The Troubled Teen Years of Nanotechnology

A panel discussion on the teenage years of nanotechnology loses its way

2 min read

I have always enjoyed the voice of Kristen Kulinowski, whose blog, Nanorisk, I have linked to on this blog.

After a year of no blog entries from Nanorisk I was beginning to wonder if it might not be better to remove it from the blog list as it appeared to be another addition to the growing number of now moribund nanotech-related blogs.

But last week, it came alive and provided a video to a panel discussion that Dr. Kulinowski participated in entitled “Nanotechnology in 2010’s: The Teen Years."

I was struck at the very beginning of the video how the moderator, David Kestenbaum, a journalist from the National Public Radio, launched into one of the typical nanotech-bashing poses: “After billions of dollars where are the nanotech products?”

It was another sigh moment for me, but thankfully the panel gave him a proper smack down, explaining to him—one hopes—the real nature of nanotechnology as an enabling technology not a product in and of itself.

After being provided a number of technologies that nanotech is enabling, the moderator decided it might be better to go after the number one most boring question about nanotechnology: “Can you define nanotechnology?

I suppose, depending on the audience, this question can be almost required. But I am hard pressed to believe that a meeting sponsored by the American Chemical Society really needs to bog itself down into tedious definitions of nanotechnology. After offering his own definition—which really should have sufficed (for its comic relief qualities alone)—he goes through the panelists who mightily attempt to keep the skeptical journalist satisfied, and thankfully nearly completely ignore the question.

Perhaps part of Mr. Kestenbaum’s skepticism and admitted frustration comes from some odd ideas he has about quantum effects. For instance, he says at one point: “All chemistry is a quantum effect.” The panelists begin to look uncomfortable at this point, barely able to maintain their polite smiles. And as a viewer, you begin to ask yourself: Which Wiki entry did Mr. Kestenbaum read before coming out to moderate this panel?

This is just the first 15 minutes of the over hour-long video in which the panelists get the opportunity to go into depth on their own research. While this may have actually been interesting to the chemists and chemical engineers one would imagine made up the audience, it’s hard to see how this addressed the implied question of the panel’s title: Where is nanotechnology 10 years into the National Nanotechnology Initiative?

I was left wondering—as I often do with these panels on nanotechnology—who is this panel discussion supposed to be targeting? I just couldn’t get a sense of who they expected to be listening to this.

I think for next time maybe they might ask Dr. Kulinowski to moderate such a panel. Then it might get interesting.

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