We shed light on a 'dark corner' of nanotechnology. Read about the military applications of nano, the nano enhanced army, Gulf War Syndrome and nanopathology, and the ethical concerns around the huge investments made into defence.
The aim of NANO Magazine is to debate, discuss and inform our readership about nanotechnology and its applications. However, there are several of what might be termed, ‘dark corners’, where nanotechnology research and development is not openly discussed, especially by those who are intimately involved. This may be for a variety of reasons, including misrepresentation by the media. NANO Magazine aims to shine a light into these corners.
One such ‘dark corner’ is in the area of food and drink, and which was the subject of a recent issue (August 2009) of NANO Magazine. The message came across that many companies were in fact researching and developing nanotechnology applications in this area, to meet the demands of a growing population for foods offering new taste experiences, improved nutritional qualities, and less fat.
Another ‘dark corner’ is nanotechnology for military applications. This is by far and away the most controversial area of nanotechnology research and development - for two reasons. Firstly, the military budget for nanoscale research is probably greater by a factor of two than for any other area; and secondly, although there is some information available, we do not know exactly where the money is being spent, the research themes are not subject to public scrutiny and there is no accountability. Although ethical and moral questions may be asked and issues raised – they may not necessarily be answered or addressed.
It seems particularly apposite at this time that the money being spent on military research, and the uses it is being put to, forms part of a wider debate. The global population is indeed on the cusp of a war, and it is not about dog fights between nations, but a war of survival to which our politicians should be turning their attention. Global warming, access to food and water, problems of over-population, asymmetric overuse of resources should be where our funding and attention need to be concentrated. Our leaders need to be coaxed away from the Midas school of thought, which exalts commandeering and securing a resource that no one can eat or drink.
In essence, this issue of NANO Magazine aims to demonstrate what can be achieved when there is a powerful and compelling vision. It begs the question - can this vision be redirected for the benefit of humanity, rather than its destruction? And when?
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It is interesting to note that more money is being spent on investigating nanotechnology for military applications than for any other use. The military were quick off the mark to appreciate the performance-enhancing potential of this new field for the creation of smaller, smarter, faster, lighter and more effective devices capable of performing more intelligent operations, and using less energy and materials. NANO magazines examines the aims of the military in terms of technological supremacy in areas such as soldier protection, surveillance, enemy destruction and detection avoidance, and how nanotechnologies is leading to the realisation of these aims.
On an individual level, nanotechnology is being applied increasingly to enhancing soldier survivability. Solutions to the great problems of the battlefield: heavy kit, sleep deprivation, injury and advanced weaponry may be improved through the use of nanotechnology. In his article, Daniel Moore looks at the history of the advancement of soldier technologies, and the current inroads being made towards using nanotechnology to create the ‘perfect’ soldier.
The USA is one of the biggest spenders on nanotechnology research and development. What have been the outcomes of this spend? How have research priorities changed over nearly a decade of influence by the groundbreaking National Nanotechnology Initiative? NANO Magazine looks at the past, present and future goals for nanotechnology in the USA.
Far from only endangering soldiers in the short term, the effects of modern battle can be seen continue long after a soldier has left the theatre of war. Gulf War Syndrome, which affected thousands of the soldiers involved in the conflict, has left a legacy of dehabilitating symptoms. These have been investigated at length by Antonietta Gatti and Stefano Montanari. Their work in nanopathology examines the possible links between the nanoparticles created by the technologies of modern warfare and illnesses, which affect soldiers and the environment, long after the conflict.
The concept of ethics in war seemed to be an oxymoron until Henri Dunant’s experiences at Solferino led to the establishment of the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross and Red Crescent. In his article, Jürgen Altmann discusses whether nanotechnology is raising further issues that need new frameworks for ethical assessment from the angles of ‘just’ or ‘fair’ wars, and in the suitability of new weapon technologies in preventative arms control. He argues that whilst some nanotechnologies may appear to be beneficial (sensors for helping with treaty verification, anti-terrorist measures), others pose a distinct threat to existing stability and may lead to a revolutionary change in arms control agreements worldwide.
In his article, reprinted here by courtesy of DARPA, Dr. Dennis Polla, Program Manager, Microsystems Technology Office ranges through some of the potential of nanoelectromechanical systems for detection, including miniaturized optoelectronic structures to systems small enough to analyse the state of a single cell; the fast and accurate detection of environmental pathogens and chemical and biological agents, and the potential for nanoassembly of systems and components in situ.
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In this issue, Ottilia Saxl interviews Victor Castaño, a leading Mexican researcher and entrepreneur whose seems to have a limitless ability in spotting where nanotechnologies can make a difference. To date, his innovations have spanned anti-graffiti coatings, anti-corrosion coatings, better bullet-proof vests, anti-scratch dental coatings, additives that reduce UV effects in polymer coatings for brass and copper - and even better nail varnishes! Professor Castano has invented many technologies that help Mexican companies stay ahead in a global market place, but simplifying the transfer of these technologies from university to industry is in some ways the real challenge!
Mexico is the country under the spotlight in this issue. Guillermo Folladori and Edgar Zayago investigate the structure of the nanotechnology community in Mexico. One of the most advanced Latin American countries in terms of nanotechnology research and development, Mexico is yet to develop an industry around this research and risks missing out on realising the results. Folladori and Zayago call now for a decisive plan that will link academic centres with industry, to ensure Mexican manufacturing companies maintain their competitiveness, in an increasingly aggressive global marketplace.
Catherine Berry, at the Centre for Cell Engineering, University of Glasgow, describes her work on magnetic nanoparticles, which offer great promise for the treatment and diagnosis of many diseases, including cancers. Her aim is to develop multifunctional, magnetic nanoparticles. These Starship Enterprise nanoparticles will be able to locate the site of a given disease and lock onto it, enabling the extent of the disease to be accurately imaged. The particles will also carry a therapeutic ‘payload’ which can be offloaded exactly where needed. This kind of 21st century treatment holds the promise of better cures with dramatically less side effects than conventional treatments.
Our NanoArt in this issue Fly Away comes from Eva Mutoro from the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Justus-Liebig-University Giessenand serves to graphically illustrate the close link between technology of the macro world, and nature in the nano world.