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Posted: December 22, 2007
Nanotechnology town hall meetings at Northwestern University
(Nanowerk News) Town hall meetings are usually the politicians' province, especially as the presidential race heats up, but there's no rule against scientists holding them.
That's happening in Evanston, where Northwestern University researchers are staging nanotechnology town hall meetings. It gives scientists a chance to talk about their work, and interested citizens can ask questions.
The first meeting, staged last week, featured Chad Mirkin, director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology, who said that like any advance, nanotech has potential for good and ill. But Mirkin mostly stressed the good.
"Airplanes have been used for horrible purposes," Mirkin said. "So have computers. But I don't think we're going to be getting rid of them."
He described how particles the size of molecules can be crafted to make clothing stain resistant and fight the growth of bacteria in carpeting and drapery. Nano-based research aims to deliver new therapies to fight cancer, HIV, Alzheimer's and other diseases, Mirkin said. Chicago is well positioned to lead in a new branch of health care based on nanotech, he said.
Some have suggested that nanotech introduces new dangers to consumers as well as new opportunities, and that government regulatory agencies have been lax in acknowledging this and preparing to deal with it.
Mirkin said it is naive to speak of regulating nanotechnology because it is really more a new way of doing science rather than a narrow entity that could be scrutinized and regulated.
"Nanotechnology is a renaissance of science and engineering, a new way of thinking. It's going to impact everything we do," said Mirkin. "You can regulate subdisciplines influenced by nanotechnology, but to speak of regulating nanotechnology itself is silly.
"The closer you get to human health, the more regulation we have. What the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have to do is hire smart people who understand the new devices and new therapies from nanotechnology and consider potential consequences."
Nano-size particles of zinc oxide and gold that are sometimes a target for criticism "have been used for centuries," said Mirkin, referring to supersmall particles that were a fact of life long before engineers and scientists learned about them and named them.
"There've been no signs of problems," Mirkin said. "We have to have some common sense. These are judgment calls. We may be right most of the time, but occasionally we'll be wrong."
Another nano town hall meeting is scheduled for Jan. 8 on the first floor of NU's McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive, in Evanston at 4:30 p.m. That meeting will feature Mark Ratner, director of NU's Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly.
BROADBAND BELIEVERS: About one-third of people who subscribe to cable TV or satellite services said they would drop that service if they could get TV shows they wanted over a broadband computer connection, paying a flat fee.
Those survey results give cable executives the willies, said GerryKaufhold, an In-Stat analyst, and it isn't just Google that has them scared. Right now, the National Football League is giving Comcast and other cable operators fits by offering several choice games online at www.nfl.com/nflnetwork.
NFL and the cable boys are scrapping over NFL demands that cable operators run its channel on the cable operators' basic tier and fork over 2 cents a day per subscriber for the privilege. This amounts to about $484,000 a day for Comcast, which instead offers the NFL Network on a premium tier, sparing the bulk of its subscribers the added cost.
"The NFL is using the cable modem to try to show the cable operators just how popular their games on Thursdays and Saturdays are," said Kaufhold.
TV networks also are experimenting with putting their fare online, trying to get a handle on how it fits into their business models, he said.
"Broadcasters are using Internet delivery to figure out where and when people will watch episodes of shows they missed," he said.
One interesting trend is that a show broadcast on a Tuesday evening during prime time is often watched on the Internet on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays over the lunch hour. This suggests that when people miss a favorite show on TV, they try to watch it from work on a computer while munching a sandwich, Kaufhold said.
For some series, when a viewer misses one show, the plotline is lost and viewership drops, he said.
"Providing shows online may actually bring back eyeballs to watch later episodes on TV," he said. "But providing those shows as video-on-demand over cable may not help because people don't have access to TV during their lunch hour at the office.