Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Okay, I wasn't going to blog this--I was just doing a little reading for my own pleasure, but I said "Wow!!" so many times that I had to pass it on. Popular Mechanics November issue has its "Breakthrough Awards" for 2006, in an article written by Logan Ward, and some of the winners are really astounding. Anyone who reads the Meow will not be surprised that my favorite breakthrough was the nanotech innovation. I am a fan of all things nano, and have written about enough of the future miracles and current achievements that some of you probably get sick of the topic, but what they're doing is so cool I know you'll be enthusiastic too. Ward writes:

THE GOAL OF nanofabrication is to make tiny machines build themselves using molecules they grab from their surroundings. It's easy to dismiss the concept as science fiction — or hype. Until you hear what's been going on in the lab of MIT materials scientist Angela Belcher, a star in nanotechnology circles.

Working with colleagues Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang, Belcher genetically altered a virus, the M-13 bacteriophage, inducing it to grab a pair of conductive metals — cobalt oxide and gold — from a solution. As the viruses rearrange themselves, they form highly aligned organic nanowires that can be used as a lithium-ion battery electrode — one so densely packed it can store two or three times the energy of conventional electrodes of the same size and weight. So far, the team has grown an anode. The next steps-which could be completed in two years-will be to grow a cathode, and to perfect the Saran Wrap-thin polymer electrolyte that separates the electrodes.

"What we want to do is have a beaker where you mix everything together and out comes the functional device," Belcher says. "Toy boxes often say 'some assembly required.' These will be no assembly required. My dream is to have a DNA sequence that codes for the synthesis of any material you want to make."

If that doesn't make you at least a little giddy for the fun and adventure that is nanotechnology, well, I don't know what to say. Perhaps science just isn't your thing, and you should read farther down the page to other Meow posts where the topic is more political. I will warn you, though--science, technology, and science fiction rear their lovely heads frequently around here, so if you keep reading, you won't be able to avoid them for long. As for those of you who get just as happy as I do at a good examination of the future of space flight, or a glimpse at the hope of growing human organs in a lab, the PM article is right up your alley, and sure to be a fun way for you to spend a few minutes of your time. Enjoy...

Hat tip: Instapundit