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NanoBusiness and You

The second speaker of the morning was Sean Murdock, the head of the NanoBusiness Alliance. (Like Scott Mize, the previous speaker, Mr. Murdock only recently came to lead his organization -- there was recently a spate of change in the nano-world.)

Sean is, he says, an "economist by training," so his talk is full of business jargon. He talks about "opening up the solution space" and "creating new opportunities to optimize" and "the consumer value proposition."

I had a chance to chat with Sean yesterday, and he seems a very serious and solid and steady guy (unlike, say, his predecessor, who was somewhat excitable).

The biggest application for nanotech in coming years, Sean says, is in energy. Still, he's a staunch defender of nanopants and nanotech-tennis rackets against those who would belittle them as nuthin' compared to what nanotech is likely to bring. After all, Sean says, these things are here, they are "revolutionary" and people want them. Consumer products matter, he says. It's not enough to just speculate about the distant future, we need "innovation as opposed to invention." (I'm not entirely sure what he means by that distinction, and can come up with several possible meanings, but maybe I'll ask him later, on camera.)

During the Q&A, one fellow in the audience asked Sean about the slowness of the patent office on nano patents. Sean responded with this news: apparently, the patent office is "trying to collect all nano-related patents into a sort of repository" that will expedite the processing of patent applications.

Sean also worried about "a looming shortage of postdocs and graduate students. Roughly half of our postdocs we import today. That's not sustainable."

Finally, this: Those who are opposed to nanotech research, Sean says, are trying to link it in the public mind with asbestos. But, Sean says, nanoparticles are fundamentally different from asbestos -- not least in the volumes produced and used. (Nanoparticles are produced by the ton. Asbestos was produced by the megaton.) And unlike asbestos, "we're trying to anticipate those things as we're developing the materials, before they're in widespread use." (Click to enlarge.)

UPDATE: Here's one of Sean's slides, showing government funding over time, comparing U.S. funding to Asia, Europe, Japan. As Sean put it, when it came to the computer industry, the U.S. was the biggest mover and shaker for years -- but in these early days of nanotech, we're in "a state of parity."

October 23, 2004 in Applications | Permalink


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