Tag Archives: Howard Lovy

E-paper technology takes another step forward, spooky magnetic attractions, and the business of nano

If you’ve read Neal Stephenson’s ‘Diamond Age’ then you’ll probably remember a passage near the beginning where a main character unrolls his flexible screen before glancing at the daily news. We’re not there yet with e-paper because there’s a problem with brightness (reflectance of ambient light). Most e-paper screens give 40% reflectance and that’s not been enough until this week when Gamma Dyanmics took a step closer to achieving the e-newspaper dream with their electrofluidic display. They are working on a international joint project with the University of Cincinnati, Sun Chemical, and Polymer Visual. They’ve unveiled a prototype and published a paper in the May issue of Nature Photonics (this is behind a paywall). For a consumer-friendly article describing the work, go to Fast Company here. For more technically-minded descriptions go here for a longer version and here for a shorter version.

Thanks to Fast Company, I found this video called, Magnetic Attractions. Artists at NASA created a short video illustrating various magnetic forces. What makes it spooky? They even show the forces extending through walls. You can see it here.

You might want to take a boo at Howard Lovy’s March 2009 posting about nano business and nano possibilities on Small Tech Talk. It was written in response to this (from Lovy’s post),

It has gotten to the point now where Scott E. Rickert, chief executive of Nanofilm Ltd., has gone as far as to declare that “the era of endless exploration is over — at least as long as the economy stumbles.” Writing in IndustryWeek, Rickert expresses his impatience now with nanotech information that is not directly related to business.

“Nanobusiness is business. Period. First, last, always,” Rickert declares.

I like Lovy’s response to this. As for me, some of the business people have extremist positions not that far removed from those of some scientists who think that they should be allowed to research whatever they want and that business is a dirty word.

How are Canadian businesses responding to this fuzzy reporting plan?

It’s really one response and I thank Howard Lovy (nanobot.blogspot.com) for pointing me to his interview with Neil Gordon (entrepreneur and ex-president of the defunct Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance) in Small Times here.  Not unexpectedly, Gordon feels that this new requirement (although it’s a one-time request at this point) will chase nano-based business out of Canada. I have mixed feelings about the comment; I’m mildly sympathetic and at the same time exasperated.

On the sympathy side, this sounds like a very poorly thoughtout plan for some sort of registry. Maybe there’s more to it than we know but now Environment Canada scientists are no longer allowed to talk with journalists directly (since Feb. 2008, all queries have to be sent to a central communications office and then you get an email answer or possibly granted an interview with someone), it’s less easy than it used to be to get information. in any event, implementation is the key to these things and I’m not sure how you could implement it. Here are a few sample questions: Do you send out a form? (Anyone who’s ever designed a form or a questionnaire from scratch can tell you that it’s not easy.)  Who fills it out? Are you going to fine businesses that don’t fill it out? What happens if you do get information? Did you ask questions that would give you useful information?

If it’s not done well, businesses will lose time, money, and energy for absolutely no purpose. I’m not against information-gathering exercises per se but you’d better do it the right way otherwise it is a colossal waste.

As for the exasperation, I’ve heard this type of ‘business will leave’ comment before (many times). These kinds of government information-gathering exercises exist because they need the information. Ultimately, it could prove helpful to Canadian business.

As for Gordon’s disgruntlement over nanotechnology funding and how all the money goes to university and government laboratories … hmm. I think the problem goes a little deeper. As far as I’ve been able to find out, there is no nanotechnology funding strategy for Canada. The whole thing seems rather higgledy piggledy. Also, research in Canada has mostly been done traditionally in university and government laboratories and not in business laboratories. There are exceptions but those laboratories have disappeared or are disappearing (as they seem to be even in the US [Bell Labs] where they have a tradition of business laboratories).

I might be somewhat biased in my view of Canadian business since I come from British Columbia and the business model for high technology (I’m shoving nano into the high tech category) is pretty simple. You graduate from university or work there, get a good idea, create a startup company, become successful, and sell it to a large US company for a fortune. Creating a substantive and ongoing research laboratory (e.g. IBM, HP Labs, and Xerox PARC), is not part of the equation.

For some of Howard Levy’s other February and January 2009 postings about the proposed information-gathering about nanotechnology use in business exercise, go here. Or for more specific posting addresses, see the comments to my Feb. 2, 2009 posting.

Talking nano

I’ve come across a couple interesting blog postings and a podcast about the journalistic, marketing, and communication problems posed by nanotechnology. First here’s my take as informed by reading the postings and listening to the podcast. The journalistic issue is that nanotechnology is one of those science stories that are tough to sell because if people don’t understand at least some of the underlying scientific principles making  nanotechnology very hard to discuss without a lot of ‘educational detail’ and that kind of detail can limit your potential audience.  You can find another perspective on this by Howard Lovy here.

From a marketing communications or public relations perspective, there’s a lot of promising research that suggests beneficial applications and/or potentially serious risks. It’s hard to tell if the word nano will be perceived as good, bad, or descriptive (e.g. electronic is a neutral description whereas atomic and nuclear have accrued negative connotations). Here‘s another take on the issue.

Making the whole writing/journalism/marketing communication/activism (aside: activists also want to stake nanotechnology territory) thing even harder is the (generally accepted but not official) definition of nanotechnology is a measurement. This fact is still debated within the scientific community (some don’t accept the current definition) and it doesn’t mean much to most people outside the scientific community. As for why it matters? We need ways to discuss things that affect us and it seems that if scientists have their way, nanotechnology will. For more about why it’s important to find ways to talk about nanotechnology, go here for a podcast interview with Stine Grodal, a professor at Boston University.