12.17.2007

NANO GOOD AND BAD

By now, you've probably heard of nanotechnology. At its core is the
notion that things exhibit fundamentally different behavior when
shrunk down to impossibly small dimensions, largely due to the change
in the ratio between mass and surface area. A couple of recent
articles caught my eye in terms of synthesizing the potential good and
bad associated with this booming field. The Philadelphia Inquirer ("Big Boost for Tiny Technology") notes that centers with the latest equipment
bring in researchers from around the world who want to rent it for
their studies; our firm did a report last year in which we noted that
having this sort of equipment not only generates rental revenue for
your institution but gives you a first look at what researchers from
around the world are doing, which gives you a huge leg up in an
increasingly competitive and accelerated industry.

If nanoscale research means huge federal dollars and smart people
beating a path to your doorstep, that sounds like something everyone
wants to get in on. And in fact, everyone is. But The Economist
warns that perhaps not enough attention is being paid to the potential
hazards of research at that scale: "A Little Risky Business." Not that this stuff is inherently
dangerous, but that we haven't sufficiently proven that it isn't. It
sure would stink if we inserted nano-particles into our face cream,
medicine, and internal organs, only to find out the stuff is toxic.

Most of the goings-on in this field are happening in cities, which
best agglomerate the brains and buildings needed to do this sort of
work, and which house the kinds of research institutions that dominate
the field. Time will tell what percent of knowledge jobs are
affiliated with nanoscale research, and what proportion of consumer
products benefit from its findings; but here's hoping there's more of
the good and less of the bad when it comes to this burgeoning field.

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