Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review of Nanodays

The Nanodays event held in Washington, DC was impressive. The informal education people are doing a remarkable job and need to be applauded. I had the opportunity to visit with friends from the Museum of Science in Boston and new friends at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. Two days later I participated in the NanoDays project in Durham at the Museum and expect to have a long and productive relationship with them in the years ahead or as long as I stay st NCSU.

That evening (04/02/08) I went over to the Woodrow Wilson Center to watch the roll-out of the Fred Friendly seminars documentary and the review is in the next post. Generally, this is a start. It could have been better but it was a welcomed beginning though I still maintain we need a true documentary and soon.

To learn more about the day, go to I thought there was no reason to be redundant.

Review of "Powers of the Small"


I watched every minute of these.

Overall, these three pieces do not qualify as documentaries in the popular understanding of the term. It has generally a mediocre production value. One of its primary drawbacks is the implicit assumption that the audience understands what nanotechnology is. The moderator, John Hockenberry, is correct these are hypothetical and that is not what we need at this point in time.

First, the Fred Friendly seminar model is a good one for talking heads in a panel format. I am challenging whether it was appropriate for what needed to be done.

Second, it is not a documentary in the tradition of Flaherty or Grierson’s “creative treatment of actuality”; it is an orchestrated interview (a seminar) in the mode of Sunday morning news shows. Put simply, it is not aesthetically sufficient given to low level of perception and understanding associated with all things nano. The excitement of what is “nano” is missing from this set of interviews.

Hypothetical applications have dominated the debate on applied nanoscience for far too long. What we need to do is introduce the technology and not focus on applications. This is a “horse before the cart” problem. A case can be made to do both simultaneously but these three pieces do not fit the bill. I speak in public a lot and the questions remain rudimentary and about the technology per se. Focusing on applications this early in the game reminds me of the claims about virtual reality a few decades ago.


The opening scenario about an Alzheimer patient and a tracking device and its impact on privacy is reasonably interesting but to the audience without an understanding of nanoscience and nanotechnology it hardly scratches the surface of current applications. In addition, there is little distinction about how nanoscience will sufficiently increase the privacy concerns given microchips are already available. Nano is a piece of technology with a lot of functionality. As George Whitesides comments, nanoscience only makes it smaller. The impact on personal safety from predators was a clear example of irrelevancies introduced into the discussion. The discussion of data leakage was interesting but irrelevant. The terrorism attack on a rail line scenario bespeaks the CCTV trend in Europe link analysis notwithstanding. The National ID on steroids does not need nanoscience to be an invasion of individual privacy. While computation might be faster, this does not resolve the underlying ethical foundation upon which these concerns are constructed. I especially liked the remark: “Nanotechnology: Killer of Marriages.”


Living to 150? Museum exhibits about medicine, communication, energy, health & safety…? There is a discussion of insurance, privacy, and the interface with biotechnology.

What follows is a discussion on sensor technology and quantities of information. This module seems more relevant than the one reviewed above since the digital doctor is not unlikely.

There is some indication developments in nanoscience supported sensing technology might expose us to a lot more false positive diagnoses due to the excessive data but the interview degenerates into a discussion on medical ethics far from nanoscience. Iatrogenic issues presumably aggravated by nanoscience are mentioned but totally undeveloped without a single illustration. Then the discussion reverts to pilots with sensors that might detect alcohol and whether this level of monitoring is justified.

Next we get Oscar and Parkinson’s treatment. We learn that technology may already exist. Oops! Where’s the nano?

Then we move to genetic switches that affect aging. We don’t need nano to engage in genetic engineering. Most of the panel seems fine with death. That’s good. Peter Singer does raise the important issues of the rich-poor gap when it comes to technological applications. Singer sees an ethical dilemma that might be helped by nanoscience. “Shouldn’t we just do it and face those problems?” asked Michael Roukes. This is an interesting question that deserved to be much better vetted. I was glad to hear him move back to this remark.

Eventually, the team got to intergenerational conflict and that does not get vetted as well.

Life prolongation may be advanced substantially by nanotechnology, but there was very little here linking the two beyond pure speculation.


Sunnyville, USA. Welcome to a fictional city council and let’s play counterfactual. One of the problems with this model is resolved in earlier work of mine that criticizes the utility of counterfactuals as arguments and I may attach some of this at a later date.

Finally, we get a discussion about the real technology. We begin with solar panel technology. Jeff Grossman, Dan Kammen, and Clayton Teague actually offered a clear description of the technology and its relationship to nanoscience. Then we return to counterfactuals.

Richard Denison & Andrew Maynard bring us back to Earth when they begin to discuss shortcomings in regulations. What follows is a scenario involving Admiral Chicken and sensing technology to protect consumers from exposure to salmonella. Andrew Maynard keeps the discussion real by drawing the discussion back to nano-engineering. The discussion moves toward health-safety. Teague returns to present regulatory responses but is challenged again and again by Denison. Maynard actually attempts to explain encapsulation of favors using nanoscience and its potential relevance to a recipe for fried chicken. Teague adds use of encapsulation in chocolates.

The final scenario deals with a company dumping toxic wastes. Dan Kammen indicated some life cycle concerns when nanoparticles are released into an environment which is a lot more troubling than when nanoparticles are embedded in a polymer matrix. Kulinowski take zero valent ion to rust admitting we need to know a lot more. She admits nanorust might be problematic with Maynard and Denison in agreement. I did enjoy watching Kulinowski jumps to push nanomagnets under research at Rice. Hmmm?

Next the discussion moves to sunscreens and cosmetics. I have written enough on sunscreens in the next issues of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research. Kulinowski and Maynard offer guarded remarks. Kulinowski adds the industry is guarding research.

The debate on cosmetics is still ongoing and rightly so.

There is an animated discussion on labeling making this video of the three worth watching.

We still need a documentary that exposes the technology written and produced in a registry that is appropriate for public consumption.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Back again in the proverbial saddle

Sorry for the long delay in posting but I was moving into my new digs. My office is now in Winston 102 on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. I signed my condo lease through May 2009. I have been writing quite a bit (picture at right [Berube at 1]).
“Intuitive Toxicology: The Public Perception of Nanoscience,” Nanoethics: Emerging Debates, Allhoff, F. & Lin, P., eds., London: Springer, 2008, x-x.

“Future of Nano,” Nano-Predictions: Big Thinkers on the Smallest Technology, Burgess, S. & Lin, P., eds., NY: Wiley 2008, x-x.

“Stakeholder Participation in Nanotechnology Policy Debates” Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society, Bennett, D. ed. London: CRC Press (Taylor & Francis), 2008, x-x.

“Nanoscience, Water and Society: Public Engagement at and below the Surface,"
Nanotechnology Applications: Solutions for Improving Water Quality, Diallo, M., Duncan, J., Savage, N, Street, A., and Sustich, R., eds , NY: William Andrew Publishing, 2008, x-x.

"Public Acceptance of Nanomedicine: A Personal Perspective", Nanomedicine, J. Baker, ed., NY: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, 2008, x-x.
In addition, I finished four grant proposals (S&S and a DRU) and two that were CEIN full proposals. We wait now to learn if we are invited for reverse site visits on the CEINs. It's a competitive field so we will have to hope for the best. I am in DC right now. Will be attending the 3PM program in the Rayburn Building to see what our museum friend are up to and at 5:30 I will get to the Woodrow Wilson Center for the roll out of the "Nanotechnology: The Power of Small" documentary. I will fly back to Raleigh tomorrow morning and will teach my grad. seminar in RISK COMMUNICATION at 3PM and will head to the Durham Museum of Life and Science for a forum on Nanotechnology and Alternative Energy. We are getting the NIRT together now that it was transferred to NCSU with U. South Carolina as a subaward. We are planning the opening workshop on August 7-8 in Raleigh. It will be advertised next week. I am finalizing the invitations and schedule over the weekend. "No rest for the wicked." Finally, I am fielding a lot of requests for conferences after the article I wrote for the recent issue of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research on risk profile shifts in the debate over nanoparticles in sunscreens. DOI 10.1007/s11051-008-9362-7. To date all the reviews were positive.