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Jamais Cascio, 27 Feb 04

We just love it when a couple of our favorite memes hook up. Nanotech and biomimicry -- two cool ideas that are even cooler together. A February 25 UC Santa Barbara press release I found today doesn't report on a specific break-through, but does give a nice overview of the ways that nanofabrication techniques are beginning to echo natural methods, and the reasons why this is a Good Thing:

"We are now learning how to harness the biomolecular mechanism that directs the nanofabrication of silica in living organisms," says Morse. "This is to learn to direct the synthesis of photovoltaic and semiconductor nanocrystals of titanium dioxide, gallium oxide and other semiconductors – materials with which nature has never built structures before."

Most recently, Morse and his students have made advances in copying the way marine sponges construct skeletal glass needles at the nanoscale. The research group is using nature's example to produce semiconductors and photovoltaic materials in an environmentally benign way [...]

These discoveries are significant because they represent a low temperature, biotechnological, catalytic route to the nanostructural fabrication of valuable materials. The research group is now translating these discoveries into practical engineering.

Currently these materials are produced at very high temperatures in high vacuums, using caustic chemicals. With these latest discoveries, scientists have found that nanotechnology can copy nature and produce materials in a much more environmentally friendly way than the current state-of-the-art.

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Not exactly an on-topic comment, but talking about the resurfacing of memes, at this New Scientist link ( ) you can read about some people putting a whole radar on a chip, complete with phased antennae grid. Doesn't this remind you of Snowcrash tech in some way? :)

P.S. JFYI, while previewing, I get this at the bottom of the page, right after Previous Comments label and a horizontal divier:

MT::App::Comments=HASH(0x810ac5c) Use of uninitialized value in sprintf at lib/MT/Template/ line 1187.

Posted by: Michael Bravo on 28 Feb 04

Sounds great, in a way, that the bio-mimicry stuff is coming on strong. Two points though:
1: The fact that we're geting closer to creating the conditions for novel "bio" activity at low temperatures suggests that we're at the edge of releasing Very Problematic Stuff into the environment
2: Culturally (ethically?) we are still light years away from agreeing *why* particular research decisions are being made. I suspect that many of the current R&D decisions are deeply entwined with commercial "imperatives" that have little to do with creating/sustaining the conditions for biological persistence.


Posted by: John Brisbin on 28 Feb 04



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