the movie Spiderman, Peter Parker, the high school science
geek turned superhero, had read all the papers on nanotechnology
by his arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin. In Jackie Chan’s new
movie, “The Tuxedo” released in late September, our hero,
an overly shy taxi driver, is transformed into a world class
super spy by wearing his boss’ nanotechnology gadget laden
tuxedo. Michael Crichton’s new book titled “Prey” which was
released in November had a closely guarded secret plot, but
was said to involve political intrigue and nanotechnology.
20th Century Fox has just bought the movie rights for about
$5 million. The Borg in Star Trek assimilated bodies by injecting
them with nanobots that would implant mechanical devices to
take over their hosts. As early as 1995, Russell Crowe in
the movie “Virtuosity as Sid 6.7, harnessed nanomachines to
bring himself to life as a silicon based menace. And for the
kids, the Powerpuff Girls fight evil squid shaped nanobots
that terrorize the world by eating all the carbon in buildings,
cars, clothes, etc. There’s a little nanotechnology something
for everyone. However, even with all this media attention,
most of us still don’t know what nanotechnology really is
and why it is important to us.
we’ve been hearing a lot about nanotechnology lately. Most
people I talk to have only a slight clue as to what it is.
I would even venture to say even researchers, even the ones
involved in nanotechnology research, don’t quite understand
it thoroughly even though they probably understand it more
than the average person does. There are many articles talking
about how to invest in nanotechnology but not too many explaining
just exactly what it is to people who need to know. It may
surprise you to realize that the most important people who
need to know is the average person whose taxpayer dollars
are going to fund nanotechnology and for whom nanotechnology
ultimately serves. Nanotechnology is useful in a broad range
of industries, such as energy, semiconductors, computers,
biotech and cosmetics, to just name a few.
government, starting with the Clinton administrations in 1993
and now with the Bush administration has been pumping money
into nanotechnology research with the federal government’s
appointment of the National Science and Technology Council
(NSTC) to create and operate the National Nanotechnology Initiative(NNI).
The NNI allocates monies to four cabinet level agencies (Commerce,
Defense, Energy, and Transportation), the National Institute
of Health (NIH), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). There is
approximately $600 million for year 2002 and until very recently,
there was an approved 17% increase in National Science Foundation
(NSF) nanotechnology funding for the year 2003 to $710 million
by the House of Representatives. Much of this funding was
slated for university research and the rest was to be distributed
among the government labs, which often collaborate with the
universities. There is also the little publicized federal
Advanced Technology Program (ATP) that supports commercialization
of high-risk technologies.
President George W. Bush approved S189 also known as the 21st
Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act on December
3, 2003. Starting in 2005, this Act will provide $3.7 billion
over the next four years for federal nanotechnology programs,
and reorganizes government and research communities under
a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO). Bush
also approved $849 million for fiscal year 2004. Funding from
S189 starts October 2005, the beginning of the government's
next fiscal year. Nanotech funding has increased 83 percent
since 2001, according to the White House. It is estimated
that a whopping 95 percent of the $3.7 Billion authorized
will go to scientific research and development -- roughly
60 percent for academia and 35 percent for government labs.
It also emphasizes interdisciplinary research, seeks to address
concerns raised by nanotechnology, and requires outside reviews
of the programs.
The signing of the bill by President Bush makes nanotechnology
the highest federally funded basic science and technology
effort since the space race. Funding that in the past was
at the discretion of the president is now mandated. The bill
calls for the president to establish a national program to
undertake long-term basic nanoscience and engineering research.
Emphasis will be on potential breakthroughs in materials and
manufacturing, nanoelectronics, medicine and health care,
computation and IT and national security. The fruits of nanotechnology
are a lot closer on the horizon than we think if government
spending is any indication.
NSF estimates that global governmental spending on nano R&D
is about $2.2 billion in 2002. At least 30 countries have
initiated nanotechnology initiatives. Europe and Asia, especially
Japan, are already investing heavily in nanotechnology research.
Japan has made nanotechnology one of its top research priorities.
Japan, for example, accounts for over one-fourth of the global
investment in this area. China claims it can beat Japan’s
spending. The United States accounts for about one-fourth
of the total, and Europe for about one-fifth. Taiwan plans
to begin introducing nanotechnology in its schools, starting
at the equivalent of our junior high school level. This is
more than just one country trying to outdo the other in terms
of innovation and spending. This can be also cause for concern
as much of it might be defense related nanotechnology research.
So this approximate tenfold increase in approved funding nanotechnology
by the US is more than just an ego trip.
why is so much of your hard-earned taxpayer money being pumped
into nanotechnology research? Some of it may seem pie-in-the-sky
research but it’s a lot more practical than you think. Many
venture capital firms point out that many nanotech investments
are expected to take 15 years to 20 years before they are
able to provide profits for their investors. Does the government
know something the venture capital firms don’t. Probably.
Since the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York
City, we have found that we are more vulnerable than we would
like to believe. Nanotechnology can make ultra sensitive nanosensors
possible that can make detection of incoming dangerous chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons possible. It can also make
for more sophisticated military arms and protective soldier
uniforms if we are ever subject to attack again. Obviously
there are implications about nanotechnology from both the
defensive and offensive perspectives which we will not get
into here. The government certainly knows that certain nanotechnologies
are going to be viable earlier than the venture capital firms
project. Otherwise, there wouldn’t such a huge increase in
funding policy. There are reasons for that which I won’t go
into now but suffice it to say it is related to national security.
the commercial side, according to the NNI, spending on commercial
products begotten from nanotechnology will reach $1 trillion
per year in 10-15 years. The larger technical companies such
as IBM, Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Lucent, Hitachi, Mitsubishi,
NEC, Corning, Dow Chemical, and 3M have launched nanotechnology
research initiatives of their own, many of them collaborating
with universities. It is no wonder IBM continues to be a leader
in cutting edge as well as basic research in general. At this
point, whenever I hear about IBM doubling their data storage
capacity, I just yawn since their advances are so prolific
and ubiquitous to almost be considered the norm. IBM is one
of those tech companies that should be emulated.
it’s important that we understand what nanotechnology is about
and that the NNI and NSF has your taxpayer support.
So what is nanotechnology exactly?
is the study of things on a nanometer (nm) scale or 10-9 meters
(m) or one thousandth of a micron or micrometer (10-6 m or
0.001 mm). The Greek prefix nano- or nannos- means dwarf and
one-billionth so a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.
That scale is on a molecular or atomic scale. Technology also
has Greek roots meaning something that is derived from application
of the scientific method for commercial objectives. Literally,
nanotechnology means being able to manipulate small things
to make a profit. Perhaps nanotechnology is a more accurate
word in terms of Greek derivation, but nanoscience is probably
a more applicable term without all the negative connotations
that the word “technology” seems to be raise these days.
everything is made up of atoms and molecules, so just about
everything can be related to nanotechnology. Nanotechnology
typically describes systems smaller than 100 nm. To put it
in perspective, 3-6 atoms, depending on the type of elements,
together are about a nanometer in length. Viruses are about
50-100 nm in size and bacteria are about 500-1500 nm in size.
Visible light wavelengths are on the order of a several hundred
nanometers. A nanometer is about 1/80,000 the diameter of
a human hair. This all sounds simple enough but what exactly
does this all really mean? If you think of nanotechnology
as just that narrow and specific definition, then that definition
doesn’t tell you much of anything because you don’t know how
to use it, like a word without context or without a sentence.
In context, nanotechnology is not so much a technology or
an industry but more of a concept and approach. What provides
the context are the implications of all this which I’ll try
to develop further.
following was excerpted from the National Science and Technology
Council (NSTC)’s NNI most recent definition of nanotechnology:
“Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular
or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately
1 - 100 nanometer range, to provide a fundamental understanding
of phenomena and materials at the nanoscale. This can then
be used to create and use structures, devices and systems
that have novel properties and functions because of their
small and/or intermediate size.” “Nanotechnology is concerned
with materials and systems whose structures and components
exhibit novel and significantly improved physical, chemical,
and biological properties, phenomena, and processes due to
their nanoscale size. The aim is to exploit these properties
by gaining control of structures and devices at atomic, molecular,
and supramolecular levels and to learn to efficiently manufacture
and use these devices” was excerpted from the NNI’s implementation
plan from July 2000. The NSTC was created by executive order
in 1993 to coordinate federal spending in science and technology.
reason the nanometer scale is interesting is that at this
scale, materials behave differently than in bulk because quantum
effects become dominant at that scale. Take a table and then
imagine it a billion times smaller where it now sticks to
your finger or starts to float around or hangs upside down
instead of behaving like a table subjected to gravity. A bulk
size table behaves that way because it obeys the laws of physics
for large objects subjected to the gravitational force, which
overwhelms quantum effects even though quantum behavior is
still occurring. You just can’t see it. However, a nanoscale
table can behave differently because it is governed mostly
by quantum effects that only come into play for things that
tiny. Why this is important is if we know how these materials
behave at that level, we can exploit these properties to design
and build structures that push our current technical limits,
such as making chips even smaller and more powerful.
is consensus about one thing - Nanotechnology is the new buzzword.
It’s everywhere and as I pointed out earlier, even Hollywood
has gotten the nanotechnology bug big time. However, nanotechnology
is not a new concept. In 1959, Richard Feynman, 1965 Nobel
Prize physicist, predicted the advent of nanotechnology in
a famous speech he gave to his fellow physicists at the American
Physical Society entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.
Professor Feynman talked about research on the very small
scale and set forth research challenges, such as being able
to manipulate atoms one by one. This, by the way, is a challenge
that we, or IBM really, have overcome in 1996 if albeit crudely.
However it wasn’t until 1974 when Norio Taniguchi, a professor
from Tokyo Science University first coined the term “nanotechnology”
then K. Eric Drexler made the term “nanotechnology” famous
in 1986 in his book, Engines of Creation that nanotechnology
has evolved to what it is now.
So why should we care about nanotechnology? What can
it do for me?
you’ve probably been hearing a lot about how nanotechnology
is either going to save the world or destroy it. Well, both
perspectives are valid even though they are the extremes.
The fear of “gray goo” which is the scenario of nanorobots,
more affectionately known as nanobots, run amuck by self-replicating,
though somewhat far-fetched, has actually inspired more discussion
about the implications of artificial intelligence because
of this. Making nanobots is still not easy right now so this
issue is a long way off in coming. What scenarios should concern
us more is the prevention of mutual destruction via chemical
and biological weapons that can be created via nanotechnology.
Not to worry because some of the NNI funding is already being
allocated to address the ethical, legal and socio-politico-economic
implications of nanotechnology on the world.
the upside, cures for cancer and diabetes are much closer.
Now in terms of saving the world, the idea of being able to
build things at will, atom by atom, can save the world from
poverty and hunger. If someone needs food or a house and if
you get the right combination of atoms, you can build yourself
a pizza or a hot fudge sundae or anything else for that matter.
You just have to program it to put together the atoms, atom
by atom, in the right sequence with the right intermolecular
forces to bind it all together. Now that’s some futuristic
food recipe and an interesting grocery list (…one-part carbon
atoms, equal parts nitrogen, handful of oxygen, dash of hydrogen…).
Well, it’s much like the way the Star Trek crew would get
their dinner on board the Enterprise. It seems a little far-fetched
but in theory, it can be done but it’s not that easy to do
with the tools and understanding we already have. It will
be at least several generations before we can just ask for
roast chicken and in minutes, it will appear. We’ve just gotten
past the point where the scientists at IBM can manipulate
Xenon (Xe) atoms to spell “IBM” with a scanning tunneling
microscope (STM) to spelling “IBM NANO” with 20 nm thick silicon
dioxide lines using atomic force microscopes (AFM). That wasn’t
so easy too so we’ve got a long way to go from there.
research areas involve viruses being designed for use as nanobuilders
for molecular scale computer chips or nanosensors. Nanocapsules
are being created that can reverse diabetes and Parkinson’s
Disease. Dendrimers or polymer stars are being designed to
detect, seek out, diagnose and destroy cancer cells. There
is already nanoscience research that has applications in diagnosing
whatever is making a baby sick depending on what color their
diapers are fluorescing after a bowel movement. And did you
know in Australia they can teleport a laser beam from one
place to another a meter away in a blink of an eye by exploiting
quantum entanglement behavior? Unfortunately, the laser beam
was destroyed in the process so don’t get ready to say “Beam
me up, Scotty” just yet. Science is always riddled with setbacks
to overcome, which they ultimately do.
think that nanotechnology is still much in the research and
development (R&D) stages but that’s just not true. This
reflects the lack of understanding in nanotechnology. To wit,
Phillip Bond, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for technology
reports that 93% of commercial research and 58% of academic
labs working on nanotechnology believe they are going to have
a product or service as early as next year. Nanotechnology
is so broad and diverse that the technological advances are
happening in a continuum where there is no real obvious beginning
or end and tend to overlap. As mentioned, some technologies
are already far advanced while others are in their infancy.
current examples of nanotechnology for everyday applications,
already there are commercially available coatings to make
tennis balls last longer and fabrics, sunglasses and tiles
resist scratching and repel dirt and stains. Antibacterial
ceramic coatings for toilet bowls are being developed and
commercialized. There are even nanocapsules in cosmetics to
deliver age defying retinol to deep below the skin, supposedly
much more effectively than liposomes. There are nanoparticle
based sunscreens that are inherently hypoallergenic and carbon
nanotube based tennis rackets that are 5 times more rigid
and hence more powerful than the current graphite fiber based
rackets. This is certainly an exciting everyday use range
of nanotechnology’s everyday applications! You can now bring
nanotechnology to the tennis court or the beach! So nanotechnology
is already well on its way to being commercialized and obviously,
there is already so much research going on all with short
term real life everyday applications in mind.
not to say that it’s been smooth sailing for nanotechnology
innovations. For most of the more esoteric applications, it’s
the cost effective manufacturing on large scale that is the
main obstacles of nanotechnology to overcome. Here is where
self-assembling systems can save us a lot of aggravation with
nanotechnology manufacturing. And I’m sure the scientists
in Australia were none too happy about the teleported laser
being destroyed on the other end but I’m sure they’re already
working on solving that problem too. They’ll probably stick
to lasers for a while so the animal rights activists won’t
have to worry about them trying to teleport a human or just
a fly just yet.
Pearl Chin has an MBA from Cornell, a Ph.D. in Materials Science
and Engineering from University of Delaware's Center for Composite
Materials and B.E. in Chemical Engineering from The Cooper
Dr. Chin specializes in advising on nanotechnology investment
opportunities. She is also Managing General Partner of Seraphima
Ventures and CEO of Red Seraphim Consulting where she advises
investment firms and and startup firms on the business strategy
of nanotechnology investments. She was Managing Director of
the US offices and co-Managing Director of the London offices
of Cientifica. Prior to that, she was a Management Consultant
with Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath (PRTM)'s Chemicals,
Engineered Materials and Packaged Goods group. Dr. Chin will
be advising the Cornell University JGSM's student run VC fund,
Big Red Venture Fund (BRVF), on investing in nanotechnology.
She is a Senior Associate of The Foresight Institute in the
US and was the US Representative of the Institute of Nanotechnology
in the UK. She was an alternate finalist for a Congressional
Fellowship with the Materials Research Society. She was also
a Guest Scientist collaborating with the National Institute
of Standards & Technology (NIST) Polymer Division's Electronic
Materials Group under the US Department of Commerce. Dr. Chin
is a US Citizen born and raised in New York City.
Pearl Chin April 2004