Nanotechnology and the Glazed Over Look You Get When Describing It

Long ago I lost count on the times I have tried to explain what nanotechnology is to friends and family. Despite the large number of times I have engaged in this fruitless enterprise, the reaction process is striking similar in most cases.

First you get earnest interestâ''they are your friends and family after all. Then you begin to see the confusion start to set in, which is usually accompanied by what seems to you a very strange question. After trying to answer the question, the confusion has become so great that they have completely lost interest and they are staring off into the ether dreaming of when you are going to shut up.

After listening to Professor Tony Ryan of Sheffield University conduct man-on-the-street interviews for the BBCâ''s Street Science radio program, I couldnâ''t help but think about the times I have engaged in the joyless job of describing nanotech.

Against insurmountable odds Professor Ryan sallies forth again and again to meet his enemyâ'¿umh I mean public. Unbowed after getting responses from university professors who confess all they know about nanotechnology is â''grey gooâ'', he tries to get his interviewees to grasp some basic concept about nanotechnology.

Itâ''s hard to know if he really succeeds with anyone. But after a lengthy and somewhat complicated explanation to a couple of how nanotechnology is involved in 2-in-1 shampoo, which initially elicits the typical â''Isnâ''t that interestingâ'' response, the man asks something like â''Wouldnâ''t it make more sense to use this technology for treating diseases rather than making shampoo?â''

If I were Professor Ryan, I would walk away with the feeling that this one question alone made it all worth it.


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