blocks. The virus, which infects black-eyed peas, was employed as a "scaffold" on to which other chemicals were attached. By linking iron-containing compounds to the virus's surface, the John Innes Centre team was able to create electronically active nanoparticles. The researchers tell the journal Small that their work could be used in the future to make tiny electrical devices. The work is yet another example of how scientists are now trying to engineer objects on the scale of atoms and molecules."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Technology forums to gather citizen feedback

In an interview with Earth & Sky Radio, Dave Guston, Director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU), recently outlined his views of citizen technology forums as tools for public outreach:
"The idea is in some sense to turn the tables on the experts. . . . What we're doing in the citizens technology forums is instead making the deliberating panel a group of lay citizens. And the citizens get to frame the question and the way the experts address that question. And they get to make inquiries directly of the experts themselves who have the status before the citizens panel more of witnesses than of people doing the deliberating and recommending to the policy makers."
CNS-ASU will conduct citizen technology forums as part of their research team on Deliberation and Participation. Among its goals:
"To develop multiple, plausible visions nanotechnology-enabled futures, elucidate public preferences – especially values from underserved communities – for various alternatives and, using such preferences, help further refine future visions and enhance contextual awareness."

(Click here for Earth & Sky radio's
complete list of nano programs.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What is nano and what is not? Look it up ...

A new, public directory allows citizens to check where nano applications and materials are being used in commercially-available products. The Wilson Center just opened a new web site, devoted exclusively to their recently completed Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory:
"While not comprehensive, this inventory gives the public the best available look at the 200+ nanotechnology-based consumer products currently on the market. Prior to this inventory, the figure most often cited by the U.S. government was that approximately 80 consumer products containing nanomaterials were being sold."
(For a 1.1MB PDF copy of the initial report, click here.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New Nano Salary and Employment Study

SmallTimes magazine just released its 2006 compensation survey for the nano and micro sector. There is little information on sampling procedures and response rates, and at least some of the findings seem to suggest that certain groups, such as post-docs, were more likely to respond to the survey and therefore overrepresented in the final sample.

With these limitations in mind, the most interesting section is probably is the overview of Engineer/researcher compensation – global and U.S. Other findings are summarized in the press release:
"SmallTimes conducted a compensation survey of micro and nano professionals that revealed an overall trend in higher compensation and expanding job opportunities. More than 1,300 micro and nano professionals throughout the United States and 36 other countries responded.

Key findings include:

  • On a global basis, the average salary in micro and nanotechnology is $84,605. In the United States, the average salary is $97,978.
  • Expect those numbers to rise: 64 percent of U.S. employees received a raise in 2005, and 75 percent said they expected to receive a raise in 2006.
  • Salaries are rising even faster in hot developing countries. For example, although the average micro and nano salary in India is only $15,850, a full 81 percent expect a raise of more than 5 percent in 2006."

(Click here for the complete survey results.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Nano Helps Researchers Restore Vision In Rodents Blinded By Brain Damage

A forthcoming MIT study will certainly help nano proponents make their case. The study--which will be published in the next issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences--discusses a medical application of nanotechnology which may open up new ways of treating effects of spinal cord injuries, serious stroke and severe traumatic brain injuries.
"Rodents blinded by a severed tract in their brains' visual system had their sight partially restored within weeks, thanks to a tiny biodegradable scaffold invented by MIT bioengineers and neuroscientists.

This technique, which involves giving brain cells an internal matrix on which to regrow, just as ivy grows on a trellis, may one day help patients with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and stroke.

The study, which will appear in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of March 13-17, is the first that uses nanotechnology to repair and heal the brain and restore function of a damaged brain region."

(For the full Medical News Today report, click here.)

Update: Here's the link to the PNAS article.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nano protects garden gnomes

With most journalists pushing the nano puns toward the intolerable, I am reluctant to add fuel to the fire. But this one is too good to pass up on. Der Standard reports about a new type of nano spray that protects buildings and -- as the Standard writes -- garden gnomes from spraypainting vandals. And all of that at €20-50 per square meter. Nano spray for dwarves should help public acceptance at least in the German-speaking parts of Europe.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Businesses see policy agenda building as key to success

"So what are the nanotech community's recommendations to policymakers for maintaining competitive strength?" Scott E. Rickert asked in this week. His answers read like a manual for shaping public opinion and public policy:

"First, it means you need to be engaged with your legislators on the topic. It's too important to America for any of us to sit idly by. Do you know where you can have the most impact? Get your nano-plans on the front burner -- whether you're a buyer or seller of nano-products. Your government wants and needs you to succeed!"

These ideas, of course, are not new. In 1972, political scientists Roger W. Cobb and Charles D. Elder outlined their concept of agenda building*, i.e., the competing effors by policy makers, interest groups, journalists and other players in the policy arena to shape the dominant issues on the media agenda. And in the area of nanotechnology, some of the agenda building efforts are beginning to pay off. Scott E. Rickert reports:

"Early support of this approach is already evident in Washington. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts has drafted legislation on a tax credit. With the powerhouse of MIT and other nanotechnology giants in his state, it's no wonder he's among the first to see the potential. Let's hope others -- on both sides of the aisle -- see the advantage."

* Roger W. Cobb and Charles D. Elder, Participation in American Politics The Dynamics of Agenda-Building. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972.

Monday, March 06, 2006

BASF to spend two thirds of its R&D budget on nano-related work

With global profits from nanotechnology projected to reach a trillion dollars by 2015 (as predicted by the National Science Foundation), BASF just announced that it would spend about two thirds of its 2006 worldwide budget (about €750) on nanotech-related applications and projects.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Majority of all nano investments in medicine, consumer electronics, and advanced materials

Just in time for the Wilson Center's release of their Nanoproduct Inventory (see today's earlier posting), Cientifica's latest report suggests that there is not much profitability in nano-only investments. More interestingly, however, the report also breaks down 2005 investment in nano-related products and services by sector. Almost two thirds of all investments went to three major sectors: Medical and pharmaceutical investments, consumer electronics, and chemicals and advanced materials (see figure to the left).

(For a copy of the full report, click here. (requires free registration))

More nano products than we thought?

Wilson Center about to publish First Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory

"The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars [...] is set to launch the only publicly available, online, and searchable inventory of nanotechnology-based consumer products [...].

This inventory is intended to provide the public with a better understanding of how nanotechnology is being applied to a wide range of consumer products, the nanomaterials used, specific brands, and how many products are available for consumer use. Importantly, the number of consumer products in the inventory far exceeds previous estimates.

The event will showcase a sampling of nano products, from paint to cosmetics and high performance sporting goods. Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies experts will be available to discuss the inventory, to explain how it was compiled, and to demonstrate its use."

Scheduled Release of the Inventory:

Friday, March 10, 2006, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.

David Rejeski, Director, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
Andrew Maynard, Science Advisor, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
Evan Michelson, Research Associate, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 5th Floor Conference Room. (The Wilson Center is located in the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC)

Nano backlash because of knowledge deficits?

The knowledge deficit model seems to be alive and well. UPenn's Daily Pennsylvanian reports today about public education efforts at Penn's Nano/Bio Interface Center:

"Engineering professor Dawn Bonnell, who is the director of Penn's NANO/BIO Interface Center, said that the Center fights myths by making clear definitions of nanotechnology.

Dispelling myths about the field, experts say, may stave off a backlash fueled by science fiction."

The idea behind the knowledge deficit model, of course, is that attitudes about scientific breakthroughs are to some degree shaped by what citizens know about these new technologies. And the more citizens know, the model assumes, the more likely they will be to support these new technologies.

The key problem: Empirical support for this model is mixed at best. In our most recent survey on nanotech, we found that the knowledge deficit model does not apply to nanotech at this point. Rather, audiences rely on a series of heuristics or cognitive shortcuts that are provided by mass media (see figure above). The way an issue is framed or the perceptual lenses that audiences use play much more of a role in shaping public attitudes, especially with a public that is largely uninformed about nanotech.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Too much privacy with nano?

In a 2004 national survey on public attitudes toward nanotechnology, we found issues related to privacy to be the most salient concern about the new technology among the U.S. public (see figure to the right.)

Of course, most respondents were probably referring to virtually invisible surveillance devices and tiny robots. Ironically, a new innovation in the area of nanotech may give citizens more rather than less privacy: wall paint that blocks cell phone signals on demand.

The Chicago Tribune reported on this new paint today, which is being developed by NaturalNano, a Rochester, NY-based company, and is based on tiny copper particles, inserted into nanotubes, that can be applied as wall paint and activated if needed. The applications are endless: movie theaters, classrooms, hospitals … and, apparently, churches.

"You could use this in a concert hall, allowing cell phones to work before the concert and during breaks, but shutting them down during the performance," said Michael Riedlinger, president of NaturalNano.

Others were much more concerned.

"We oppose any kind of blocking technology," said Joe Farren, spokesman for The Wireless Association, the leading cell phone trade group. "What about the young parents whose baby-sitter is trying to call them, or the brain surgeon who needs notification of emergency surgery? These calls need to get through."

(Read the full Chicago Tribune article here.)