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Nanocosm. Nanotechnology and the Big Changes Coming from the Inconceivably Small. By William Illsey Atkinson

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in interfacial research that has occurred.
The reason is that the surface-to-volume
ratio of nanostructured systems is several orders of magnitude greater than
that of conventional bulk materials,
and consequently interfacial phenomena are an important or decisive factor
in determining the properties of such
systems. Furthermore, scanning probe
microscopy techniques provide a
remarkably powerful and versatile
method for the local characterization
of surfaces and for directly observing
many different processes occurring
Hans-J rgen Butt, Karlheinz Graf,
and Michael Kappl have set out to give
a general introduction to the physics
and chemistry of interfaces, and it can
be said straight away that they have succeeded extremely well. They have deliberately adopted an interdisciplinary
approach in recognizing, for example,
that solid-state physicists and colloid
chemists approach the same questions
by different methods. Both benefit
from a broadly based understanding of
the underlying phenomena, when each
considers these from the other&s standpoint.
The first part of the book begins with
the basic principles and aims of interface
research. Here the authors introduce
important fundamental concepts such
as surface tension and nucleation, followed by a brief outline of the thermodynamics of interfaces. The chapters
that follow deal with electrical double
layers, the effects of surface charges,
and van der Waals forces. This part is
completed by discussions of wetting
phenomena on both the macroscopic
and the microscopic scale.
The second part of the book consists
of chapters dealing with various problems associated with solid surfaces.
First the authors discuss the preparation,
structure, and characterization of crystalline surfaces. The adsorption processes that are so important for many
chemical applications are discussed in
detail from a number of different viewpoints. Other chapters are concerned
with the modification of surfaces by
methods such as chemical or physical
vapor deposition, the formation of selfassembled monolayers, application of
polymer films, or etching techniques.
Others deal with more engineering-oriAngew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2004, 43, 3510 – 3512
entated aspects such as friction, lubrication, and wear.
The third main topic area is that of
interfaces in liquid systems. One aspect
covered in this part is the self-assembly
of surfactants, a process that has a very
important role in the formation of biological membranes, and in nanotechnology, for example, in connection with the
synthesis of mesoporous materials. A
second major aspect considered is that
of multiphase systems such as emulsions
and foams. Many of these, such as milk,
shampoos, and dyes, are a familiar part
of our everyday lives, but their properties are determined by many complex
and very interesting physicochemical
effects. The final chapter is devoted to
thin films on liquid surfaces, including
such important aspects as Langmuir–
Blodgett techniques. An appendix contains a short introduction to the analysis
of X-ray diffraction patterns.
The reader is assumed to be familiar
with the concepts covered in wellknown standard textbooks of physical
chemistry. The book is mainly intended
for advanced students of chemistry and
other natural sciences. The authors
assume only a basic knowledge of mathematics, and the material is presented in
a way that should be appropriate for
chemists, even in the more physics-oriented chapters. The choice of topics
seems appropriate and consistent with
the book&s aims. The authors present
the material in a soundly based
manner, without getting too lost in
details. While reading the book one
also picks up a certain amount of additional basic physicochemical knowledge.
The authors have shown much didactic
skill and care. Thus, on one hand they
frequently emphasize the connection
with everyday phenomena, and therefore the practical relevance of the topic
under discussion. On the other hand,
they often refer to current scientific
investigations that are related to the
subject, thereby also showing the relationship to modern research. At the
end of each chapter, the most important
points are summarized briefly, which is
certainly very helpful for the student.
Here also the authors present a few
exercise problems that expand on the
topics; answers are given at the end of
the book.
Physics and Chemistry of Interfaces
should be useful not only to students
but also to teachers, who may find it a
valuable aid for preparing lecture
courses in physical chemistry or for setting up laboratory practicals. The book
also offers a sound overview of the subject for scientists whose work touches on
interfacial phenomena.
In summary, this book is a valuable
addition to the existing range of textbooks, and can be recommended unreservedly for students and teachers.
Martin Steinhart
Max-Planck-Institut fr
Halle/Saale (Germany)
and the Big
Changes Coming
from the Inconceivably Small. By William Illsey Atkinson.
York 2003. 306 pp.,
$ 24.95.—ISBN
Are you intrigued by the possibility of
tiny particles coursing through your
blood stream scouting for disease and
destroying foreign invaders? Do you
find yourself dreaming of a new world
in which catalytic particles make combustion engines produce clean waste
products? Do you envision a world full
of smart objects on the scale smaller
than grains of sand, able to control
your environment, function as a supercomputer, build structures for you, and
revolutionize the world&s economics
and social institutions? If so, then you
are a futurist, and you will probably
enjoy the flights of fantasy contained in
Nanocosm, a book that discusses the
coming attractions of nanoscience and
nanotechnology. On the other hand, if
8 2004 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
you are looking for a scientific primer on
this topic, I suggest you would do better
to read the paperback by Mark Ratner
and Daniel Ratner titled Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the
It seems that whoever writes about
the nanoscale cannot resist a certain
degree of hyperbole, in spite of the fact
that some of us thought we were working on the nanoscale long before nanoscience and nanotechnology became
popular buzzwords. Atkinson does not
escape this pitfall. The author tells us
that Nanocosm was written with the
twin objectives of entertainment and
information. He wishes the book to be
entertaining in the sense that it is riveting, and to be informative in that it is
intended to provide venture capitalists,
“the unsung heroes of world economics,” with a thorough briefing in the science and technology emerging from
the nanocosm. Atkinson&s approach is
to interview numerous workers in the
field. That is the best part of the book,
as the interviews capture the passion
and excitement of the pioneering
researchers. Atkinson&s infusion of his
own commentary, often quite tangential
and macroscopic, such as explaining why
he regards Switzerland and Israel to be
similar countries, detracted from the
subject matter and failed to rivet me.
The reader quickly learns that
Atkinson is unhappy with the molecular
manufacturing vision put forward by
Eric Drexler, the idea that structures
will be created atom by atom. Indeed,
Atkinson warns that “nanotechnology
is a young discipline, and like every
youngster can be prey to shills and charlatans.” Yet, Atkinson is an uncritical
nanobooster, telling us that “nanotechnology will soon let us bypass the substances that nature provides and start a
wish-list of properties that a new material must have”. Moreover, Atkinson
claims that all of this will occur in a
ten- to fifteen-year time frame.
It would lend greater credibility to
this book if Atkinson had a better idea
of what chemists do and have done.
Indeed, the chemical understanding presented in Nanocosm seems to be shaky,
if not simply absent at too many points.
8 2004 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
There are various howlers. My favorite
is the first, and what appears to be the
only, chemical formula that Atkinson
gives (p. 9), informing us that buckyball
is abbreviated C6O. Maybe it is a blessing that this is the last encounter with
underlying chemical principles.
Overall, Atkinson&s treatment of
nanoscience seems far more interested
in waxing fantastic about the promise
of nanotechnology and showcasing his
wit than in providing a solid grounding
in its underlying principles. The future
of nanoscience and nanotechnology is
certainly a bright one, but overselling
its promise will serve all of us poorly
and set in motion a public backlash, to
the detriment of all who have been
working in or who aspire to work in
the nanocosm.
Richard N. Zare
Department of Chemistry
Stanford University
Stanford, California (USA)
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200385152
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2004, 43, 3510 – 3512
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big, inconceivably, william, coming, atkinson, nanocosm, change, illsey, small, nanotechnologie
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