Monday, October 29, 2007

IIT/National Press Club conference on nano risk and policy

Center on Nanotechnology and Society
2nd Annual Nanopolicy Conference:
Faces of Risk: Nanopolicy and the Agenda for Safety and Society

November 30, 2007
1:00 - 5:30 p.m.
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

Speakers include:
  • Carol Henry of the American Chemistry Council;
  • David Rejeski of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars;
  • Charles Rubin of Duquesne University and frequent contributor to The New Atlantis;
  • Jonathan Moreno of University of Pennsylvania and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress;
  • Margaret Glass of the National Science Foundation-funded Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net);
  • Dietram A. Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University;
  • Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO;
  • Dahlia Sokolov of the House Science Committee professional staff.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New blog: Revkin's "Dot Earth"

The New York Times' Andrew Revkin just started his new environmental blog "Dot Earth." Here's an excerpt from Revkin's email announcement:

"I hope to make it a useful running conversation on how we head toward 9 billion with the fewest regrets. A conversation, though, needs voices (and not just me!). This is definitely going to be a two-way portal."

The blog is housed at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New paradigms for science communication? Chronicle of Higher Education comments on "The Scientist" piece

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a short essay today summarizing the key points from this month's cover article that Matt Nisbet and I wrote for The Scientist. Here's an excerpt:
The authors acknowledge the view that scientists should focus on research and leave the explanations to journalists and media-relations officers, saying that “in an ideal world, that's exactly what should happen." But in reality, they say, it is the researchers who ultimately end up in the public eye, giving interviews, writing books or articles, and advising policy makers.

“The stakes are high,” the authors add. “If across the media, scientists and their organizations are not effective in getting their messages across, then others will be.”

(Click here for the full article [for subscribers only].)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Just a theory" -- WIRED on reframing scientific debates

Clive Thompson's essay in the November issue of WIRED magazine is titled "A war of words: Science will triumph only when theory becomes law." And Thompson's central argument may not be new, but it's painfully on target. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement has hijacked the word "theory" and stripped it of its original academic meaning in public discourse. "Just a theory," in ID newspeak, means a lack of scientific certainty and something that is open to interpretation.

And the frame stuck. The public has bought into the idea. This, of course, highlights once again the need for scientists to pay attention to their language when communicating publicly about science. The words and frames they use to present their findings and their disciplines can have a a huge impact on long-term public discourse and public thinking about scientific issues. I have written about this repeatedly (for overviews, see nanopublic posts from September 30, 2007 and August 30, 2007, for example).

And Thompson's suggestions for a solution follow the same logic. He argues that we need a reframing of science ... not the content, just the label:
"For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let's stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let's revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as law."

(Click here for the WIRED piece.)
Unfortunately, it may be too late for that. Most academic research (for an overview, click here and here) suggests that once a frame is established in public discourse it is difficult to change. And the uncertainty frame around the "just a theory" slogan didn't have much competition from scientists for a long time. At this stage of the debate, it may be impossible to counter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Terabyte laptops soon, based on nanotech breakthrough?

Are you running out of hard drive space on your laptop? Or does your Zune still feel to big? Nanotech may soon offer a solution. Researchers at Hitachi have apparently reduced existing recording heads for computer hard drives by a factor of more than two to achieve new heads in the 30-50 nanometer (nm) range:

One of Hitachi's current models

"TOKYO, Oct. 15, 2007 -- Hitachi, Ltd. (NYSE: HIT / TSE: 6501) and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST), announced today they have developed the world's smallest read-head technology for hard disk drives, which is expected to quadruple current storage capacity limits to four terabytes (TB) on a desktop hard drive and one TB on a notebook hard drive.

[...] Called current perpendicular-to-the-plane giant magneto-resistive*1 (CPP-GMR) heads, Hitachi's new technology is expected to be implemented in shipping products in 2009 and reach its full potential in 2011.

Hitachi will present these achievements at the 8th Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Conference (PMRC 2007), to be held 15th -17th October 2007, at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan."

(Click here for a copy of the full press release.)

All of this follows last week's announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud in France and Peter Grünberg of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany for their work in nanotechnology that paved the way for the current generation of iPod-sized hard drives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Integrated nano campaign by Germany's chemical industry

European companies have learned their lessons from Frankenfood and Magic Nano. Most recently, the Initiative for Dialogue about Chemistry [Initiative Chemie im Dialog], a German industry organization trying to promote a better understanding between the chemical industry and the public, and DDB Düsseldorf rolled out their latest ad campaign, based on the slogan "Chemistry builds future" [Chemie macht Zukunft]. Here's an excerpt from the campaign web site:
"A lineup of ads present fascinating examples to show how emerging technologies will make our lives more comfortable, cleaner, and safer in the future. [...] When researchers improve manufacturing techniques and products, they often use solutions found in nature and simply adjust them to human needs."

"Ein werblicher Auftritt zeigt an verblüffenden Beispielen, wie neue Technologien künftig unser Leben bequemer, sauberer und sicherer machen. [...] Bei der Verbesserung von Produktionsverfahren und Produkten nutzen die Forscher häufig intelligente Lösungen der Natur und passen sie unseren Bedürfnissen an."
Again, Europeans have learned their lessons, relying on the "nano is nature" frame. The implicit argument is simple: Nanotechnology has little to do with manipulating nature or creating new, unnatural substances. Rather, it capitalizes on what has been part of nature for thousands of years and uses it to make the world safer, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly.

The narrative of the ads -- featured in mainstream political and business magazines -- directly feed into this larger frame:
"Thanks to nanotechnology, we will soon have environmentally friendly sources of lighting covering entire walls. [...] And they use significantly less energy than traditional energy-saving lightbulbs. But in order to allow the chemical industry to continue to turn research into successful consumer products, we need a social environment that is open-minded toward emerging technologies."

"Dank Nanotechnologie zieren umweltfreundliche Lichtquellen bald grossflächig die Wände.
[...] [Und sie] werden deutlich weniger Strom als herkömmliche Energiesparlampen verbrauchen. Damit die Chemie in Deutschland ihre Forschung weiterhin erfolgreich in Produkte umsetzen kann, braucht sie ein aufgeschlossenes Umfeld gegenüber modernen Technologien."
Most interestingly, however, a different set of ads also targets opinion leaders and policymakers. They are print ads based on excerpts from interviews with leading scientists, discussing the potential payoffs from investments in these new technologies, and run in political magazines and weeklies.

Here's an excerpt from one of the featured interviews with Nobel Prize winning physicist and co-inventor of the scanning tunneling microscope Gerd Karl Binning:
"How can we promote public acceptance of these new technologies?
It is important to communicate openly and create a basic level of trust in science. We as researchers enter uncharted territory, but we will keep the risks as small as possible. And not being creative and not exploring may be even more dangerous, because it simply means giving in to one's environment. How we want to live is not a question with easy answers. My kids use the World Wide Web, for example, exactly the same way I used to read books as a child. But 20 years ago, nobody thought that the Internet was a desirable new technology."

["Wie kann man es schaffen, dass neue Technologien angenommen werden?

Man muss offen kommunizieren und damit grundsätzlich Vertrauen in die Wissenschaft schaffen. Wir Forscher begeben uns auf Neuland, aber wir werden die Risiken so klein halten, wie es geht. Beschreitet man den kreativen Weg hingegen nicht, kann das gefährlicher sein, weil man sich den Umweltbedingungen ausliefert. Wie man leben will, ist freilich keine einfach zu beantwortende Frage. Meine Kinder benutzen das World Wide Web heute so selbstverständlich wie ich früher Bücher. Vor 20 Jahren hätte niemand das Internet als wünschenswerte Einrichtung genannt."]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

UW-Madison No. 2 in federal R&D funding in 2006

From UW's eCALS blog:

"The UW-Madison was number two in terms of federal funding for research and development in academic science and engineering fields in FY 2006, according to university-reported data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges.

Johns Hopkins University was first. However, it’s worth noting is that a significant portion of the funding going to Johns Hopkins is for classified research, which UW-Madison cannot accept. Wisconsin is in the top spot for institutions doing nonclassified funding."

(Click here for the full press release.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize goes political ... and Europeans gloat

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

OSLO, Norway (AP) - Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.

"I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize," Gore said. "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary on global warming, won an Academy Award this year and he had been widely expected to win the prize.

(Click here for the full AP story, and here for the Nobel Prize Committee's summary of this year's decision.)

Gore's cinematic OpEd "An Inconvenient Truth," according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was only one reason for awarding him a share of the prize.

Peace Prize committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said a possible Gore presidential run was not his concern.

"I want this prize to have everyone ... every human being, asking what they should do," Mjoes said. "What he (Gore) decides to do from here is his personal decision."

Mjoes reiterated repeatedly that the prize was not aimed at singling out the Bush administration and its position on global warming.

"A peace prize is never a criticism of anything. A peace prize is a positive message and support to all those champions of peace in the world."

The last American to win the prize or share it was former President Carter in 2002.

Meanwhile, European media are gloating about "a public slap in the face" for President Bush by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and "the inconvenient truth for the current administration" that the prize has "brought to light."
"The Nobel Prize for Al Gore is the most elegant way imaginable of giving George W. Bush a slap in the face for his politics on climate change. It was a smart and highly political choice.

[Die Verleihung des Friedensnobelpreises an Al Gore ist die denkbar eleganteste Art, George W. Bush eine Ohrfeige in Sachen Klimapolitik zu verpassen. Es ist eine kluge und hochpolitische Wahl. ]

[...] The Nobel Prize Committee has done one thing in particular with its choice of Al Gore and the IPCC: And that is criticize the Bush administration's politics on climate change -- and give the President a loud slap in the face. The message to the White House is simple: Do something!"

[[...] das Nobelpreiskomitee hat mit seiner Entscheidung für Gore und den Weltklimarat vor allem eines getan: Die Klimapolitik der Regierung Bush gerügt - und dem Präsidenten eine schallende Ohrfeige versetzt. Die Botschaft lautet: Tut was, Ihr da im Weißen Haus!]

(Click here for the full commentary from Der Stern, a German weekly.]
What's interesting, of course (and maybe a bad form of karma), is that George H. W. Bush, father of the current U.S. President, ridiculed Al Gore as "Ozone Man" during the 1992 Presidential race with Bill Clinton.

All of this wraps up a week of excitement in Europe about European or European-born researchers dominating the scientific part of this year's Nobel lineup.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nanotechnology pioneers win physics Nobel

Excerpt from the Financial Times today:

Two Europeans have won this year’s Nobel physics prize for a nanotechnology discovery that has led to the miniaturisation of hard disks in laptop computers and music players.

Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud in France and Peter Grünberg of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany share the $1.54m prize for discovering the phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance or GMR. It makes it possible to read data that is densely packed on to the surface of a magnetic disk.

(Click here for the full article.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nano silver washing machines again ... on the sense and nonsense of unilateral nano regulations

India's Hindu Times this week reported that Samsung will begin to sell their SilverCare washing machines in India. Samsung's washing machines and other products containing nano-sized silver particles, of course, have been the object of much debate in the U.S. recently and fall under FIFRA reporting requirements (see nanopublic posts from June 6, 2006 and November 23, 2006). As nano products begin to flood international markets, the limited usefulness of attempts to regulate nano applications at the domestic level, of course, becomes painfully obvious.

Samsung launches a new range of washing machines
New Delhi, Oct. 4 (PTI): Ahead of the festive season, Korean consumer durable maker Samsung today introduced a new range of semi-automatic washing machines in India. [...]

With over 10 million dollar invested in R&D, Silver Nano is the first technology that combines the disinfectant and antibiotic properties of electrolytic silver nano-particles (Ag+) in washing machines to remove harmful bacteria, the statement added.

(Click here for the full article.)