Dexter Johnson over on the IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical Engineering and Electronis) Nanoclast blog has written a critique of some science reporting on a nanotechnology breakthrough titled “MIT researchers discover a new energy source: nanotechnology”. From Dexter’s post,
After clicking on the Digg.com article I was led to an article on CNN tech news that offered up some more details on the story. There is nothing inaccurate about the story, but it is somewhat misleading. It seems to gloss over the fact that the energy is created by a chemical reaction that is then amplified by the carbon nanotubes to create an energy wave. The only indication we get in the article that there is a chemical reaction behind this is this: “After coating these tiny wires with a layer of fuel…”
I’m with Dexter on the accuracy issue. While the criticism may seem picayune to uninterested parties, this type of misinformation or lack of clarity when reporting science news leads to confusion as Dexter points out after looking at the comments appended to the article. (I looked it up and it seems CNN changed the title of their article at some point after Dexter’s posting.)
There’s a lot of talk about public engagement in science (particularly in the UK as per Andrew Maynard’s [2020 Science blog] posting and comments here) but one of the necessary elements to public engagement is information about science. Unclear articles like the one on the CNN site are often the only information source for a lot of people which makes public engagement more challenging than it needs to be.
Canada at 150 is the ‘brand’ for the federal Liberal Party’s upcoming convention in Montréal, March 26-28, 2010. The programme is organized around five challenges:
- Jobs Today and Tomorrow: The Productive Society in 2017;
- Real Life Issues for Canadian Families: How Do We Care?;
- Energy, Environment, Economy: Growth and Responsibility in 2017;
- The Creative and Competitive Economy; and
- A Strong Presence in the World of 2017: Commerce, Values, and Relationships.
There are some interesting speakers judging by the biographical notes on the agenda. I’m unfamiliar with any of the speakers with the sole exception is Dr.Martha Cook Piper who is currently on the board for the National Institute of Nanotechnology. Interestingly, this affiliation is not noted in Dr. Piper’s biographical details on the 150 website. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been a surprise since there is no mention of science or technology anywhere on the agenda (at least four of the challenges could have included a science/technology focus) and none of the guest speakers currently listed seem to have been chosen for their expertise in or ability to talk about science or technology issues and how they relate to the challenges.
I’ll be watching and hoping that the Liberals somehow manage to develop a vision for science and technology in Canada or, at least, mention it in passing.
It’s been called a collaboration but the McGill University (Montréal, Canada) and Tegal Corporation deal looks like a purchase to me. From the news item on Nanowerk,
Tegal Corporation, an innovator of specialized production solutions for the fabrication of advanced MEMS, power ICs and optoelectronic devices, today announced it has received an order for a Tegal 110 S/DE DRIE tool from McGill University, a leading research university involved in developing biosensors, biochips and biomaterials using nanostructure methodologies. The Tegal 110 S/DE DRIE tool will ship in the current quarter, and will be installed in the McGill Nanotools – Microfab, located in Montréal, Canada.
Now on to the bits and pieces: The first students to graduate from Waterloo University’s (Ontario, Canada) Engineering Dept.’s nanotechnology programme will be displaying their projects on March 24 and 26, 2010 on campus. From the news item on the Exchange magazine website,
The nanotechnology projects include:
* Fast-tinting Electrochromic Eyewear
The project demonstrates an electrochromic technology that allows controlling the level of tint in prescription eyewear. Glasses can switch between transparent and darkened states almost instantaneously, a dramatic improvement over the unsightly five- to 10-minute delay of competing Transitions lenses when moving from outdoors to indoors. Power is only used when switching, so a simple watch battery is all that is required to operate the device.
* Electronic Nose
The project showcases a special sensor device, inspired by the human nose, that can be incorporated into electronic devices to give them the sense of smell. The device senses a limitless number of gases and determines all of the gases in various gas mixtures and their concentrations. It has the ability to calculate any error in its measurements. The device surpasses the capabilities of the human nose.
* Photodetection of Dichlorvos Pesticide using Lab-on-a-Chip Technology
The project demonstrates a portable lab-on-a-chip device capable of detecting dichlorvos residues, a pesticide currently used by many North American farmers despite concerns about its toxicity and carcinogenicity. The device is inexpensive, easy to operate and eliminates the need for laboratory testing.
* Night vision stealth coating
Infrared detection devices are heavily used in the military field as a method to detect enemy troops in the surrounding environment. As such, the ability to counteract this detection can provide a strategic military advantage. This project introduces a novel coating, using carbon nanotubes, that can be synthesized and applied to fabrics to enable night vision invisibility for stealth operations.
There seems to be a lot more activity on the Canadian nanotechnology scene lately. I’m not sure what that means other than I’ve able to post something with a Canadian nanotech focus at least a couple times a week lately.
For the last bit, I found an interview with Dr. Andrew Maynard (Chief Science Advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and 2020 Science blogger who’s often mentioned here) conducted by Ahmet Yükseltürk on his blog OR For Nanotechnology. Here’s an excerpt from the interview,
5 – What do you think about USA’s national nanotechnology strategy? What else should be done? What are the deficiencies of the system?
That’s a big question, and I’m not sure how completely I can answer it in just a few words. The US National Nanotechnology Initiative has been incredibly influential in stimulating new science and the development of new technologies. I think it is fair to say that the initiative – and the strategy that underpins it – has changed the world. But could it be better? Yes. Three areas in particular I would highlight where I think there is room for improvement:
Understanding the broader social, economic and policy implications of actions. The US is an influential country. When it acts, people respond. So while the US nanotechnology initiative may have been focused on science and technology initially, it has sent ripples through social, economic and policy communities around the world. However, I’m not sure the leaders of the initiative in the US have fully understood the global impacts of their actions, or the responsibility that comes with such “power.” For instance, we now see economies around the world diverting funding into nanotechnology because the US took the lead, and they don’t want to be left out. I wonder in how many cases these changes in investment were driven by an assumption that the US knew best, rather than responding to their own needs. Likewise, the US focus on nanotechnology has led to many broader social and safety questions that have not been addressed well.
Marketing. The US nanotechnology strategy has raised expectations for the technology that haven’t been met – in part because the time it takes to develop new technologies is usually rather longer than just a few years. As a result, there is a danger that researchers, investors and consumers will become disenfranchised with the technology before it has had a chance to reach its full potential.
Then there is the issue of human and environmental safety. To be sure, the US government and other governments and businesses around the world have done an amazing job of attempting to address possible risks before they arise. But the question remains – have they done enough. Last year’s National Academies of Science review of the US environmental, health and safety impacts research strategy indicated more is needed if nanotechnologies are to be developed responsibly.
Do read the interview in its entirety. It’s not long and has general information about Dr. Maynard (I’ve always wondered about his science background) and his take on the nanotechnology scene after being involved in one fashion or another for more than a decade.
Tags: Ahmet Yukselturk, Canada, Canada at 150, carbon nanotubes, Dexter Johnson, Dr. Andrew Maynard, Dr. Martha Cook Piper, electrochromic eyewear, electronic nose, energy, Liberal Party, McGill University, nanotechnology, night vision stealth coating, photodetection of dichlorvos pesticide using Lab-on-a-chip, public engagement, science literacy, science reporting, Tegal Corporation, Waterloo University