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The Nanotech Pioneers. Where Are They Taking Us By Steven A. Edwards

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Books
reviewing the past major achievements,
this book points out some of the most
outstanding research directions for
PLED,
including
phosphorescent
PLED, the physics of polymer–metal
interfaces, and cross-linking carrierblocking layers. These areas of research
have grown rapidly in recent years, and
this book provides a very up-to-date
coverage of these exciting new
approaches to improving PLED performance. Therefore, I strongly recommend this book to all researchers active
in or interested in this area.
Chain-Shu Hsu
Department of Applied Chemistry
National Chiao Tung University
Hsinchu (Taiwan)
The Nanotech Pioneers
Where Are They
Taking Us? By Steven A. Edwards.
Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2006.
244 pp., hardcover
E 24.90.—ISBN
3-527-31290-0
Another book on nanotechnology, but a
very peculiar one. Rather than dealing
with scientific aspects in depth, it aims to
establish who are the founders of nanotechnology, and to review its present
achievements and futuristic goals. The
task is, of course, not at all easy, but
Steven Edwards succeeds in presenting
the state of the art in the field, and
indicating where the accelerating development of nanotechnology is likely to
take us by 2025.
Who are the nanotech pioneers?
Since there is no universally accepted
definition of nanotechnology, it is, of
course, difficult to find agreement about
who were its founders. Edwards starts
with eight people called “The visionaries” (Chapter 2). While it is easy to
agree about the names of Richard Feynman (because of his famous lecture
7116
www.angewandte.org
There is plenty of room at the bottom,
1959) and K. Eric Drexler (for his imaginative book Engines of Creation, 1986),
it is a little surprising to find a scientist
like Gerd Binnig, inventor with Heinrich Rohrer of scanning probe microscopy, being described as a visionary of
nanotechnology. The inclusion of James
von Ehr (founder of the Zyvex company) and Mike Roco (promoter of the
U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative) among the “visionaries” reveals
something about the perspective of the
author.
After the “visionaries” come scientists. Many of them are indeed mentioned in the following six chapters:
Chapter 3, “On the road to nano-”;
Chapter 4, “Nanotools”; Chapter 5,
“Nanoparticles and other nanomaterials”; Chapter 6, “Learning from old
mother nature”; Chapter 7, “Nanoelectronics”; Chapter 8, “Nanotech-enabled
biomedicine”. The emphasis is on biological aspects, whereas less attention is
devoted to the fields of physics and,
particularly, chemistry. Fundamental
chemical concepts, such as self-assembly, programmed molecules, self-organization, and the chemical bottom-up
approach to nanotechnology, are not
sufficiently discussed. Two out of the
four pages devoted to supramolecular
chemistry are spent on describing MerrifieldEs polypeptide synthesis. A chemical
pioneer such as Fraser Stoddard is not
even mentioned. The author says (p. 52)
that he was fascinated on reading a
recent book about molecular devices
and machines, but he does not show any
example of them. Several interesting
pages are devoted to dendrimers, which
are defined as polymers rather than, as
they are, large well-defined molecules.
The real pioneer of this field, Fritz
VGgtle, has also been omitted.
Throughout the book, most attention is devoted to venture capitalists and
their companies who have been
involved in the development and application of nanotechnology and related
fields. The names of the scientists are
almost always accompanied by the fancy
names of the nanotech companies that
they have founded to make money from
their scientific discoveries. This entrepreneurial criterion for identifying the
nanotech pioneers is probably the
reason why most of the scientists men-
2 2006 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
tioned are from the USA and only a few
from Europe. Indeed, a money-based
approach fits well with a typically
American definition of nanotechnology
that is cited at the beginning of Chapter 9 (entitled “Financing nanotech
dreams”): “Nanotechnology is the
design of very tiny platforms upon
which to raise enormous amounts of
money”.
In Chapter 10, Edwards sets three
grand challenges for nanotechnology,
three mega-size projects that he believes
could be realized by 2025: 1) to reduce
world consumption of non-renewable
carbon-based energy sources by 50 %;
2) to construct an elevator into outer
space 62 000 miles above the EarthEs
surface; 3) to manufacture an affordable
and commercially available quantum
computer. Personally, I wish the first
project to be successful because we
badly need to move towards renewable
energies, but I wonder why we should
invest science and money in a gigantic
space elevator, and I believe that quantum computing will remain out of
medium-term technology development.
Chapter 11, “Fear of nano: dangers
and ethical challenges”, is particularly
interesting. Ten main societal concerns
related to nanotechnology development
are discussed. Some of them, such as the
Drexelian “gray goo” scenario of an
environmental disaster arising from
uncontrolled self-replication of nanorobots, are considered unlikely. Others,
such as an environmental catastrophe
because of inhaleable or ingestible
nanoparticles and, on the opposite side,
a spectacular improvement of medicine
increasing lifespan and leading to overpopulation, are thought to deserve
attention. However, the main concerns,
as Edwards rightly points out, arise from
an old problem: who controls and who
benefits from new technologies?
Unfortunately, the answers are easy.
As soon as nanotechnology has
appeared, the military has gotten into
the act (I myself have a direct experience in this regard). In the hands of
agencies such as DARPA (Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency)
and institutes such as ISN (Institute for
Soldier Nanotechnology), it is plain that
nanotechnology is exploited for war
purposes. It is not only a matter of
making “clever” and more powerful
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2006, 45, 7115 – 7117
Angewandte
Chemie
bombs, but also of preparing telepathic,
superhuman cyborg soldiers capable of
functioning for days without sleep, and
using robots as “peripheral devices” of
their brain.
Concerning benefits, it is clear that
in the present social and political world
organization, the development of nanotechnology will increase the gap
between rich and poor citizens or countries, leading to the so-called “nanodivide”. We should be well aware, however, that the stability of human society
decreases with increasing disparities.
The Reagan trickle-down approach to
world problems does not work, and
sooner or later the poor will rise up
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2006, 45, 7115 – 7117
against the rich. We try to set aside the
problem of disparity, but in the long run
it cannot be avoided. The fragile spaceship Earth is in our hands. Are we wise
enough to develop, beside science and
technology, a civilization capable of
reducing disparity and creating a more
peaceful world? We do have a long list
of “visionaries” concerning this problem. What we do not have yet are wise
politicians and concerned scientists.
Europe, described by Edwards as technology skeptical, is the most likely place
where mankindEs research priorities can
be redefined.
In conclusion, EdwardsEs book is a
good introduction to the huge and con-
fusing field of nanotechnology. It is well
written and contains a wealth of information, often in the form of simple
tables, which can be useful for undergraduate and PhD students, as well as
for teachers interested in where we are
and where we are going to be. Which,
unfortunately, is not where we should
go.
Vincenzo Balzani
Dipartimento di Chimica “G. Ciamician”
Universit: di Bologna (Italy)
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200685407
2 2006 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
www.angewandte.org
7117
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