Keeping on keeping on

There are some interesting reflections on the recent Ideas Factory Software control of matter from the German journalist Neils Boeing, in a piece called Nano-Elvis vs Nano-Beatles. He draws attention to the irony that a research program with such a Drexlerian feel had as its midwife someone like me, who has been such a vocal critic of Drexlerian ideas. The title comes from an analogy which I find very flattering, if not entirely convincing – roughly translated from the German, he says: “It’s intringuingly reminiscent of the history of pop music, which developed by a transatlantic exchange. The American Elvis began things, but it was the British Beatles who really got the epochal phenomenon rolling. The solo artist Drexler launched his vision on the world, but in practise the crucial developments could made by a British big band of researchers. We have just one wish for the Brits – keep on rocking!” Would that it were so.

In other media, there’s an article by me in the launch issue of the new nanotechnology magazine from the UK’s Insititute of Nanotechnology – NanoNow! (PDF, freely downloadable). My article has the strap-line “Only Skin Deep – Cosmetics companies are using nano-products to tart up their face creams and sun lotions. But are they safe? Richard A.L. Jones unmasks the truth.” I certainly wouldn’t claim to unmask the truth about controversial issues like the use of C60 in face-creams, but I hope I managed to shed a little light on a very murky and much discussed subject.

My column in Nature Nanotechnology this month is called “Can nanotechnology ever prove that it is green?” This is only available to subscribers. As Samuel Johnson wrote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I don’t think he would have approved of blogs.

7 thoughts on “Keeping on keeping on”

  1. Johnson sounds rather silly. Most of the members of the writers group I am in would write even if they didn’t get paid for it. The fact that several of them are published authors and one is making a living out of it is besides the point.

  2. Samuel Johnson was an interesting man who lived at an interesting time, but his views I imagine were coloured by the fact that, at a time when most writers were wealthy gentlemen of independent means, he came from a family with no money and had to make his own way entirely by his pen. Of course you are entirely right, and I can assure you that whatever makes me write books and articles it isn’t the money! (Though of course it’s easy for me to say that as a tenured and salaried academic – I have the highest respect for those who manage the very difficult feat of making their living as freelance writers).

  3. While Neils Boeing makes a point, and you not being the only one with Drexler ‘Issues’, I suggest that his comparison to Pop music is somewhat misplaced. The primary difference between research interests in the UK over the US is that organization such as the EPSRC operate in the Public Interest by Sovereign Sanction, whereas on the US, Science in the Public Interest is something payed lip service to yet left in favor of the prospect for financial gain.

    A note of interest – while our group is fortunate enough to benefit from a full subscription to Nature, there are many who are not. Might I suggest adopting a policy of Open Access to your articles, we have an IOP account if you would like to make use of it.

  4. Well, Martin, I did say I was flattered by the comparison but not convinced! You shouldn’t take away too rosy a view of the EPSRC – it is under considerable pressure from the government to deliver benefits to business and industry. But there are some signs of a move to look for science which delivers public value, defined in a slightly broader way.

    I do take your point about open access. Whenever possible I make things I write available for all, but I was very keen to do the column for Nature Nanotechnology, which will reach a much more technical audience than this blog, so I accepted their conditions.

  5. I find a great deal of MNT-related in situ research coming from the USA (possibly more than the rest world combined at present, I’m not sure if English is the reason). All of it utilizes an AFM or an STM.
    If diamond(oid?) MNT is to be relevant it must integrate SPM-based systems. It is good enough to envision and imagine a mature technology, but the next step is to learn all there is to know about existing tools and improve them or improve the utilities generated by the tools (UHV SPM surface experiments, for now).
    I’m all for computer simulations, but don’t extrapolate the real world’s surface science advances based upon Moore’ Law enabled deflationary computer simulation resources. Simulations are for guiding actual lab work. I read Freitas’s simulations, but they are no more important to me than are other relavent diamond surface or otherwise nanotech, computer simulation papers. And the MNT community has no real surface sciences experimenters; AFAIK has made no attempt to apply for the usage of any publicly-available or privately-purchasable infrastructures.
    Nanosystems doesn’t even mention the SPM does it? That’s like Babbage trying to design a modern computer without relays. Why handicap a diamond building system in a similiar fashion?

  6. We read your article on nanotechnology & the Beatles. Please help further this idea. You obviously have the same Beatles passion we do. As a Beatles fan, your opinion is very important to us. We want to bring all our stories as Beatlefans to people around the world in a Beatlefans documentary. What was it like growing up loving the Beatles, what people did for you & still do because they know you love the Beatles, what did your parents think when you were small, your brother/sister think? What did your schoolmates think? How old were you when you became aware of your feelings for the Beatles? What did you do before, during & after a Beatles or solo concerts if you went? What bonding experiences did you have with other Beatlefans? What other precious experiences have you been through? This film is for the cute, heart-rendering or heart-breaking stories of Beatlefans, whether my stories make the cut or not.
    Cross your fingers-we hope Paul, Ringo, Olivia Harrison & Yoko Ono will come on board as well. Only a true Beatlefan will understand me when I say this-we want this documentary for all of us & to honor the Beatles. We are leading the charge in this effort but the idea belongs to all of us. There are no guarantees & a major film company & any financial backers would make any decisions after pondering the idea. I have had two radio interviews on this documentary idea-one with University of California & other in Ohio. Please have friends (as well as you) e-mail their histories as Beatlefans to, whether young or old fans, or send story and stay updated by going to or joining . Our new group is embracing this idea of a documentary. Anyone may come along for the ride. Please join us…. Rick Linville

  7. Hi, Richard.

    I hope that you had a great holiday. I’m off to the seaside myself in a few days’ time. Further to your post on Niels Boeing above, a colleague in Germany made me aware that this article by Nils was published in Die Zeit last week.

    Bye for now,


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