Overcoming Misleading Nanotechnology Lists

There seems to be an odd fascination for some experts, journalists and other assorted types to create lists when confronted with the topic of nanotechnology.

The annually updated list that annoys me at least once a year is the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' Nanotech-enabled consumer product list.

As annoying as I find that list, an entirely new type of list that seems to be growing in favor is even more pointless. Their titles are usually some twist on “x number of things you should know about nanotech” or “x number of things you didn’t know about nanotech.”

My first encounter with these was in the men’s magazine Askmen.com, which got things started with “5 Things You Didn’t Know about Nanotech”. This was just the first for me in what would become a genre of nanotechnology lists that seems to me to be increasingly annoying, pointless and misleading.

Then came the far more reputable publication, at least in all things nano, Nanowerk that told us “10 things people should know”, or perhaps more appropriately 10 things you should agree with Nanowerk on when it comes to nanotech.

And now we have the publication “Discover” upping the ante by giving us "20 (that’s right twenty) Things You Didn’t Know about Nanotechnology.”

This one may be the most comical of them all, and yet still be as equally annoying as the others. What makes this list such a farce is that apparently they could only come up with 10 things so they split each one into two entries. I kid you not.

For instance the now 20-year-old event of spelling out I-B-M with xenon atoms gets two entries:

13.  In 1989, using an atomic force microscope, IBM engineer Don Eigler became the first person to move and control a single atom.

14.  Eigler and his team later used 35 xenon atoms to spell out “IBM,” thus performing the world’s smallest PR stunt.

To add insult to injury, they keep the entire misleading quality of these lists up to snuff by using artwork that depicts some “nanorobot” manipulating red blood cells.

Really, if this is the only way we have to engage people on the subject of science, and specifically nanotechnology, might we not be better off not engaging people at all?



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

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain