Tuesday, March 9, 2010


As an ACS member, I receive Chemical and Engineering News, a weekly magazine.  I usually flip through the issue quickly, looking through awards and obituaries.  But then, instead of reading the rest of the magazine while it is still timely, I usually place it aside until I have amassed a pile consisting of several weeks or months of issues. I brought along several of these back issues to peruse on a recent plane trip, hoping to discover a few items from the world of nanotechnology. I was not disappointed, and in no particular order, this is what I found.

1.  Despite the warnings about the unknown interactions of nanoparticles and human physiology, those who work in this field and who should know better are not taking the minimum precautions necessary when studying these materials.  According to a recent report, up to one-quarter of researchers are not using the proper (or any) protective measures when working with potentially inhalable nanomaterials.  If we don’t want the public to have unnecessary nanophobia, we scientists need to be careful about providing justifiable reasons for these fears.

2.  Although the president’s overall 2011 budget request is flat, it does include a healthy 5.6% increase for non-defense research and development.  However, specific interagency funding for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) stayed constant, with only a 0.1% increase from 2010 to 2011.  If you dig deeper, however, you see that large increases in nanotechnology funding will occur in energy (DOE), life sciences (NIH and FDA), and environment (EPA).  This is being offset by decreases to defense, NSF, and NIST nanotechnology funding.  Much of the increased money will go to research on the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanotechnology (see above).

3.  The NNIN education office at Georgia Tech is considering the purchase of a table-top scanning electron microscope.  As part of the selection process, Nancy Healy has looked at several potential models and recently showed me some amazing pictures of butterfly wings and magnesium crystalline material.  I was awed by nature’s beauty which lies so close yet is hidden and impossible to see until revealed by electron beam technology.  If your reaction to these images is the same as mine, then you will want to purchase a new coffee-table book, No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale, by Felice Fankel and George Whitesides, which was recently reviewed in C&ENews.  My birthday is still many months away, but this book is on my wish list.

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