Another interesting nanotechnology book recently appeared, The Visioneers, by W. Patrick McCray, 2013, 323 pages, $29.95 hardback at Barnes & Noble (“How a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future”). One focus in this book is on the history of nanotechnology up to around 2004, including the role of Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley and their famous debate. The origin of the NNI is briefly covered. The multiple strands of nanotechnology are explored, ranging from futuristic concepts to advanced materials science for making products now. Tensions between different nanotech philosophies and groups are explored. Good read, although it would have been interesting if more content had been provided for after 2004. Also, nanotechnology is only one of two conveyed stories of visioneering.
Also, 3D printing seems to be the rage these days in the technical and general media. The USPTO will hold a special session on 3D printing on January 23,2013. The 3D printing company ExOne is announcing an IPO attempt. In 3D printing, thin layers are built on one another. Nanotechnology connects in the materials used for 3D printing, as well as the notion of making thinner and thinner layers. Where is nanotechnology going? It is impacting personalized medicine and energy.
Clearly, one visioneering answer also now arising is in 3D printing.
Interesting recent article by Professor Josh Lerner on venture capital investing, including a reference to advanced materials (“The Narrowing Ambitions of Venture Capital,” September 6, 2012, Technology Review). Lerner presents a seemingly pessimistic view of the current venture capital world noting sub-themes of the limited scope of investment objectives, too many boom-and-bust cycles, and “mercurial” public markets. (side note: The comments posted to date are generally negative.)
For advanced materials, Lerner writes about explaining the concentration of venture capital into certain sectors, “One answer is that venture funds have done much better in categories where the innovation cycle is short, such as media and software, than in areas like advanced materials and biotechnology, where the time frame for success is longer than the eight-to-10-year life of the typical fund.”
Lerner concludes: “…the venture capital model is no panacea for innovation. The boom-and-bust cycle, the mercurial effects of public markets, and the narrowing of its objectives have made it something far less substantial.”
Hopefully, needed investments in advanced materials, nanotechnology, cleantech, medical devices, health, and the like will be healthy and not be allowed to be sacrificed in the name of a better social life on the internet while physically stagnant in front of a computer screen.
Lerner also has a new book, “The Architecture of Innovation: The Economics of Creative Organizations.”
Have been reading the 2011 book, Bottled Lightning, Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy, by Seth Fletcher. An excellent read for anyone interested in cleantech and nanotech commercialization. The focus is on the lithium ion battery and its scientific, engineering, and manufacturing history. Also, its application to the electric car. The need for high energy density batteries at good cost is a fundamental challenge for nanotechnology (e.g., development nanophosphate battery packs). High surface area is a key parameter directly linked to nanotechnology. The book also draws attention to patent and licensing issues which was interesting. Much bang-for-the buck in this 215 page paperback – enjoy! Here is one public review.
Also, was at the US PTO Cleantech Customer Partnership Meeting this week. In the technical presentation, focus was more on wind and solar.
However, advanced batteries continue to be a critical aspect for cleantech and one of its flagship products, the electric car.
An important read for those in the innovation ecosystem: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster, 2011, 571 pages. How does this book topic link to nanotech or cleantech? There are some small but important links. One point is the iPod Nano – good name! The book does not say too much specifically about the Nano, but it’s there. No branding problem here.
Another point is “gorilla glass.” See pages 470-473. Critical how advanced materials science contributes to the IT revolution. Also, there are some brief mentions of the rechargeable lithium-polymer battery (page 384) and the zeal for not having replaceable batteries (page 477). Steven Jobs and his wife worried about the use of energy in their washer and dryer and bought a German brand for the same. Clean tech values.
Perhaps most intriguing: innovation and intellectual property. Jobs was an inventor including named on design patents. Book take aways from the Jobs story include:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
This book: great read!
Beating the odds at a bookstore is a treasure. One picks up a book randomly while perusing the shelves and, unexpectedly, finds that a book hits "close to home." Buy it without hesitation.
For example, I found this new book the other day: Atomic Frontier Days, Hanford and the American West, by John M. Findlay and Bruce Hevly (University of Washington Press), 2011. In 271 pages, they tell the story of Hanford in remote territory in south central Washington state (along the Columbia River). The site was set up for production of plutonium during World War II, and then maintained for same during the cold war that followed. The Tri-Cities area grew up below the Hanford site with its own, unique culture and set of social issues (the cities are Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco). Now, 60 plus years later, large clean-up issues remain, and the area has evolved. In sum, a good summer read to supplement the novels, for those interested in EEG (energy, environment, and the government). The authors clearly worked very hard on this book, condensing vast material into readable form with a nice touch of photos and maps.
For me, in addition to connecting with EEG interests, the treasure of the book also stems from my first scientific research experience. During college, I spent a summer at Hanford doing research with supercritical fluids. The memories are good, and this remote area remains unique in my memory. The book deepens those memories with color and context, if that is possible.
The energy that went into Hanford should not be forgotten in our modern cleantech times.
DARPA is quietly leading the way in nanotechnology as well as other advanced research sectors(DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). One excellent, readable inside view on DARPA was provided in the recent book, The Department of Mad Scientists, How DARPA is Remaking our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs (by Michael Belfiore, 2009). This provided inspiration to look briefly at the impact of DARPA on nanotechnology patenting, as the book mentions the role of nanotechnology in, for example, high efficiency solar cells.
A crude search of 977 nanotechnology patents finds 100 granted patents which apparently derived from DARPA funding based on the government funding clauses. These cover a twenty-one year span, starting with Stanford University’s patent 4,908,519 issued March 13, 1990 (Professor Quate et al., "Loading Mechanism and Support Structure having Improved Vibration Damping Useful in Scanning Tunneling Microscopy"). The most recent issued just last week to Caltech (Professor Heath et al., 7,906,775, "Superlattice Nanopatterning of Wires and Complex Patterns").
The 100 patents cover a balance of both university and corporate research, focusing on areas such as nanopatterning, microfabrication, sensors, assorted nanomaterials, AFM, and transistors. The subjects even include nano biotechnology subjects such as nanofluidic chips, protein printing, and virus arrays. For example, Princeton’s Professor Chou et al. have patented use of nanochannels for evaluating, isolating, and imaging biopolymers (see US Patent No. 7,670,770). Sequencing DNA continues to be one of the cutting edge issues in nano biotechnology. Indeed, pulling DNA strands through nanopores is featured in the last Technology Quarterly in the Economist magazine (March 12-18 issue, page 13, "Nanopore Sequencing").
The "mad scientist" label for DARPA projects can create fear of the future. However, Belfiore’s book says DARPA is not so much frightening as it is inspiring for our future. For example, DARPA is also contributing to novel alternative energy technology such as high efficiency solar cells. Based on the review of their nanotechnology patenting results – agreed (at least for civilian applications).
Justin Fox recently wrote a provocative book, The Myth of the Rational Market (2009). I could not help but consider cleantech and nanotech investing as I read this book, including the IPO market for 2011 which we all hope will be an improvement over the past several years. In his book, Fox looks at the history of finance theory, tackling questions academics have dug into over the decades such as "How was a corporation to decide if an investment was worth pursuing?" Other subjects include index funds and how these finance theories relate to the real world of investing, including bubbles. The gist is that quite possibly the markets are not rational, and shrewd investors can indeed beat the market (e.g., looking for stocks listing at prices below their intrinsic values). In our experience, shrewd (above average) analysis of intellectual property issues can be one source of potentially beating the market.
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Last year, Josh Lerner published another provocative book, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed – and What to Do About It (Princeton University Press, 2009). Why bring this up now? Two reasons include:
- The ten year anniversary of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is at hand, and
- The thirty year anniversary of the Bayh-Dole Act is also at hand. Both are subject to “celebrations” in Washington DC in coming days and weeks. Both involve government playing strong roles in innovation and jobs.
In addition, the recent election further makes for important political debate about the role of the government in stimulating job creation. Will the new Congress continue to fund nanotech? How long will cleantech be a ”darling” of politicians and venture capitalists (or flavor of the month)?
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Books on inventions and innovation are a dime a dozen. However, one nifty, little book recently penned by Alex Hutchinson shines over others:
Big Ideas: 100 Modern Inventions [That Have Transformed Our World]. Hearst Books, 2009.
This book, Big Ideas, is relevant to nanotechnology because it spells out the importance of size – small size! – when viewing innovation over the span of decades. We too easily become used to modern technology and easily forget that many modern feats approach the miraculous (or at least science fiction) from the vantage point of decades. Today, we can pull out from our pocket a small but very smart wireless device and type in any geeky question like “what is electroosmotic flow?” – and get a credible answer in seconds! Science fiction in 1947?
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Important examples continue to emerge where nanotech is fueling cutting edge cleantech. Leading examples are summarized in the recently published book, The Rise and Fall of American Technology, by Lynn G. Gref (Algora, 2010, 207 pages, $23.95 on Amazon.com).
Gref’s review of the American technology landscape is not limited by any means to nanotech and cleantech. He surveys all areas of technology (although admitting his lack of experience with biotechnology). However, near the end of his work, he pulls out a series of examples which “may have a significant impact on America’s future well-being.” (page 161). Gref’s purpose was to “excite one about the future possibilities for American R&D.” At this point, he focuses on cleantech, and much of the cleantech is nanotech as exemplified by companies such as A123 Systems.
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