Risk and Opportunities of Nanotechnology

Despite a lack of some clear risks from nanotechnology it seems we need to get social scientists involved in sorting out its problems

2 min read

I have to confess to not always understanding the point of some forums or who the attended audience is supposed to be.

Such is the case for a webcast that ran live on Tuesday of this week (which has now been archived and you can access on the page I linked to here).

It has a distinguished panel, a noted moderator and a lively discussion for 50 minutes or so. But for what and for whom is this intended dare I ask?

It was put on by the University of Michigan Risk Research Center, which the moderator, Andrew Maynard, took the helm of late last year. And it has a clever title “Nanotechnology—Unplugged” that was somewhat unfortunate in that it left me wondering who thought that it was a good idea to plug it all into the Internet.

It’s not forming the basis of any regulatory framework, it’s not educating legislators or regulators as to the issues they face when tackling nanotechnology, it doesn’t present the kind of information that researchers, engineers and scientists might find beneficial to do their work and I think you could hardly call it a public engagement exercise—thank goodness for that.

So, the point of this webcast other than entertaining a handful of people eludes me. But alas, that’s not that important. Let’s take a look at the content.

We get a chemist who gives us the required definition of nanotech and its scale, we get a toxicologist who provides some science for looking at the risks of nanotechnology and a social scientist who is eager to have us take into account the instincts of the uninformed when approaching emerging technologies.

To me there were a few key exchanges. One that had my jaw drop and I already alluded to was when the social scientist said something to the effect: You don’t have to have an understanding of science to have instincts about a particular technology that are valuable in a few ways.

These ways amounted to market research for producers to avoid pitfalls and take advantage of unknown markets. Okay, but couldn’t I just ignore them and figure that out myself?

As the video below demonstrates, people’s instincts on science, especially when they are—shall we say—poorly informed, are really best avoided.

Then the toxicologist kind of made all the concern over nanotechnology, versus say just about any other toxic chemical that we use in our everyday lives, a little silly: There’s no connection yet between quantum mechanical properties of a material and toxicity.

Uh oh…somebody just spoiled the party. We were going to bring in Auntie Alice to ask about her instincts on the use of graphene versus molybdenite for gate materials, but it looks we might want to wait.

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3 Ways 3D Chip Tech Is Upending Computing

AMD, Graphcore, and Intel show why the industry’s leading edge is going vertical

8 min read
A stack of 3 images.  One of a chip, another is a group of chips and a single grey chip.
Intel; Graphcore; AMD

A crop of high-performance processors is showing that the new direction for continuing Moore’s Law is all about up. Each generation of processor needs to perform better than the last, and, at its most basic, that means integrating more logic onto the silicon. But there are two problems: One is that our ability to shrink transistors and the logic and memory blocks they make up is slowing down. The other is that chips have reached their size limits. Photolithography tools can pattern only an area of about 850 square millimeters, which is about the size of a top-of-the-line Nvidia GPU.

For a few years now, developers of systems-on-chips have begun to break up their ever-larger designs into smaller chiplets and link them together inside the same package to effectively increase the silicon area, among other advantages. In CPUs, these links have mostly been so-called 2.5D, where the chiplets are set beside each other and connected using short, dense interconnects. Momentum for this type of integration will likely only grow now that most of the major manufacturers have agreed on a 2.5D chiplet-to-chiplet communications standard.

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