Monday, August 31, 2009

Connections: From iTunes to NanoSlang

I used to love watching the PBS series “Connections” hosted by James Burke. Burke’s thesis was that scientific discovery and technology development often do not follow a straight line trajectory, but rather depend upon complex relationships and serendipity. In one memorable episode he explained how Napoleon’s need for food storage led to manned space travel; in another he illustrated how standardizing metals in ancient coins inevitably resulted in the atomic bomb.

In this post, I present my less grand version of this, a series of nanoconnections, and along the way alert you to some interesting nanotechnology resources:

1. I began by listening to one in a series of lectures on nanomanufacturing by A.J. Hart (University of Michigan) which I downloaded from iTunesU, a subset of the famous music site, which has scholarly material hosted by a variety of academic institutions around the world. Although Georgia Tech is not among them, there you can find lectures, seminars, and videos on a wide variety of topics. Resource #1

2. During his lecture on electrical and optical properties of nanomaterials, Hart reminded the class that a good way to remain informed is to subscribe to news sites and journal contents via an RSS aggregator such as Google Reader. This is more convenient than receiving a barrage of individual emails, and any website can be added to the subscription list, even the one you are reading right now. Shameless plug for Resource #2.

3. Following Hart’s advice, I added some sites to my Google Reader, including the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. This site is a compilation of all things related to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer diseases that are located at the intersection of nanoscale science and engineering. Resource #3

4. Now stay with me as things take a turn: I noticed that seven of the eight articles that came from the NCI in August included the term or prefix “nano” in their titles. I could not ignore the use of nanobees, nanoparticle (3 times), nanotubes, nanoflares, and nanotags.

5. I found this curious and interesting, how nano had come to be used as more than a metric prefix meaning one-billionth, so I decided to check an online dictionary to see how many other nano-prefixed words are recognized. At, there were 36 words that included a nano prefix, and only 5 of these were related to a conventional metric unit (curie, gram, liter, meter, second).

6. This was when I discovered that there is nanoslang-- words that have been created using the nano prefix to connote smallness, not for scientific usage but in humorous or unusual ways. My two favorites were found in the online Urban Dictionary:

nanoEinstein: One devoid of general cultural knowledge but possessing extensive learning in an incredibly microscopic field of study.

nanonap: An unintentional, seconds-long nap that you take most often in class or a really boring meeting. So short that usually nobody but you notices.

I imagine that one might take a nanonap while listening to the droning on of a nanoEinstein. In any case, if the measure of a concept’s acceptance into the popular culture is its appearance in the lingo used by the youth of that generation, then all this is good news for the nanologists (a person who studies the infinitesimally small) among us.

1 comment:

  1. I just received the latest NCI Nanotechnology News to my Google Reader, and here are the new set of "nano" words (out of 7 articles):