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December 02, 2005

Problems with MIT Technology Review article and unproductive attacks of opposing views

Here is a list of the problems with an article by David Rotman called Fictional Science which attacks supporters and those that work towards living forever or self-replicating nanobots:

1. An example of applying logic to parts of the article. Rotman disparage the opinion of "non-researchers" and claim that they should not be given attention. Yet Rotman states that he is not a researcher but a journalist. Therefore, by his own standard..his own opinion is not important and should not be given attention.

2. Rotman is mistaken in claiming that there are no researchers among the "live-forever crowd" and among what he labels the "self replicating mechanical nanotechnology crowd". There are researchers of various types working on the side that he disparages.

3. He disparages "wild claims with no empirical support" . Smalley and he create straw men positions of the opposing view and then attack the straw men. The claims that he attributes to those he opposes are not accurate reflections of their claims. The charge that they have no empirical support is also not accurate. "Rotman charges are inaccurate and based on falsified opposing views...very similar to what he accuse others of doing".

4. I feel that articles and journalists and researchers who spend time publicly attacking and trying to poison the funding atmosphere for alternatives is destructive. If Big Oil attacks the science and funding for solar or wind (even if those alternatives are currently more costly) people would say that it is against the interests of society and potentially improved future technology. If Microsoft competes against other software companies not by making better products but by using public relation attacks and paying Gartner and other sources to trash the opposition and prevent them from being funded that would not be considered to be in societies interest. Mainstream researchers, Big Oil, Microsoft should concentrate on making their product better and competing that way.

Scientists choose to work on what they choose to work towards. Some of that work may not be on what is considered the mainstream path. Some work will pay off and some will not. If the mainstream path is really the best one ...it and the people working on it should not be threatened by some alternative proposals.

Completely fictional science (such as Creationism / intelligent design) can be proven to not be science. There is no need to villify the people who promote it. There idea can just be shown to be wrong.

Theories (still scientific) can be shown to be incorrect. Molecular nanotechnology has many theories which could be experimentally tested at some point to show if they are correct or not. If a particular researcher chooses not to investigate those experiments, that is their choice. A researcher claiming that experiments will definitely have a particular result without the empirical data does not make them right. A bad theory can also be shown to be incorrect with a scientifically based theoretical proof.

I think the current biogerontology is a valid and worthy scientific discipline. However, I will laud and pay for the products, services and further research of those who actually can prove that they are able to significantly extend my lifespan and improve my health and body functions as I age.

The best stategies that we have now for that are eat right, exercise, don't smoke, wear seat belts, get enough rest, avoid disease, detect disease early, get treated where possible etc... Maybe calorie restriction.

I do not see anything that I find interesting in what most Biogerontologist are doing (even if they were successful). I understand that they are researching basic science. So far I do not see many results to laud or pay anyone for. Biogerontologist or not. I am keeping an eye on certain research work and would support it if necessary.

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December 01, 2005

Targeted self-assembly of molecules

Targeted self-assembly could vastly expand the range of structures that could be created from nano-particles.

Torquato and colleagues have published a paper in the Nov. 25 issue of Physical Review Letters, the leading physics journal, outlining a mathematical approach that would enable them to produce desired configurations of nanoparticles by manipulating the manner in which the particles interact with one another. So far Torquato and his colleagues have demonstrated their concept only theoretically, with computer modeling. They optimized what would normally self-assemble into a pattern called a triangular lattice but changed it to a honeycome lattice. The honeycomb lattice is the two-dimensional analog to the three-dimensional diamond lattice, the creation of which is somewhat of a holy grail in nanotechnology.

Torquato and his colleagues hope that their efforts will be replicated in the laboratory using particles called colloids, which have unique properties that make them ideal candidates to test out the theory. Paul Chaikin, a professor of physics at New York University, said he is planning to do laboratory experiments based on the work.

November 29, 2005

Faster analysis of materials

In work that could radically change how engineers search for new materials, MIT researchers have developed a way to test the mechanical properties of almost 600 different materials in a matter of days - a task that would have taken weeks using conventional techniques. The approach of combinatorial arrays and miniturization of analysis and testing systems is one that will be enhanced by molecular nanotechnology.

The new process could lead to the faster identification of dental implants that don't crack, tank armor that's more resistant to missiles, and other materials dependent on mechanical properties like stiffness and toughness.

The trick? The team, led by Assistant Professor Krystyn J. Van Vliet of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, miniaturized the process.

Van Vliet, MSE graduate student Catherine A. Tweedie, research associate Daniel G. Anderson of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute Professor Robert Langer describe the work in the cover story of the November issue of Advanced Materials.

In 2004 Anderson, Langer and a colleague reported using robotic technology to deposit more than 1,700 spots of biomaterial (roughly 500 different materials in triplicate) on a glass slide measuring only 25 millimeters wide by 75 millimeters long. Twenty such slides, or microarrays, could be made in a single day.

November 28, 2005

Biotechnology's Newest Chemical Tool

Exploiting biology's own chemical toolbox, researchers have developed a new technique that will allow them to modify specific sequences within a DNA molecule. The approach will not only help reveal the impact of biochemical alterations to DNA, but could have far-reaching implications for DNA-based medical diagnosis and nanobiotechnology. Combining chemistry with biotechnology, Saulius Klimasauskas, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar at the Institute of Biotechnology in Vilnius, Lithuania, and chemists at the Institute of Organic Chemistry in Aachen, Germany, have harnessed a group of essential enzymes to add various chemical groups to DNA, thereby altering its function. The work was published in an early online publication on November 27, 2005 in Nature Chemical Biology. The enzymes at the heart of the study, known as DNA methyltransferases, are one of the tools cells use to turn genes on and off. By adding a simple cluster of four atoms — a carbon atom attached to three hydrogens, known to chemists as a methyl group — to specific bases within a DNA sequence, methyltransferases can effectively shut a gene off. Methylation plays an important role in embryonic development, genomic imprinting, and carcinogenesis because it regulates gene expression.

Yale Engineers Make Standardized Bulk Synthesis Of Nanowires Possible

Development of reliable nanowire fabrication will allow the exploration of the next steps in semiconductor miniaturization. This reported technology produces ten-times the number of NWs as previous technology and sets parameters for standardization of NWs.
“This brings nanowires to an interface with the rest of the world of semiconductor research,” said Stern. “Until this point, the greatest hurdle for the technology has been the inability to produce more than individual nanowires and to have statistically reproducible synthesis so that the properties of nanowires can be explored.”

Their study also demonstrated the proof-of-principle that the NWs act as scaled FETs (field effect transistors), the technology commonly used in microelectronics.

Nanomedicine: Using nanotech to gain understanding and possibly controlling T-cells

In a new experiment, published last week in Science, Jay Groves and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley designed an artificial membrane that allows them to begin to answer how receptors on t-cells effect and control immune system response. The membrane has proteins that are constricted in a specific region. When receptors on the T cell bind to the proteins on the artificial membrane, the receptors are constrained to these specific geometric patterns, allowing a closer examination of the effects of the patterns.

Previously, scientists thought that the growing number of receptors triggered a strong T cell activation. But when Grove and his team blocked the migration of T cell receptors by binding them to locked-in proteins on the artificial membrane, which acts like an infected cell, they discovered it was the position of the receptor that actually controlled the response.

The technology eventually could be used to develop cell-based drug screens in order to determine how candidate compounds affect immune-cell signaling. For example, scientists could expose cells bound into an artificial membrane to different drugs, and observe how those drugs affect T cell clustering. "Understanding how [cell signaling] works is a big component of learning how to control it with drugs," says Groves.

The findings could also lead to new treatments for auto-immune diseases, in which the immune system attacks the body's own proteins. "Effective treatments for auto-immune diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis turn down immune response, but this leaves the patient more vulnerable to infection," says Michael Dustin, an immunologist at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University, who collaborated on the Berkeley project. "You could use patterned particles to make more specific treatments, but first we need to learn the language."

Once researchers experimentally determine the signals associated with different patterns, it may be possible to build a particle with pre-patterned receptors that direct T cells to turn off the immune response, says Dustin. If the pattern was specific enough to turn off the immune response in particular organs, such as the brain in multiple sclerosis or the joints in rheumatoid arthritis, the rest of the immune system could still function effectively to fight viral invaders.

The technique also has blue-sky applications, going far beyond the immune system. "If you can make artificial surfaces that communicate with cells on a sophisticated level, you could make devices that tell cells what to do," says Groves. "You could get cells to generate energy or do a chemical conversion; it would be tremendous."