According to an IBM news release, today (Sept. 28, 2009) marks the 20th anniversary of the first time anything was written at the nanoscale. The news release has a somewhat different take on it but since I’m a writer I’ve decided to focus on the fact that when Don Eigler used a scanning tunneling microscope to move Xenon (an inert gas) atoms he wrote the letters I B M. Contrast my take on the matter with this from the news item on Azonano,
“Don Eigler’s accomplishment remains, to this day, one of the most important breakthroughs in nanoscience and technology,” said T.C, Chen, IBM Fellow and vice president, Science & Technology, IBM Research. “At the time, the implications of this achievement were so far-reaching they almost seemed like science fiction.
Azonano also features a video clip with Don Eigler (produced by IBM so it does hype nanotechnology) and information about the originators (who also worked for IBM) of the scanning tunneling microscope which was itself a breakthrough. (Side note: In 2007, Eigler described his feat as graffiti using more visual art metaphors than writing metaphors here in a podcast that’s available on San Francisco’s Exploratorium web site. One of the links at the bottom of the podcast takes you to Eigler’s image gallery.)
Over at 2020 Science, Andrew Maynard is highlighting a new nanotechnology website intended for a general interest audience; it’s called Nano & Me. Andrew offers a guide to some of the material on the site. I’d like to add two things, read the whole page and make sure you scroll in all directions. I often skim website pages and don’t bother to scroll too much so I was unimpressed when I read this lede paragraph on their What is Nano? page,
Nano is short for ‘nanotechnology’, although the word itself just means really, really small.
They’ve used techniques that work well in magazines i.e. the lede paragraph is in a larger font (to grab your attention) but all I saw was the paragraph followed by a graphic. I did scroll down a bit but the following paragraphs are in a much smaller font and I didn’t bother reading them given my impression from the lede paragraph.
I then clicked on a couple of other pages to further check out the site later returning to What is Nano? and, based on my other experience, made an effort to read more. Part of the reason I persisted and clicked through to other pages is that I had read Andrew’s description of the site and I find he’s usually a pretty good judge of these things (notwithstanding our discussion of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School as per my Aug. 14, 2009 posting and comments section). One final reminder about the Nano & Me website, don’t forget to scroll from side to side as there’s lots of material in the sidebars.
My interest in research funding and innovation has been piqued again by a few recent items. One such item ( found last week) is on changes to research funding in the UK. From the article by Lin Edwards at Physorg.com,
The UK government is developing a new scheme, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), to assess university research proposals and allocate public funds for research. The scheme is being developed in collaboration with higher education bodies in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, and will make much greater use of quantitative information (bibliometrics) than its predecessor.
The REF will come into effect in 2012 to replace the current system of assessment, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The scheme will allocate the 1.76 billion British pounds (approximately $2.7 billion US) spent annually on university research according to three main elements — outputs, impact, and environment — which are considered to be indicative of excellence in research
The article goes on to note that academics are warning that the new system’s emphasis on outputs will have a bad effect on research that has no direction application, i.e. research that’s described as basic (or fundamental or speculative or curiosity-driven).
Meanwhile, Rob Annan (Don’t leave Canada behind) has posted (US also ponders role of basic research in innovation) about a speech that Barack Obama recently delivered. If you’re interested in reading Obama’s entire speech on Innovation and Sustainable Growth of Sept. 21, 2009, you can find it here.
Do check out Rob’s other postings too. I particularly recommend this posting about Michael Ignatieff’s Sept. 22, 2009 speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. Rob notes that the Liberals do not present a substantive, detailed position on research funding.
Here’s a reminder that the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is having its Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, and Biofuels: What does the public think? event tomorrow at 12:30 pm EST in Washington, DC. If you want to attend the live event, register here. If you want to watch the live webcast tomorrow, go here and click on the live webcast link.
That’s it for today. Will try to write part 4 of my science communication in Canada series soon.