Does Hype Surrounding Nanotechnology Even Matter?

There is often an odd schizophrenic nature to articles that set out to bemoan the phenomenon of nanotechnology hype. The latest article of this variety over at Industry Week is a typical example. It starts out explaining how the market has been hyped and then proceeds for the majority of the article to list all the new and unexpected ways nanotechnology is impacting commercial products.

We get the usual complaints of how molecular-level manufacturing is still 10 years away (perpetually so it would seem) disappointing those who thought we would building products from the bottom-up by now, the $1 trillion market number by 2015 is hype and is closer to $26 billion, according to one market research firm and environmental and regulatory concerns are poised to tip over the picnic cart.

As bad as it all appears at least we can take comfort in the fact that Industry Week has taken a real (and welcomed) interest in nanotechnology by running near monthly columns from Scott E. Rickert, who pens their “Taking the NanoPulse” column, which I have commented on before.

Plus I feel myself in agreement with much of their perspective on the state of nanotechnology’s commercial development. However, when I take a step back it always has this initial cautionary tone and then seems to exhort us towards its bright and limitless future.

I guess I am just as conflicted as they are. Nanotechnology is no doubt already being integrated into commercial products to such an extent that in the article, BASF spokesman, Rudiger Iden, explains, “Now that nanotechnology has progressed as a cross-technology used in many products across the company, there is no longer a way to place a figure on nano-related investment.” It’s just too pervasive to separate it out it would seem.

But at the same time we get a pretty regular stream of anti-hype articles like this one, or those who reduce the entire nanotechnology enterprise to “vaporware”. So what brings on this odd split personality when we look at nanotechnology’s prospects?

It’s probably just because it’s prospects still lie so much in the future. We look at the future with both dread and longing. On the one hand, fear that it won’t meet our expectations or be something far worse and on the other hand hope that all our worries will be quelled and better days are ahead. 

So, what of the state of nanotechnology? Has it not met our expectations? Well since “nanotechnology” has been foisted upon as an investment opportunity or worse an industry, I suppose it was bound to disappoint us.

But I am becoming more and more content with just the notion that our ability to manipulate and examine materials at the nanoscale is going to have an enormous impact on the world, and already is doing so. And best of all, will likely do it in ways that we can’t even imagine right now.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

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Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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