Nanotechnology: A Pet Peeve

E-mail Melanie Martella

Recently, I received a press release about some biosensor market research. And it made pretty interesting reading until it started discussing nano-biosensors and the potential challenges they'd face, including (but not limited to) getting FDA approval and the fact that no one has yet been able to control a swarm of nanomachines. I'd say a bigger challenge is building the things in the first place.

Sprinting Before You Can Walk
One of the things the MEMS industry's evolution has taught us is that working at a very small scale can be far more complicated than it first appears. And that taking a process or device from lab-scale to high-volume production is also far more complicated than it first appears. And then you have to convince people that they really want to buy and use your product. It took decades to take MEMS from a nifty lab curiosity to the commercial sensors and devices that we use today. So I'm getting frustrated with people who talk about nanosensors as if they already exist outside the lab and that all the bugs and pitfalls in their production and commercialization are mere trivialities.

Research into nanotechnology is worth every speck of the time, effort, funding, and inspired technical creativity being lavished on it. The materials produced have immense potential for sensing, drug delivery, clean water, clean energy, coatings, and a host of other applications. But nanotechnology is still in its infancy and I find it profoundly irritating when people talk as if commercial nanoscale devices are a few years away and we'll be getting them in our cereal boxes any day now. Yeah, no. Nano-scale materials? Some of those are already available with more on the way, but nanomachines? Not so much.

Get the Facts
OK. Enough with the rant. If you're interested in finding out what's really happening in nanotechnology, an excellent resource is the Web site of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. This federal R&D program is designed to foster and coordinate the research efforts of the various governmental agencies involved. It's an excellent starting point to find out what's happening in the field and who's doing what.

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