Home > Interviews > Rocky Rawstern - December 2004
Christine Preble Interviews NN's Rocky Rawstern
Christine Preble is a senior at Pinkerton Academy, in New Hampshire. This interview was for her senior essay.
Her comments on the presentation: "It went very well, and I received an A on the essay, and an A+ on the presentation. I was very happy with my grades. Also, my teacher and my classmates were very impressed with my project. They all thought it was extremely interesting, and they asked about a half an hour worth of questions about it. My teacher said it was the most interesting topic she had heard of for this essay in a while, so it was definitely a success!"
CP: What do you feel is the most beneficial or most promising aspect of nanotechnology?
RR: Advances in medicine are likely to be made available to the public within the decade. Advances such as nanoscale sensors and drug delivery devices are being tested now, at several university and business labs.
One very good example is the work with nanoshells being done at Rice by Dr. Naomi Halas and Dr. Jennifer West.
The process: during your regular checkup, your doctor injects you with nanoshells, then shines a "near-infrared" light over your body, briefly. Then a program on their laptop indicates location, shape and size of any new early-stage tumors. Once located, each tumor can then be hit with the same light, at higher energies, killing the tumor, and not damaging the surrounding tissues.
To quote Dr. Halas "Imagine if cancer could become trivial." I believe that within the next decade, it will.
See Best Discoveries 2004 for details.
CP: Are there any downsides to nanotechnology? If yes, what are they?
RR: As with any new technology (and remember that nanotechnology is not one single technology, and is based on advances in all the physical sciences) there are unknowns. Unknowns simply mean that we proceed with caution, and take the time to explore the potential for risk, and balance each risk against the good that the technology will do.
Forget about grey goo - it is an extreme extrapolation of nanotechnology, and very unlikely to happen without a massive and concerted effort. It will not happen by accident, only by design, which will be both difficult and unlikely.
New technologies that translate into consumer products frequently mean a shift in the workforce. Even limited nanotechnology (AKA: limited molecular nanotechnology) will disrupt the workforce, just like virtually every new technology has throughout the ages. Planning will help ameliorate that downside.
CP: Will nanotechnology be as big in the future as many say it will be?
Changes to society are difficult in the extreme to predict - there are too many factors for anyone to weigh one against the other and come to any reasonable conclusions. Having said that, I would go on to say that in the long term (20 years and beyond) nanotechnology will disrupt society more than all previous technology-driven change.
CP: What is the biggest way that nano will influence Homeland Security?
RR: Sensors. Advances in sensing technology are proceeding at a very rapid pace, mostly due to our understanding of the nanoscale. Someday soon, we will have the ability to sow nanotech-derived and enabled sensors over a given area (say a battlefield or urban setting). These sensors will detect everything from chemical weapons to gunfire, and report their data back to a central control where actions can be taken, remote from harmís way.
CP: Is enough research being done to find the negative effects, if any, of nano?
RR: University groups and non-profits around the world are studying the potential ethical and environmental issues surrounding nanotechnology. Some say that this is not enough; some say it is. Time will tell.
One example that I would point to is a program at the University of South Carolina, titled NanoScience & Technology Studies: Societal and Ethical Implications. See this link for details.
Another important example is the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. CRN is headed by two friends of mine, Mike Treder and Chris Phoenix. Two specific areas on their site that are pertinent to this interview are:
A) Benefits of Molecular Manufacturing
B) Dangers of Molecular Manufacturing
Both of which I strongly encourage everyone to read and consider at length.
I would also like to point out our Ethics Statement