Blacksburg, Va., Va., September 29, 2004 -- Over the next 17 months, Virginia Tech will lead a team of researchers exploring the development of a new class of materials that will use plant protein structures in an attempt to mimic biological systems. The Defense Science Office of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is funding the $2.1 million project.I want one of those cars that morphs into a briefcase when I get to work.
DARPA is specifically interested in a group of hard polymers called nastic materials. In biology, nastic refers to the natural movement of plants in response to changes in their environment, such as plants that track sunlight or that stiffen when watered. These movements are caused by changes in the water pressure inside the plant and can result in very large changes in shape.
The goal of the DARPA project, administered by John Main, is to develop synthetic materials that utilize internal pressure changes to cause large shape changes.
The plan calls for the investigation of the protein structures of plants for the purpose of understanding their role in generating shape changes in natural materials. The protein structures under analysis would then be used to develop a synthetic material to incorporate properties that produce controllable shape.
Ultimately, successful development of the nastic structure concept will provide a new class of materials based on the direct conversion of biochemical energy into mechanical work. In this manner it will provide a truly integrated ‘smart’ material that serves as the foundation for a new generation of biologically-inspired engineering systems.
In this unique program, researchers will be working with a company on the application of nastic materials to a morphing aircraft wing. This wing would dynamically change its shape and control surfaces during flight.
The second blow to Drexler came only two days later, when President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, allocating $3.7 billion for molecular-scale R&D. In the months leading up to the signing, the bill had promised to catapult Drexler's agenda to the forefront of the nation's scientific priorities. But in the end, no money was earmarked for molecular manufacturing. Instead, the funds were largely allocated to projects using variations on conventional chemistry to develop novel materials "with new combinations of characteristics, such as, but not limited to, strength, toughness, density, conductivity, flame resistance, and membrane separation characteristics."But than, as is so often the case, political decisions are not nessecarily based on the best science. As the article points out:
What turned the tide on Capitol Hill? Drexler's ideas had always been outlandish and his political skills underdeveloped. That combination became an Achilles' heel as opposition emerged from two quarters. First, a group called the NanoBusiness Alliance entered the fray. Formed in October 2001, the alliance wasn't interested in anything as starry-eyed or scary as self-replicating molecular assemblers; it wanted to sell newfangled products like "nanotech" suntan lotion, ski wax, and paint. One of the founders, venture capitalist F. Mark Modzelewski, was a notorious opponent of Drexlerian notions; in a later email exchange with blogger and nanotech booster Glenn Reynolds, he likened Drexler's theories to "a wino's claims on skid row that bugs are crawling under his skin."Fear has a lot of political clout, and politicians don't mind business people usurping a term to sell more products. Integrity has never stood in the way of funding and legislation.
Meanwhile, support for Drexler's ideas softened elsewhere in Washington. The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy worried that fears whipped up by the likes of Crichton and Joy would turn the public against nanotech, just as similar scares had fueled opposition to GM foods and nuclear power. As New Hampshire's John Sununu remarked on the Senate floor, "some people have expressed concern that nanotechnology will lead to a superrace of humans or a situation where nanomachines attack or even dominate human beings."
Molecular manufacturing is a "loaded term," a Senate staffer says. "It upsets a lot of people."
The sponsors of the House bill were more interested in making sure it got through the Senate than they were in preserving funding for Drexler's ideas. Thus, when House and Senate staff members met to discuss their respective bills, they scuttled the molecular manufacturing study. In the Senate version, Arizona's John McCain introduced an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" in which the provision no longer appeared.
The watered-down bill was passed by the unanimous consent of the Senate on November 18 and signed into law by Bush on December 3. During the ceremony, Richard Smalley stood at the president's side.
"Triad of Nano-Bio-Info TechnologiesComes right out and calls on Indian scientists pursue military advantage via nanotech. [Quick rant: Of course, the Indians have the advantage in that their culture looks up to the educated, provides them with prestige, the best paying jobs, etc. Whereas in our culture the educated are considered pin-heads, eggheads, nerds etc. Is there any wonder that we can't produce enough scientists? We don't value them, why would a kid want to be one? Much better to take steriods and play pro sports and be rich and admired, than to learn science and hope there will be a job when you're done.]
I would like to introduce you to a future technology called Nanotechnology. We believe Nanotechnology is such a new technology that is knocking at the doors. It has wider applications compared to information technology and is likely to touch the common man. It will be the central focus for many technologies to converge and open a large number of applications. The essence of Nanotechnology is the ability to work at the molecular level to create structures with fundamentally new molecular organizations. Potential benefits of Nanotechnology are all pervasive covering fields such as materials and manufacturing, NanoElectronics, computer technology, medicine and healthcare, environment and energy, aeronautics and space, biotechnology and agriculture. We are today at the convergence of Nano, Bio and Information technologies. The world market in 2004 for Nanomaterials, Nano tools, Nano devices and Nano biotechnology put together is expected to be over hundred billion dollars. It has been noticed that the fastest growing area among these is nanobiotechnology, predominantly for the civilian sector.
Carbon Nano tubes and its composites will give rise to super strong, smart and intelligent structures in the field of material science. Molecular switches and circuits along with Nano cell will pave the way for the next generation computers. Ultra dense computer memory coupled with excellent electrical performance will give the society low power, low cost, Nano size and yet faster assemblies. The Nano-computers will find many applications.
Nano technology will influence the strategic sector with Nano satellites, stealth structures, micro & Nano vehicles, smart clothes & shoes and gadgets, Nano electronics, Nano computers, Nano actuators, Nano robots, new type of explosives and sensors for land, sea, air and space systems, revolutionising the total concept of future warfare.
New UCL Unit holds out hope of repair of spinal cord injuries
Clinical trials that could ultimately lead to repair of spinal cord injuries are scheduled to begin within three years at UCL, following the arrival of an internationally-renowned research team at the university’s Institute of Neurology. UCL today announced the arrival of Professor Geoff Raisman, who will be the first Director of the new Spinal Repair Unit, and his team from the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), at a press conference to launch Advancing London’s Global University – the Campaign for UCL, UCL’s development plan for the next decade.
Spinal cord injuries have long been considered incurable, but the work of the team holds out significant hope that spinal cord patients will eventually be able to regain much of the ability to move that they have lost. For paraplegic patients this could lead to a return of sensation and movement to some leg muscles, potentially allowing them to stand and making movement easier, while tetraplegics (patients with spinal injury high in the neck region), could recover touch sensation and movement of the hands, and regain the ability to dress, feed and clean independently.
Professor Raisman’s team at the NIMR has demonstrated that it is possible for severed spinal cord nerve fibres to grow back and restore lost functions, and has now moved to UCL with a view to transferring the technology from rats to humans, working with patients at the new Spinal Repair Unit within UCL.
"At MIT last week, Kurzweil described a future in which he's convinced immortality -- or a drastically longer life span -- will be possible thanks to emerging technologies. His new book, which will hit stores in a few weeks, outlines a special 'longevity program' of diet, exercise and nutritional supplements aimed at slowing the aging process...I'm really not sure about this one. I mean, can you be unemployed forever? Or retired forever? And what about the people you don't like?
...Kurzweil acknowledged that science today can't halt aging, but he said he believes science will develop age-defying or even age-reversing techniques within 10 to 20 years, thanks to advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology.
He described three stages or "bridges" on the purported road to immortality. First is his healthy living program designed to correct "metabolic imbalances" and keep people alive long enough to benefit from the second stage. In stage two, a decade or so away, he contends biotechnology advances will block diseases and slow aging, because the decoding of our genome is already leading to tissue-engineering techniques for regrowing cells and organs, and to the creation of genetically targeted drugs and gene therapies.
These techniques, he said, should help some people reach the third stage -- about 30 years away -- when nanotechnology will allow humans to radically rebuild and extend their bodies with help from "nanobots," itsy-bitsy robots smaller than human blood cells that will slip into our bloodstreams to fix DNA errors, fight pathogens and expand intelligence.
At that point, he declared, humans may be able to live forever."