Pricey Pants and the Industrial Revolution

Cientifica, a global information and consulting firm, last week released a whitepaper with a catchy title: "Where Has My Money Gone? Government Nanotechnology Funding and the $18 Billion Pair of Pants." I'm all for catchy titles; I try to create some every day. But often they minimize complexity, as this one does.

The pants reference is, of course, to fiber finishing using nano materials to propel the notion of "care free" fabrics far beyond what we've heretofore known. And $18 billion estimates the sum that's been spent since 1997 researching nanotech.

More Important Than the Industrial Revolution?
Last year about this time, "CBS News Sunday Morning" ran a segment on nanotech done by New York Times technology writer David Pogue. In it, Pogue interviewed Steve Jurvetson, managing director of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, who said he thinks nanotechnology will be "more important than the industrial revolution itself, restructuring not only the bases of many industries, but the fabric of society." He also noted that in terms of evolution, we're at the pre-Model T stage (using the auto industry as an analogy).

If Jurvetson is right, and if the National Science Foundation (which estimates nanotech will be a trillion-dollar market) is right, reducing nanotech research to an "$18 Billion Pair of Pants" is silly. The most mind boggling fruits of nanotech research (such as robots that float in your bloodstream and repair tissues) will take decades to become commercially viable, but nanotech will make a very real impact much sooner, as you'll see in Sensors' cover story next month.

Meanwhile, the journal Science reportedly ran in its January 27 issue the story of "the first nanotube-based sensor that can detect analytes at the subcellular level."

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