Nanotechnology and the Uncertainty Principle

Finding a way to regulate nanoparticles without having all the data on their toxicity will be necessary

2 min read

No, not that uncertainty principle, but I did get your attention, I hope. No, the uncertainty principle I am referring to here has to do with the idea that behind every human action remains a certain degree of uncertainty, or doubt.

For Professor Simon Brown at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand in a new article for the journal Nature Nanotechnology (subscription required) the inability to accept this uncertainty principle (as I have termed it) lies at the root of calls for more data on the toxicity of nanoparticles.

"[C]alls for more data on the impact of nanomaterials on human health and the environment reflect a failure to accept that there will always be unknowns associated with any new technology. Effective governance of emerging nanotechnologies will require an acknowledgement of these unknowns, an open and adaptive approach to regulation, and the courage to make decisions."

Brown rightly re-examines the term “Deficit Model” and recognizes that not all deficits, such as deficits in information, can be corrected. As the summary of the article on Meridian Institute website says, “In fact, it is unlikely we will ever have detailed toxicology data for each of the (estimated) 50,000 kinds of carbon nanotube, let alone all the other types of nanomaterials.”

I beg to differ somewhat here by pointing out that you may not really need to test every single nanoparticle’s level of toxicity as some can be eliminated from testing requirements or grouped together, etc. But I agree with the fundamental point.

Brown apparently urges “genuine” public engagement. I think I can guess what disingenuous engagement might be, but from what I have seen there have been a lot of earnest and sincere people trying to tackle this issue and all they seem to get in return is a shoulder shrug from John Q. Public.

But what Brown suggests, a type of decision making model that operates without all the facts, will be required if agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decide to determine the toxicity of a material based on its size rather than its chemistry without having some basic tools needed to investigate nanoparticles in living organisms.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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