This is in response to this reddit post by an anonymous “nanobiologist/biophysicist who takes the strange approach of recommending Drexler
This is Upulie from twitter here. Interesting piece on this rather absurd, if highly entertaining fracas. I feel I should be given the opportunity to respond to some inaccuracies in your piece which could have been resolved if you had considered actually asking me.
Just at the outset, I want to reiterate that I’m a doctoral student working the *field* of nanotech. I trained as a molecular biologist, which gives you lots of useful skills, but my thesis is in engineering. I’m also at the last stages of my thesis, down to the final weeks. It’s not really any of your business, but if you had asked, you’d know that the Patreon is for my sci comms work (it even says on the page — you’re welcome to check it out), which I’ve been doing for some 7–8 years, as well as being helpful to me as a broke-ass PhD student whose scholarship has run out. I make no apologies for that.
Nanotech can be an annoying catchall term. I’m always hugely irritated by misuse of scientific terminology — hence my work as a science communicator. This doesn’t just apply to terms like “nanoscience” and “nanotech,” it applies to *so many* fields of science. Cosmetic companies advertising nano properties are hilarious and irritating, since most of the time, what they use are liposomes which are some of the oldest nanoparticles ever invented. Also, nano can be used as a buzzword in advertising and in science, but in science — or rather, engineering — there is a more specific understanding of what it entails — anything from soft electronics, plasmonic superlattices, gold, silver and polymer nanoparticles, nanowires, and so on. The ones I’ve specifically listed are what my lab works on. You’re welcome to write to university departments and tell them that they are misusing the term, if you so wish. however, most of this research is inter, even transdisciplinary, requiring that you delve into chemistry (inorganic and organic), some electronics, even some analytical chemistry, a lot of surface chemistry and so on. We use nanoscale materials science to generate new devices and detectors. Consequently, it’s easer to use the catch-all term “nanotechnology.” We use nanoscale properties to create new tech.
My research is in nanoparticles for the delivery of therapies. In my work, I’ve had to learn about novel families of proteins, how to make and modify a range of gold nanoparticles of different shapes and sizes, and even some nanogel work. It’s true I didn’t train in engineering in my BSc (a looong time ago!), but the point of a PhD is having the freedom to learn all of this. Also, as this is in Australia, the system is a little different to the US, and there is less coursework, if any. So, I put “nanotechnology” in my bio to indicate my fields of research. I’m also a former cancer researcher who worked on an immunotherapy (feel free to look on Google Scholar). I was hired for being a molecular biologist as the project was more biological and would have required more training for chemical engineers. My lab isn’t even full of chemical engineers as it is full of chemists (picotechnologists?). Most work is now transdisciplinary, and even the strictly bio fields are crossing over.
In Australian universities at least, when I was going through, biophysics was just starting out as a course. Most biophysicists tended to work on different interfaces: how do cells move in the body? Can we measure it? Can we replicate human movement and generate the materials to make artificial limbs etc? now, biophysics strays into the nanorealm as well. We can now make finer measurements and devices at the nanoscale using biophysics principles and nanotech. Just FYI, I’ve been very public about my PhD experience on twitter. I’ve never claimed to be a great scientist, my projects were largely dead ends, but that doesn’t mean I have no authority to comment on a field I’ve been working in for more than 5 years.
Most nano work is tedious analysis of trying to manufacture tiny items from a bottom up process rather than top down. So, we can make tiny nanobipyramids, nanostars etc through chemical processes without having to rely on something like nanolithography and so on. If you’re trying to deliver therapies on a particle, you sometimes have to spend ages just trying to get the surfaces right. What we lack at the moment are the tools to accurately define and study what’s on a surface. It is boring, but when it works for that first time, it’s like magic.
I would recommend reading Feynman and others — other actual scientists — on nanotech. Drexler has some interesting ideas but it’s limiting to rely on it. Nanomachines already exist : viruses and cellular motors etc — nature has already created exquisite nanoobjects. I’m surprised, I thought a nanobiologist would know better.
Finally, I didn’t call Musk pathetic, I objected to the wording on his poll. I explain in this interview if you care to listen:
Nothing in this entire….thing was planned on my part and it’s ludicrous for anyone to suggest so.
Thanks for your time. I can’t guarantee I’ll be back unless you have specific questions, I’m on twitter as you know.