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March 31, 2006

Probes to control chemistry - molecule by molecule

In their proof-of-principle experiment, Wong's group attached titanium dioxide nanoparticles to the end of a conventional AFM probe and used it to photocatalytically oxidize selected sites on a thin film of photoreactive dye -- a model for understanding photocatalysis in solar cells In the experiment, oxidized and unaffected areas of the dye were often separated by a mere 0.1 microns (millionths of a meter). The hope is to increase the spatial resolution of the technique to affect changes molecule by molecule, or at the one-nanometer (billionths of a meter) scale, Wong says.

The functionalization of AFM probes with molecular tooltips has been area of theoretical study

A partial list of technology and other future claims that are not crazy

Living off the grid is not crazy. It costs about $23000 for a 2000 sf home

More on living off the grid

Solar power is not crazy.
Solar power is near a tipping point. It it gets to $1 per watt for installed panels it should takeoff without subsidies. Right now the best values are at about $3 per watt installed.

Update June 2006: Nanosolar building 100 million plant to make 400 MW per year of thin film solar cells

Wind power is already well on the way as cost competitive. 5% of UK power by 2010.
Update May 2006: More economical wind systems

It is not crazy that ordinary folk can afford in the future what only the rich can afford now. You can get a lot now relative to a wealthy person in the past.

In 1900, a wealthy man would have his own newspaper and printing presses. Now cheap blogs and high volume laser printers $300-1000. Higher end if you want color.

A wealthy guy could hire a maid. Now you can spend $200 for an iRobot broomba.

It is not crazy that personal manufacturing capability could become common.
A fab lab costs about $16000-20000 now

Laser cutters and the ability to make complex electronics etc...

Robots becoming very capable and common is not crazy.
The latest robot hobbyist status

Robot tech is advancing

It is not crazy that more people could afford jets and supersonic jets.
Business jets are coming down in price to around $1 to 2 million.

If you are actually pretty rich now, you can buy Migs and assemble an air force.

Something to point out from the Wired article. An L39 Soviet tactical jet fighter can be had for about $300,000. You just have to shop smart.

It would not be that expensive for someone motivated to put together a personal collection of unmanned flying vehicles and robotic security.

Getting into space is not crazy.
Suborbital flights coming for about $100K. Orbital flights to follow.
Update: potentially cheaper launch systems

Being rich in the future is not crazy.
The amount of wealthy people is growing at about 8% per year. Populations overall are growing at about 1% or less in most places. So if you are in a developed country and not becoming affluent then you are being left behind.
Updated wealth statics June 2006

March 30, 2006

Nanodots and nanocolumns used to improve superconductors

Nanodots are being used to successfully pin the magnetic field in superconducting wire. This allows for more stable current flow and better retention of performance over longer wire. The performance necessary for many applications appears possible using this technique There are still many hurdles but this appears to be a path to success.

The performance of the new wires is so good, in fact, that for the first time it surpasses the requirements for a wide range of electrical applications, including motors, high-field magnets, and power cables. So far, the wires are only 1.5 centimeters long. Two Japanese companies, however, are working on making long YBCO wires using PLD, while companies in the United States are racing to commercialize cheaper synthetic approaches in hopes of being the first to toe the latest line in the sand.

The team now hopes to achieve similar nanoscale defects in thicker films and so obtain even better performance.

Interesting links to many space related topics

Notes for classes in 2004 on space related topics

Editorial: No Fermi Paradox: Hey no one visited my anthill

The Fermi paradox is if the universe contains many technologically advanced civilizations, combined with our lack of observational evidence to support that view, seems to be inconsistent. Either this assumption is incorrect (and technologically advanced intelligent life is much rarer than we believe), our current observations are incomplete (and we simply have not detected them yet), or our search methodologies are flawed (we are not searching for the correct indicators).

Robert Freitas wrote articles about 20 years ago that explained many problems with the lack of logic in the Fermi paradox

I think that our current observations are incredibly incomplete. We are still just finding planets larger than Pluto in our own solar system. We often do not detect objects that are larger than a kilometer in size that in astronomical terms just miss our planet within one million kilometers

So an alien deathstar size object (120 kilometers in diameter) could be passing by Saturn and we would probably not know it. If it happened over 10 years ago we would have definitely missed it. 50 years ago it could have passed by Mars and we would have been clueless.

Why have aliens not visited us and announced their presence? I think it is because we are relatively boring to them and if they had done it anytime from 1400 and earlier we would have not understood it or collectively forgotten. I think it is foolish to argue that maybe they destroyed themselves. It is like we have an anthill and say hey we don't remember anyone visiting us this week, it must mean we are the only life on the planet. We sent out ants to two neighbouring hills (the moon and mars) and stood at the top of our hill and looked around.

We need better technology. We could not detect our own radio waves if we set up similar receivers in the nearest solar system. The signals fade into the background.

Right now we have the first term of the Drake equation with any certainty R* is the rate of star formation in our galaxy

We need to nail down the other drake equation parameters for our galaxy by surveying it. Then we can extrapolate to the universe.

fp is the fraction of those stars which have planets

ne is average number of planets which can potentially support life per star that has planets

World imagers, Hyper telescopes and Magnetically inflated cable structures could be built over the next 20-30 years. Even without molecular nanotechnology we could have telescopes in space that are 1km-10km in size and then arrayed together. We would be able look in detail out hundreds of light years. By in detail, I mean directly imaging continents on earth like planets.

Molecular nanotechnology enhance the above systems and we could have really big telescope arrays 5 years after the first assembler. We would be able to look in detail out thousands of light years and maybe tens of thousands of light years.

fl is the fraction of the above which actually go on to develop life

Remote spectral scans of an atmosphere could give a pretty good idea about the above term.

fi is the fraction of the above which actually go on to develop intelligent life
We have to go out into the galaxy and find them.

fc is the fraction of the above which are willing and able to communicate
We have to go out and try to talk to them

L is the expected lifetime of such a civilization
We can find evidence of a dead civilization and perform some archeology to determine when they died.

March 29, 2006

Magnetically controlled and triggered nanospheres for precise drug delivery

Nanospheres that are 200 nanometers in diameter, roughly the size of a virus, are used so they won't trigger an immune response in the body. They are also biocompatible so they can be readily absorbed by the cells. It's the structure of the nanospheres that makes drug delivery possible. The spheres have thousands of parallel channels running completely through them. Through capillary action, the spheres can soak up molecules of the drug to be delivered. When the channels are filled, the ends of channels are "capped" to safely seal the drug inside. Once the caps are in place, the nanospheres are "washed" to remove the drug from the outer surface.

The type of material used for the end caps, how they're held in place, and how they're released is the focus of Lin's work. The caps can be dendrimers, biodegradable polymers, genes, proteins, metallic nanoparticles, or semiconductor nanocrystals – also known as quantum dots – and are held in place by chemical bonds. Once the nanospheres are inside the target cells, a trigger is used to pop the caps off and release the drug.

"We're looking at two levels of control," Lin said of the trigger mechanism. "One level is to have the cell control the release and the other would be to control the release externally."

Lin explained that the chemical bond holding the cap in place can be engineered to be unphased by chemicals present in normal cells. However, in cancer cells these chemicals, such as antioxidants, appear in much higher concentrations and would break the bonds on the caps and release the drugs. In this way, only cancer cells could be targeted with powerful chemotherapy drugs .

To achieve external control, Lin is using iron-oxide nanoparticle caps which can be manipulated by a magnetic field. "By using a powerful magnet, we can first concentrate the nanospheres at a particular point, such as a tumor site, and then use the magnetic field to remove the caps and release the drug," Lin said. "The advantage of using a magnetic trigger as opposed to a ultraviolet light trigger is that there's no limit to the depth of tissue we are able to probe … think of an MRI.

By using externally controlled nanospheres, Lin explains that it may be possible to sequentially release genes, chemical markers and other materials within cells in order to track what happens and what specific changes take place. This phase of Lin's research ties into a larger plant metabolomics project at Ames Laboratory.

The end result of this path of nanoscale medical research would be precise delivery of genes and drugs to cells and within cells.

Other tech: Regenerative medicine, artificial organs and emergency medicine developments

Researchers have achieved success in reversing paralysis in rats using hydrogels which had stem cells mixed in and the material placed into the space of the spinal cord gap. Hydrogels resemble the soft tissue that surrounds a human spinal cord as it develops in the womb. The researchers estimate gel-based spinal cord repair clinical trials will begin within the next five years, but it's too soon to predict whether the treatment will translate into humans. They have started conducting hydrogel experiments in five pigs with injured spinal cords. The results suggest the gel implants may scale up better than expected. Several other stem cell-based techniques have cured rats of paralysis, but scientists have yet to try the techniques in humans. Some clinical trials could start in 2007. Newly injured patients will be first as older injuries have more hurdles to overcome. Researchers at Harvard are also working on regenerating muscle using cells on scaffold techniques

Drugs are in the pipeline that induce significant regeneration of heart muscle over 40-60 days

At Rice University, they have achieved success growing knee cartilidge outside the body that could then be surgically implanted. Clinical trials for bladders grown outside of the body from a patients own cells could begin later this year.

This site tracks many of the projects for artificial replace organs and tissues

Again one of the leading avenues for regeneration are the MRL mice which can regenerate limbs and heart tissue If this were possible for humans then one might regenerate a leg in a few months.

For immediate treatment of injured there are several fast clotting agents that are proving effective Emergency medicine is also being helped by advances in artificial blood such as Polyheme

The superiority of todays medicine and its improvement over time can be seen by US casualties in different wars In world war II, there were 2.3 combat wounded :1 combat dead. For the Vietnam war it was 3.28:1. In the current Iraq war, it is about 9.5 to 1 (WIA returned + WIA not returned) /KIA). Better battlefield medicine and armor that protects vital organs combine to reduce the death rate.

The possibility is that in 10-15 years, medical advances would allow recovery within a couple months to one year from any injury that did not kill you outright.

March 28, 2006

Nanotube and shape memory artificial muscle 100 times capability of skeletal muscle

The Korean team's continuously shorted fuel-cell muscle incorporated a shape-memory wire coated with nanoparticles of platinum catalyst. This type of muscle converted the chemical energy of the fuel into thermal energy, which caused actuation. The fuel-cell muscle's work capability was 100 times that of skeletal muscle They also created a cantilever-based nanotube fuel-cell muscle, the system converted chemical energy (in the form of hydrogen fuel) to electrical energy, which it could then use for movement, other needs or storage.

The artificial muscles could have applications in robotics, freeing up robots from being tethered to heavy battery packs. They could also find a use in prosthetic limbs, smart sensors, dynamic Braille displays, and smart skins for aerospace vehicles. Ultimately it may even be possible to use artificial muscles in the human body, by replacing the metal catalyst with tethered enzymes that can exploit food-derived fuels.

Nanofluids: nanoparticles suspended in fluid: 400% better as coolant

By suspending nanoparticles in water or other liquids, Professor Richard Williams and Dr Yulong Ding have created 'nanofluids' which can transfer heat up to 400% faster than other liquids. In a central heating system, nanofluids could increase efficiency without the need to use a more powerful pump, so saving energy and providing major environmental benefits.

March 27, 2006

Other tech: Neurons and silicon transistors interfaced

NACHIP's core achievement was to develop a working interface between the living tissue of individual neurons and the inorganic compounds of silicon chips. With the help of German microchip company Infineon, NACHIP placed 16,384 transistors and hundreds of capacitors on a chip just 1mm squared in size. The group had to find appropriate materials and refine the topology of the chip to make the connection with neurons possible.

Biologically NACHIP uses special proteins found in the brain to essentially glue the neurons to the chip. These proteins act as more than a simple adhesive, however. "They also provided the link between ionic channels of the neurons and semiconductor material in a way that neural electrical signals could be passed to the silicon chip," says Vassanelli. Once there, that signal can be recorded using the chip's transistors. What's more, the neurons can also be stimulated through the capacitors. This is what enables the two-way communications.

There is more info on this at new scientist The researchers began experimenting with snail brain cells before moving on to rat neurons. Mammal neurons are smaller and more complex. The team had to tinker with the neurons themselves to increase the strength of the connection between cells and the chip. Firstly, the researchers genetically modified the neurons to add more pores. Secondly, they added proteins to the chip that glue neurons together in the brain, and which also attract the sodium pores. "It should be possible to make the signals from the chip cause a neuron to alter its membrane and take up a new gene, or something that switches one off," says Vassanelli. "Now the chip has been developed, we plan to use it to try and switch genes on and off."

A compound that would turn off a gene, or the DNA for a new one, could be added to the dish containing the wired-up neurons.


The new technology could enable very advanced and sophisticated drug screening systems for the pharmaceutical industry in the near term. Long term it could allow non-organic enhancement of brains.

March 26, 2006

other tech: $100 million for prizes to a hydrogen economy

U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the House Science Committee's research subcommittee, proposes three categories of competition:

* Up to four prizes would be awarded for the best technology advancements in hydrogen production, storage, distribution and utilization.
* A prize would be awarded for the best working prototype in a category using hydrogen technology.
* The grand prize would be reserved for "transformational technologies that meet or exceed far-reaching objective criteria in hydrogen production and distribution to the consumer."