A five-step plan for nano

A five-stage, and very demanding protocol, for taking a nanoscience discovery to a consumer nanotechnology product has been outlined by engineer Michael Kelly of the University of Cambridge. Kelly, who is also based at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, explains how a clear understanding of how and why experimental silicon semiconductor and liquid crystal technology took so long to move from the laboratory bench to the manufacturing plant and mass production and consumption should underpin predictions about current nanoscience.

Kelly also explains why once a technology, such as the silicon chip, is in place it is very difficult to usurp even with advances such as conducting polymers and novel forms of carbon from buckyballs (fullerenes) and nanotubes to graphene despite the hyperbole that surrounds such novel materials. He points out that too little attention is paid to the many hurdles facing the nanoscientist hoping to be revolutionary nanotechnologist. But, his systematic protocol reveals what the aspirational need to know in making that quantum leap.

If one is working towards nanotechnology, then one must first identify the environment in which a new nanomaterial will be superior to the current state-of-the art material, otherwise the science becomes a solution looking for a problem. There are a few examples of fundamental science, the laser being a rare example, where uses are found after the fact, but, Kelly suggests that, in a burgeoning field with myriad projects and experiments final outcomes do not commonly justify the initial effort.

Secondly, it is important to identify the critical properties of the new nanomaterial and to be able to reproduce them absolutely in different samples with values to within better than 10 percent of the mean or there is no possibility of mass production. He points out that semiconductor tunnelling devices have only very recently addressed this problem.

Thirdly, a way to make the material or device with pre-specified performance and at high yield is essential from an early stage of development or again wasted raw materials will keep end product costs too high for a product to be commercially viable.

Kelly’s fourth commandment asserts that for a product, one must be able to simulate its performance from first principles and to readily invert properties at any stage of development so that it might be reverse engineered and adapted to resolve discrepancies where a device deviates from design.

Fifth and finally, even if the first four steps of the protocol are addressed adequately lifetime performance must be demonstrated as being superior to any current state-of-the art technology. He cites multi-heterojunction tandem solar cell technology as being on the cusp of serious development in this regard, one might also mention organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and their development from unstable devices in the early 1990s to fully fledged commercial technology today.

The shift from traditional manufacturing to the current developments based on novel and even designer materials means that industry now places great emphasis on product development taking place at the laboratory bench and expects much more than a one-off result before adopting new science and converting it into technology, nano or otherwise.

Research Blogging IconKelly M.J. (2014). From nanoscience to nanotechnology: what can and what cannot be manufactured, International Journal of Nanotechnology, 11 (5/6/7/8) 441. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/ijnt.2014.060563

Mars Rover – To the tune of Moon River

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which headed for the planet Mars back in 2003 and reached their destination in January 2004.


Spirit is quiet now despite NASA’s best efforts to keep it talking. Opportunity continues to relay data. The mission’s scientific objective was to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. A little poetic license was taken in these lyrics to be sung to the tune of Mancini’s “Moon River” from the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Mars Rovers travelled ‘cross the miles
A million score or more, who can say?
Then months later, it’s Endeavour Crater
Whatever you’re scanning, we’re coming some day

Two grifters, on a new, red world
It’s such a different world to probe
Searching for life not only hope,
That oughta see them through
There’s water out there too
On that old red globe

You lost Spirit
Opportunity’s still there
Explore and let us know that some day
If our dream making isn’t heart breaking
On the old Red Planet we soon might all play

Two grifters, on a new red world
It’s such a brave, new world, you see?
That red sky at night, an astronaut’s delight
It’s well within the sight of NASA’s little mites,
Mars Rovers and me

Anal cancer in women

Many readers will probably be aware that actress and model Farrah Fawcett died in 2009 of anal cancer. But a recent update from Cancer Research UK revealed that anal cancer rates in the UK have increased by nearly 300% over the last 40 years. The increase is much higher in women than in men, rising from 4 in a million to 18 in a million for females (4 to 12 in a million in males). Presumably, similar increases are seen elsewhere in other countries.

Experts believe the reason for the dramatic rise is likely to be caused by the increasing prevalence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that is usually transmitted through sexual activity. An estimated 90 per cent of anal cancer cases in the UK are linked to HPV infection.

Now, this is a mixed taboo subject, cancer, sex, disease, bumholes etc. Perhaps not a topic for the family dinner table, but certainly one that should be broached more readily. If shifting sexual practices are largely to blame, then sexually active people ought to know more about HPV and the fact that it can cause cancer of any entry point in the body.


A recent tweet from @RealMissChief today remarked on a tattoo a female displayed on her lower back that she saw in a bar. The tattoo was actually of stars but RMC wittily interpreted this to mean “I do butt stuff”. Maybe the tattooee does or doesn’t we will never know, but either way we can but hope that she uses protection if she does that kind of “butt stuf”, or at the very least knows her partners’ HPV status. This anecdote does offer a putative tabloid scare story about how getting a tat on your lower back could lead to anal cancer. But, while it might be flippant to suggest such a thing, perhaps the increasing proclivity for such body art simply correlates with general shifting attitudes towards sex at a time when HPV is prevalent. The numbers are small but worryingly on the increase…

Anal cancer rates quadrupled since mid 70s.

100% Faith Free

no-more-atheist-aI don’t like that red, upper case “A” that so many people wear on their web and social media presence as some kind of skeptical badge of honour. But, the atheist tag has just too much baggage (thank you Prof Dawkins and others) and implies too much about one’s philosophy that might not apply.

Moreover, critics of atheism and the so-called “atheist movement” (generally those who simply believe in at least one more god than any true atheist) will commonly complain that most atheists are agnostics or some such. There is also a backlash against the term that seems to imply that atheism itself is a belief system, a religion even. Atheism, of course, is as much a belief system or religion as not going for a jog is a form of exercise or eating a bacon butty is a type of vegetarianism, irrespecive of what the non-skeptics and religious claim. Other analogies: “bald” is a hair colour, “off” is a TV channel…


The problem that many skeptics, rationalists, realists, the scientifically minded, have with religion, it seems, is the division between themselves and their search for truth that uses an evidence-based understanding of reality (observations that are reproducible and testable against the theory that explains them) as opposed to the religious who may simply believe and do not need any evidence (other than the words in ancient books or certain feelings). They have faith. If evidence were available to support the existence of a god, then the rationalists would have to update their theory of reality and subsume that evidence into it. That’s how science works.

So, rather than plastering that inflammatory red atheist-A on a website, how about something more a little more diplomatic that gets the message across just the same? A badge that does not exclude new evidence, but simply takes nothing on faith…

If the graphic catches your imagination feel free to modify and use it on your site.