Nanocosm: Nanotechnology and the Big Changes Coming from the Inconceivably Small

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"Imagine: you’re looking down at the Earth from space. Oceans and continents blur as the planet transforms into one bright blue ball. And it doesn’t stop with our own solar system. There are just as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in our own! Now reverse the direction of this imaginative voyage, and turn inward rather than outward. That same number of stars in our galaxy is less than half the number of cells in an adult human body.

Scale. It’s all about scale.

...

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Overview

"Imagine: you’re looking down at the Earth from space. Oceans and continents blur as the planet transforms into one bright blue ball. And it doesn’t stop with our own solar system. There are just as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in our own! Now reverse the direction of this imaginative voyage, and turn inward rather than outward. That same number of stars in our galaxy is less than half the number of cells in an adult human body.

Scale. It’s all about scale.

The fact is, we occupy a middle kingdom, poised delicately between the unimaginably immense and the unimaginably minute. And now science is on the brink of breaking through to the world beneath what we can see with our eyes.

Nanoscience takes as its subject the realm of the infinitesimally small. Tinier than the tiniest atom, if the measurement known as a nanometer were scaled up to the width of your fingernail, then your fingernail would be the size of Delaware and your thumb would be the size of Florida. As author William Atkinson puts it, the domain of the nanometer -- he nanocosm -- is a serious kind of small. But one with big possibilities, and even larger consequences for the way we live.

In Nanocosm, Atkinson takes readers into the incredibly complex, yet equally beautiful world of nanotechnology. Atkinson distinguishes hype and speculation from the amazing reality of what truly is possible through nanotechnology in our very immediate future: cell-sized computers triggered by single electrons rather than millions -- microchips that contain the diagnostic capability of full-sized medical labs -- exceptionally strong and resilient carbon nanotubes that will revolutionize the process of structural engineering -- and much more. The nanocosm promises to transform our environment by revealing new basic facts that we can turn into useful technology. Even discounting optimistic exaggerations, the scientific breakthroughs that are now upon us will dramatically affect everything about our lives: how we communicate, do our work, spend our leisure time, stay healthy, and even raise our children.

Asking critical questions about the latest and most intriguing areas of nanotech, Atkinson interviews the most important scientists, ethicists, and business executives at the forefront of this exciting new field to give a riveting account of what is arguably the most important technical frontier since human beings launched themselves into outer space.

At a time of astonishing and rapid advances in what we know of our own world, future ages will no doubt record the twenty-first century as the Renaissance of the Nanocosm. Combining the in-depth information of an up-to-the-second scientific report with the thought-provoking readability of a fast-paced novel, Nanocosm charts these first great voyages of discovery into a bizarre new realm, one that is small in size -- but epic in meaning.

William Illsey Atkinson is the author of Prototype, a finalist for Canada’s National Business Book Award. He is president of Draaken Communications, which interprets technological issues for universities, institutes, and private firms. He is a frequent contributor on science and technology to Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and has received the Prix d’Excellence in Issues Writing from Dalhousie University. He lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

The most amazing thing about nature is her inexhaustible variety. Scientists, technologists, and theologians speak about ‘nature’ or ‘the world’ as if it were a unit. But there are limitless worlds and infinite natures. [We] are poised delicately between the unimaginably immense and the unimaginably minute. -- William Illsey Atkinson, author of Nanocosm

There’s a lot of ""big thinking"" going on these days about some very small subjects. And just what are these subjects? Nanometers -- units of measurement so small that they equal one millionth of a millimeter. Yet what can be accomplished by understanding and harnessing this complex and invisible subworld has the potential to utterly transform virtually every aspect of our lives. At this very moment, nanotechnology is on the brink of exploding into a full-scale scientific renaissance with mind-boggling implications.

Nanocosm probes both the science and the business behind this technological revolution, exploring how nanotech will ultimately be applied in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, information technology, and countless other arenas.

Based on in-depth research and interviews with the most important minds in nanotech and rendered in a narrative style reminiscent of Lewis Thomas and James Gleick, the book examines in layman’s terms the complex science that underpins this new terrain.

Lucid and dynamic, Nanocosm offers an enthralling glimpse at a soon-to-be very different world -- our own.

""“Nanocosm is the nanotechnology book we have all been waiting for -- accurate, realistic, and oh so readable. It’s a rare book that researchers and business people can both enjoy."" -- F. Mark Modzelewski, Executive Director, NanoBusiness Alliance"

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Not only is Nanocosm, by William Illsey Atkinson, an incredibly detailed account of the magnificently tiny cosmos; it is a personal account by the author of how nanotechnology has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people through the fields of nano-manufacturing, nano-surfacing, and nano-medicine. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, when you read Atkinson's excellent book, you traverse the tiny domain of the nanometer -- and are mesmerized by the breadth and scope of the infinitesimal.

The author begins by explaining that in order to understand the future of nanotechnology, you need to think of it as engineering at the molecular level with raw materials such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. The engineers will arrange these atoms in new ways to develop materials that are stronger, smaller, tougher, but also lighter, more resilient and less expensive. All of this while at the same time protecting the environment by not depleting non-renewable resources. Next, the author discusses how in the near future, nanoscale pincers measuring only one or two atoms in size will be used to manipulate other individual atoms to create an unending array of new products. For example, these new products would include, but are not limited to, drill bits that almost never go dull; eyeglasses that will never scratch; antifreeze proteins that prevent damage during low-temperature transportation of human organs for transplantation; transistors 100 times smaller and 1,000 times faster than current technology allows; nanoshells that protect transplanted pancreatic cells from attack by the immune system (helping to reverse diabetes); automobile tires that virtually never go flat; kitchen and bathroom windows that never need cleaning (but stay clear and transparent); and a unique therapy that kills only cancer cells by target heat transfer. The book also alludes to another near-term product you can expect to see: a cheap, safe, anti-virus, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal hand cream that kills microbes on contact. While the preceding items are either already here or very near, the author points out that other products still on the drawing board are even more exciting. For example, what about a supercomputer that holds the entire Library of Congress but is only the size of a cube of sugar; or bio-composites smaller than a human cell that can increase the strength of your bones and tendons.

For many, the author explains, the most anticipated benefit of nanotechnology will be the medical breakthroughs for curing disease and improving life, maybe even lengthening it without aging. He goes on to explain that nanotechnology one day will enable scientists to turn off the switches that do the things you don't want (like cause aging or cancer or kidney failure). In other words, scientists will have the key to ending disease! And, if scientists can keep the things you want from being turned off, they'll be able to extend youthful vigor, maintain lean body mass, and postpone aging. Finally, the author explains, nanotechnology will soon (maybe in the next 10 to 20 years) eliminate most of the more dreaded and common diseases.

So, whether you are interested in the as yet unexplored potential applications of nanotechnology, or whether you want a guide in your explorations of a new and exciting scientific frontier, the author has written this outstanding book with you in mind. Enjoy! John R. Vacca

John R. Vacca, the former computer security official (CSO) for NASA's space station program (Freedom), has written nearly 40 books about advanced storage, computer security, and aerospace technology.

Circuitnet.com
This book is just loaded with what I consider earth shaking information. And the good news is that Atkinson's book, though a science book, reads like a best seller. If you want to get a clear glimpse into the future, make sure you give this one a read.
Bruce Constantineau
...written in an engaging, readable style....
Vancouver Sun
The Wall Street Journal
Already places like Northwestern and Stanford universities are offering minicourses on nanotechnology for business executives. If you can't spare the time for such a course -- and who can? --Mr. Atkinson's 'Nanocosm' is a good substitute, an irreverent, comprehensive romp, by an experienced science popularizer through the many fascinating details of the nano-world -- including portraits of the colorful figures who helped to 'discover' it.
Library Bookwatch
is an expert survey of nanotechnology.
February 2004
The Georgia Straight
If there were an award for the nanotech book that's the most accessible and easy to read, Nanocosm would be the only nominee.— April 17, 2003
The Vancouver Sun
written in an engaging, readable style.
Georgia Straight
Nanocosm is about the best introductory volume out there, both for the science writing...the realistic grounding given every topic.
Today's Chemist at Work
Nanocosm is a pleasure to read.
CIO
Atkinson has a knack for making highly technical, theoretical topics seem immediate and visceral...[Nanocosm] is full of interesting ideas, many of which may have a serious impact on our near-future lives.
The Wall Street Journal
an irreverent, comprehensive romp, by an experienced science popularizer, through the many fascinating details of the nano-world-including portraits of the colorful figures who helped "discover it.
Today's Chemist At Work
Nanocosm is a pleasure to read." Somewhere between Richard Feynman and Douglas Adams are the writings of Bill Atkinson.
June 2003
Publishers Weekly
Atkinson, who makes his living as a consultant explaining technology to business types, ostensibly wrote a book debunking the myths about nanoscience, a trendy research field that "a fringe of boosters" claims will enable us to develop machines at the molecular level. But that subject is largely lost in a maze of digressions, as Atkinson veers from pretentiousness to chattiness and spends a lot of the book discussing everything except nanotechnology: world politics, the march of time, old jokes and even his interview subjects' workout routines. He offers a sophomoric couplet mocking the author of the most successful book on nanotechnology, cursorily dismissed as an overzealous fantasist, and an inept science-fiction passage attempting to imagine a nanotech-shaped world a decade or so down the road. Atkinson's personal observations mar the narrative: he makes fun of a Swiss scientist's accent and a Japanese woman's inability to pronounce her r's clearly. Every once in a while, there's an attention-grabbing scientific revelation, like a description of how Buckminster Fuller's architectural achievements have turned out to be mirror images of carbon atoms, but these occasional insights are simply not worth slogging through the rest of this book. (May 13) Forecast: By the time this is published, those interested in nanotechnology will have already picked up a copy of The Next Big Thing Is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business (Forecasts, Jan. 6), which essentially covers the same territory much more effectively. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Since the beginning of the industrial age, many machines have grown steadily smaller even as they have grown more powerful and complex. Now nanotechnology, based on a new science of the infinitesimally small, takes technology beyond most popular definitions of reality, to a realm of molecular machines, cell-sized computers and other astounding possibilities. In Nanocosm, technology consultant and writer William Illsey Atkinson reveals a spectacular view of the immediate future of nanotechnology and its applications in medicine, computing and engineering, and countless other arenas that affect our world, redefining how we work, play and live.

As with any phenomenon, nanotechnology has both its naysayers and its zealots, by turns clouding scientific truth with dismissals, prophecies and pipe dreams. But nanotech is real. President Bush announced recently a $500 million National Nanotechnology Initiative and BusinessWeek has named nanotechnology one of the ten technologies that will change our lives.

Seeing the world from the outer edges of the Milky Way offers yet another view. Turn inward rather than outward and peer with ever-higher magnification into the world of the small and you get another perspective. Each subworld embodies an alternate reality. Scale of millimeters brings us to the world of insects. Drop down a notch and you enter the world of the micron, a unit the length that is one thousandth of a millimeter. This subworld is literally the microcosm. It is the world of the cell — autonomous units like amoebas as well as specialized populations of cells that make up skin, bones and brain.

Below the microcosm comes creation on the scale of the nanometer, one millionth of a millimeter. This is the nanocosm. It is a finely detailed, completely structured cosmos, self-assembled atom by atom. The subworld is a place onto itself. The rules are neither those of galaxies nor what we see within the middle kingdom we inhabit.

We have now mapped out enough of the nanocosm to make educated guesses about what it can support. Some very big changes in business and leisure are about to come to us by way of the very small. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of hyped up public expectation. One reason is that some scientists have been boosters of a technology even before it was close to existing.

Twenty years ago while pursuing his doctorate at MIT, K. Eric Drexler wrote the first journal paper on advanced nanotechnology, envisioning what it might be. Dr. Drexler boldly foresaw a world of molecular manufacturing, where macroscale objects were assembled atom by atom by nanoassemblers the size of molecules. Ten years ago he expanded this initial vision into a book, Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation. The book is radical only in its subject matter because it takes a classical approach to the actual engineering needed. The book admits no difference between building a suspension bridge and creating a bloodstream cruising submarine. The nanocosm is only another arena where engineers can apply known techniques. The book is a highly detailed piece of speculation.

Despite imaginings by a fringe of boosters, there are strong signs that a workable nanotechnology is at last being born. Advances are occurring daily. While most are in basic nanoscience, business indicators such as number of start-ups, IPOs and venture capital pools indicate that a viable commercial enterprise is emerging.

In a sense, all technology is nanotechnology. That's because everything we use relies in part on the properties of matter at the nanoscale. Take tires, for example. What makes them flexible and strong is the addition of nano-sized particles of soot to rubber.

What sets apart today's nanotech from traditional activities such as tire making is intent. When we devise and manufacture today's nanocomposites, we know what we are doing — in fact, we can directly see it happen. Nanotech will soon let us bypass the substances that nature provides and start with a wish list of properties that a new material must have. In five to seven years you'll be able to call a nanomaterials firm and tell them what you need.

The nanocosm will transform us. It will not content itself with revolutionizing grand things: economy and culture and democracy. It will alter, from the inside out the small details that affect us — how we stay healthy, spend leisure time and raise our children.

Those in the nanocosm who believe they can build a molecular assembler or nanobot — K. Eric Drexler, for example — may find that the process will be impossibly complicated. As Dr. Drexler imagines it, nanomachinery is staggeringly intricate. But that's not the worst of it. Actually running such an animal will be even harder. To function, a Drexlerian nanobot would have to first store high-level instructional software onboard in large quantity. And to work as the Drexlerian want, the nanobot would also have to distinguish among many possible conditions, materials and configurations and then act instantly and appropriately in every case. It would have to sense distances to subangstrom accuracy and act in shavings of a picosecond. Given the absurdly tight dimensional constraints, there would be literally no room for error.

A nanobot that fits into a 50 nanometer cube might require half a billion lines of ROM software, permanently embedded somewhere in its unthinkably minuscule frame. Dr. Drexler and his acolytes speculate about how these data might be encoded. Even molecular memory would be too clunky for a working nanobot. It just cannot be done. Engineers can't bend nature to the extent required to make it all work. It is hubris to think it could. Real nanotechnology, as opposed to the boosters' sci-fi speculations, will continue to be advanced by rigorous experiment and careful theory from such classical disciplines as physics, materials science and chemistry.

Does this mean nanoscience won't bring us astonishing discoveries, or a parade of amazing new products? Not at all. Our new ability to see the nanocosm, to get it to assemble itself to our detailed specifications, will shortly create the most profound changes since our ancestors tamed fire. Stay tune: it's going to be one wild ride. Copyright © 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814471814
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 3/15/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

William Illsey Atkinson (North Vancouver, BC) is the author of Prototype, a finalist for Canada’s National Business Book Award. He is president of Draaken Communications, which interprets technological issues for universities, institutes, and private firms.

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Table of Contents

"Foreword

Introduction: Lowr, Slower, Smaller-- Toward a Workable Nanotechnology

1. Nanoworld 2015

2. Nanoscience: Trends and Targets in World Research

3. Nanotechnology: Trends and Targets in World Commercial Development

4. NanoFornia

5. Quantum Weirdness

6. Seeing Things

7. Wet Nanotech

8. Fullerenes, Buckyballs, and Hundred-Mile Elevators

9. Shirotae

10. Nano-Pitfalls"

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2004

    Great stuff, the word unbelievable applies here.

    Did you know that President Bush recently announced that $500 million would go to the National Nanotechnology Initiative? And that nano-technology is now considered one of the top 10 technologies that will change our lives? In this new book, William Illsey Atkinson delivers us to the world of the future, the world of incredible innovations in the fields of medicine, computing and engineering - the world of nanotechnology. Now, when we talk about nanotechnology, we are talking small (really small, smaller-than-an-atom small). The book talks about what will happen once we get more prolific in working with this tiny technology, and how we will actually produce nanotechnology machines that will produce even smaller machines. Actually, these machines are so small, molecules will produce them automatically. Are you overwhelmed yet? Read on - this gets better. The following are some of Atkinson's amazing projections (remember, this isn't science fiction, this is real stuff that's being developed as you read this). In two to five years, we can expect to see: Car tires that will need air only once a year Self assembly of small electronic parts (based on artificial DNA or guest host systems) Artificial semiconductors based on protein Complete medical diagnostic laboratories based on a single computer chip less than one inch square In five to 10 years, we can expect to see: Erasable/Rewritable paper for programmable books, magazines and newspapers Light, efficient ceramic car engines 'Smart' buildings that self-stabilize after earthquakes and bombings Inexpensive solar power that heats and lights cities by using roads and building windows as sun collectors And in 10 to 15 years, we can expect to see: Paint-on computer and video displays Cosmetic nanotechnology, including permanent hair and teeth restoration Handheld super computers This book is just loaded with this kind of earth-shaking information. And the good news is that, for a science book, it reads like a best seller. If you want to get a clear glimpse into the future for all of us, make sure you give this one a read.

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