A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony Coming
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic
expert initiative founded in 2001 to understand and to address complex
global challenges. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on opportunities
and threats arising from climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime,
extremism, informatics, nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, artificial
intelligence and financial systems.
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London, UK - 26 June 2006, 09:20 GMT - ATCA: Nanotechnology
2006: A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony Coming of Age? Dr Bent
We are grateful to Dr Brent Segal from Boston, USA, for his submission to
ATCA, "Nanotechnology 2006: A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony
Coming of Age?"
Dr Brent M Segal is a Co-founder and part-time Chief Operating Officer of
Nantero, a leading Nanotechnology company where he oversees operations roles
focusing on partnerships, involving companies such as LSI Logic, BAE Systems
and ASML. He continues to assist Nantero with intellectual property management
and government programmes involving the US Navy and various agencies. He is
also a General Partner at Atomic Venture Partners where he focuses on investments
involving early stage technology with explosive growth potential. Some of
his primary areas of expertise include Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Semiconductors
and Nanotechnology. He was previously a member of Echelon Ventures of Burlington,
Massachusetts. Dr Segal received his PhD in Chemistry from Harvard University
in 2000 and has published more than 20 articles in journals including Journal
of the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry, and various IEEE publications,
including one in which Nantero was named one of the top ten companies for
the next ten years. He is a graduate of Reed College, with a degree in Biochemistry.
Dr Segal is frequently invited to speak at conferences and seminars such
as COMDEX, NANOTECH 2005 and the annual National Nanotechnology Initiative
(NNI) meeting on the topic of nanotechnology intellectual property creation
and management to move Nanotechnology from the laboratory to fabrication.
He is an active member of the steering committee of the Massachusetts Nanotechnology
Initiative (MNI), executive member of the Massachusetts NanoExchange (MNE)
and a member of the New England Nanomanufacturing Centre for Enabling Tools
(NENCET) Industrial Advisory Board and a member of the planning board for
Nanotech 2006. He sits on the Board of Directors of Coretomic, of Burlington,
Vermont and ENS Biopolymer, Inc of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was a Research
Associate at Nycomed Salutar, Inc where he secured several new patents involving
novel X-ray contrast agents for medical imaging. He is co-author of over 80
patents and applications and has worked extensively on intellectual property
creation and protection issues at both Nycomed and Metaprobe. In his spare
time he enjoys theatre, ballet, NFL football, specifically monitoring the
49ers which stems from his Bay Area roots and Menlo Park education, and wine
sampling. He writes:
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: Nanotechnology 2006: A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony
Coming of Age?
The contribution of technological innovation to the world economy is well
documented with estimates that it may be responsible for as much as 50% of
economic growth over the past 50 years. As the silicon age reaches maturity,
Moores law coming to an end as documented by Gordon Moore himself, what
will be the next game-changing technology to emerge? With populations aging
worldwide and healthcare costs spiralling literally out of control, is there
a saviour on the horizon? Which technology segment has the US government been
investing more than USD 1 billion per year and the EU, Japan, China and other
countries are globally investing over USD 6 billion per year? What will become
the next paradigm shift to impact the technology component of a growing economy?
Could it be Nanotechnology?
Perhaps the first vision of nanotechnology was first described in a lecture
titled, 'There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom' in 1959 by Richard P Feynman.
Feynman theorized that with the proper toolset, individual atoms or molecules
could be manipulated. The reality of such tools from companies like FEI and
Veeco are now commonplace amongst scientists and engineers alike signalling
the beginning of the nanotechnology era.
Introduction to Nanotechnology
The US government has defined Nanotechnology as the understanding and control
of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometres, where unique phenomena
enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering and
technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modelling, and manipulating
matter at this length scale. What does this really mean?
An easier way to understand nanotechnology is to consider the three categories
which may include nanotechnology defined by dimension; nanotechnology defined
by properties and effects; and nanotechnology defined by fabrication.
To companies such as Intel which state that they entered the Nanotechnology
era in 2000 when [we] began volume production of chips with sub-100nm
length transistors one can easily understand the meaning of nanotechnology
by dimension. Simply taking advantage of lithographic patterning via scaling
of transistors from micron-sized (microtechnology) to less than 100 nanometres
yields faster, more powerful computer chips with more features per unit area.
Other companies such as Nantero also in the semiconductor space, making non-volatile
memory using Carbon Nano Tubes (CNT) that promise to replace all other forms
of memory in what is over a USD 100 billion market utilize new materials but
most importantly take advantage of properties such as van der Waals
interactions. The Dutch physicist and chemist, Johannes Diderik van der Waals
was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1910 for his work to describe intermolecular
forces later named after him.
The last definition of nanotechnology by fabrication which involves molecular-scale
generation of nanotechnological machines described by Eric Drexler in his
1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. Most chemists,
physicists and nanotechnologists would generally describe this concept as
nanotechnology by fantasy especially surrounding the term "gray goo"
which describes hypothetical self-replicating molecular machines reproducing
out of control. For example the late Professor Richard Smalley, Nobel Prize
winner and discoverer of buckyballs, one of the most important
discoveries of a new chemical entity in many decades, debated Drexler in a
series of letters in the American Chemical Society journal Chemical and Engineering
News delineating the improbability of generating nanoscopic robots of the
form Drexler envisioned.
History of Nanotechnology
While Nanotechnology may seem mysterious and accessible solely by rocket
scientists, chemists and physicists, the first reported human nanotechnologists
may have been the lustre ceramics encapsulated within Abbasid tiles imported
from Syria and placed in the mihrab of the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia.
The tiny gratings generated within the pottery cause colour changes from blue
to red upon illumination with white light at various angles. To understand
the size of nanotechnological materials some context would be helpful. For
example CNTs are best described as a rolled up sheet of graphite with a diameter
of 1 nanometre or 1 X 10-9 meters (about 100,000 times smaller than a human
hair) with a macroscopic length up to several millimetres by some accounts.
To put this in context another nanotechnological material with a 2.5 nanometre
diameter and a macroscopic length of at least many microns called DNA might
be more familiar to most people.
Challenges in Nanotechnology
Accessing new products utilizing nanotechnology such as implantable devices
that automatically administer drugs, real time diagnostics for physicians,
cooling chips to replace compressors in cars, refrigerators, air conditioners,
sensors for airborne chemicals or other toxins, photovoltaics (solar cells),
fuel cells and portable power to provide inexpensive, clean energy, and new
high-performance materials and coatings presents challenges which are significant.
While the internet era involved relatively small amounts of capital to enter
the field, the nanotechnology era involves large amounts of capital mostly
in the form of tools and fabrication facilities. Some of the first implementations
of nanotechnology have come in the materials space where neither expensive
chip fabrication nor FDA approval, for example are required.
Another limiting factor in nanotechnology involves the workforce and its
mindset. Most of the workforce in modern society is collected into silos via
specialization. In fact specialization and the assembly line are
credited with the efficiencies that have led to modern capitalism which can
no doubt lead to a significant discussion about Democracy, Nationalism and
even religion. Nanotechnology, however, represents a significant deviation
from the status quo, and the requirement for specific combinations of disciplines
in order to achieve developmental success. No longer can a physicist or chemist
study in isolation. The new era of nanotechnology is already bringing biologists,
chemists, physicists, engineers, medical doctors and many other technical
specialists together to exchange thoughts and ideas whose combination will
yield the discoveries characterized as nanotechnology. In a society where
we value being the expert at one thing only, will we produce a
workforce capable of such thinking? The country that is most quickly able
to create this new breed of specialized generalists will likely
enjoy tremendous economic success.
So now we move to the concept of nano-hegemony in a world which
has recognized the benefits of a future with nanotechnology and a fear of
a future without it! CNTs, for example, were discovered not in the United
States but rather in Japan by Professor Sumio Iijima at NEC in 1991. Many
of the nanotechnology discoveries using measurements such as scientific papers
and patent applications are occurring in Asia, Europe and the Unites States
in nearly equal numbers. Nearly every major industrialized nation is now working
on some form of nanotechnology program and no fewer than 100 well-recognized
major companies have significant development programs.
Potential threats from Nanotechnology
Now we turn to the potential threats that nanotechnology could pose. Indeed
the threats to society from gray goo are overstated, bordering
on absurd but real threats could exist. One concern in particular has to do
with environmental health and safety from the introduction of new materials
into so many new products. Certainly new regulations and requirements will
emerge as we begin to understand the risks involved in nanotechnology. Some
information exists already which should not be ignored. For example iron oxide
nanoparticles of various sizes tend to show up as part of what is commonly
termed rust while titanium oxide nanoparticles are quite safely
used in many forms of sunscreens with significant data on their safety.
One of the greatest threats posed by nanotechnology emanates from fear and
ignorance which lead to irrational behaviour. Movies and books which encourage
paranoia cannot be overestimated as sources. The experience of the EU with
biotechnology in the 1990s represents one potential outcome should proper
education and awareness of nanotechnology not proceed with alacrity.
The promise of nanotechnology represents perhaps one of the most significant
paradigm shifts that the world can expect to see this century. This shift
will be different from others in that its entrance will be pervasive in nearly
every industry yet without the obvious fanfare experienced by other technologies
that have come before because many of the first entrants will be in the form
of significant improvements to existing products. Nanotechnology will spawn
a debate about world power, capitalism, specialization and democracy as it
increases in prominence. Will you be ready?
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views. Thank you.
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic expert
initiative founded in 2001 to understand and to address complex global challenges.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on opportunities and threats arising
from climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime, extremism, informatics,
nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, artificial intelligence and financial
Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members: including several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament,
US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500
CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations
as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Please do not forward or use the material circulated without permission and
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