Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nano-Savvy Journalism

Finals are over, so it's back to blogging.

Nathan Tinker, "NanoSavvy Journalism," BEST OF NANO WEEK Volume 2, Number 4, April 20, 2005 (see


This is a brief report but an excellent one. Mr. Tinker begins by noting "in 2004, no fewer than 12,343 stories were printed about nanotechnology ... up from 7,631 in 2003." He adds "in the first two months of 2005 alone nanotechnology has been referenced more than 2,600 times in the popular press."

Tinker goes on to criticize the publications be condemning them for providing little information and confusing readers. I would add there is an incredible amount of redundancy as well. At the USC NanoCenter we have a team of researchers whose primary job is to find everything in print and read much of it. I am one of those researchers.

One of the most important statements made by Tinker is his explanation "Nanoscience is not nanotechnology."

I have this argument with researchers all the time. For example, one of them will do a search for nanoscience and then report thousands upon thousands of articles in the scientific, esp. the chemical, literature. I tell them they are wrong, that is nanoscience, not applied nanoscience and definitely not nanotechnology. Too often the ideology of the researcher commits them to over- claiming the breadth of the field. Nanotechnology is still a young discipline and it is not overwhelmingly difficult to develop a competency in it.

And it was a pleasure to find someone else, in this case Tinker, making the same claim I have for about a year. "Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale. Nanotechnologies are the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at nanometer scale."

This short paper is incredibly useful because it is direct and does answer FAQs on nanotechnology. I plan of directing inquiries to it to help resolve some of the more common misunderstandings about nanotechnology. I am so impressed I ordered The Nanotech compnay's new book, Nanotech Fortunes: Make Yours in the Boom, and plan to review it on this blog.


Anonymous said...

But aren't these people one of the worst purveyoprs of hype? Nanotech Fortunes?

Richard Jones said...

I'm not as keen as you on this piece, for reasons I explain here.

And while the distinction between nanoscience and nanotechnology is important, I think people have been making it in similar terms for some time. For example, in our 2003 UK Economic and Social Research Council report (The Social and Economic Challenges of Nanotechnology, download here), we wrote:
"We should distinguish between nanoscience, which is here now and flourishing, and nanotechnology, which is still in its infancy. Nanoscience is a convergence of physics, chemistry, materials science and biology, which deals with the manipulation and characterisation of matter on length scales between the molecular and the micron size. Nanotechnology is an emerging engineering discipline that applies methods from nanoscience to create products."
I seem to remember stealing this formula from George Whitesides.

Richard Jones said...

Sorry, the links in that comment seem to have gone horribly wrong.

My objections to "Nanosavvy Journalism":
ESRC report:

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