In a bid to blast the clouds out of the sky for the Beijing Olympics last year, China's Weather Modification Office seeded clouds with chemicals. This Summer at the Design Interactions (RCA) graduation show, Zoe Papadopoulou and Cat Kramer proposed a much bolder and poetical take on the cloud seeding technology.
Their Cloud Project takes the shape of a retro van selling ice-cream flavored clouds. An industrial-strength water spray mounted on top of the ice cream van would shoot a mix of liquid nitrogen and ice-cream into the atmosphere as a fine spray, leading to flavored condensation nuclei that will seed ice-cream clouds and give them the flavour of your choice.
As scientist and emerging technologies advisor Andrew Maynard wrote on his blog, the gap between the designers' concept and the current state of nanotechnology research is still fairly large. What was read instead was the group of experts lined up to give talks and discuss with the public in the ice cream van. Ice cream was in fact the bait that lured passersby into having conversations about nanotechnology, geoengineering and emerging technologies in general.
Real ice cream was handed out along with explanations about the manufacturing process and the creation of nano ice cream crystals. The designers and scientists invited customers to ask questions and reflect on issues such as: Does using nanotechnology to control climate come without any caveat? What could be the long-tern effect of these technologies on the environment? And how about the food we are buying today? Should we embrace GM food? Should we jump on supercarrots genetically modified to contain more calcium?
As the designers explain: Developments in nanotechnology and planetary-scale engineering point to new possibilities for us to conform the global environment to our needs. These advances combined with a dream to make clouds snow ice cream have inspired a series of experiments that look at ways to alter the composition of clouds to make new and delicious sensory experiences. Using ice-cream as a catalyst for interesting dialogue, the project's focus is to welcome people into a mobile space that sits outside institutions, letting new audiences experience and imagine emerging scientific developments and their consequences.
Asked to imagine a "what if...?" scenario that highlight some of the key issues surrounding nanoscience and nanotechnology, especially its potential impacts on society, Alice Wang decided to focus on an hypothetic negative application of nanotechnology.
Government officials attempted to cover up these cases to save country’s future nanotechnology development; however, research shows similar attacks are starting to spin out of control. Since nanoweapons do not require special equipments to produce, experts worry information may end up illegally available as open sources online resulting in further attacks.
After all... what do we really know about nanotechnology?
The idea reminded me those stories i used to read about kings or powerful ecclesiastics who were slowly poisoned by leafing through their favourite book or breathing the arsenic poured onto their bedroom wallpaper. Arsenic was sometimes used during the Renaissance as a poison as it was undetectable when administered over a long period of time.
Before sending me a link to the video of the project, Alice wrote me "Warn your readers that they might be grossed out."
The name of the Interaction Design Department at the Royal College of Art in London has now officially changed to Design Interactions. It doesn't sound like much but the name reflects a big challenge. A meaningful and very exciting one. Some of the works i discovered in June when i visited their Summer show were already reflecting the new direction that the course is taking. It was only a transition time, the first year that Prof. Anthony Dunne was heading the department, and changes were already in the air, i'm looking forward to see what the 2007 Show will bring.
I'll quote the Head of the Department:
"The focus of the department is shifting, and although electronics and computing will remain at the heart of the course, we will begin to explore how design can connect with other technologies, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. The course has been restructured to reflect this shift and was validated in March 2006.
Design Interactions is a small change, but we think it is significant. It reflects our emphasis on designing interactions of all kinds – not just between people and digital technologies, or even other emerging technologies, but also between people and possible futures, and between design and other fields of art and science.
At the last summer show, we characterised the thrust of the department as follows: ‘Design Interactions explores new roles, contexts and approaches for design in relation to the social, cultural and ethical impact of existing and emerging technologies. Projects, which are often speculative and critical, aim to inspire debate about the human consequences of different technological futures – both positive and negative. Students work closely with people outside the College, designing for the complex, troubled people we are, rather than the easily satisfied consumers and users we are supposed to be. Project outcomes are expressed through a variety of media including prototypes, simulations, video and photography. The students have backgrounds in art and design, computer science, engineering and psychology.'"
For a more detailed description of the department and course, and to see recent work by staff and students, go to their revamped website.
A woman would breathe into an over-the-counter device and cancer-indicating metabolites would be attracted into the nanopockets, causing the pored surface to fill and become dense. Then, an electrical charge would be applied so that the straight particles would bend, ejecting the metabolites so that multiple tests could be done in the same device. The metabolites could then be detected through a change in conductance or optically.
Lahann's graduate student David Pang had the idea when he discovered that certain metabolites that could mark breast cancer are present in breath and urine. "We realised that if one could put these molecules in a screening platform, they might develop a non-invasive, quick and inexpensive over-the-counter breast cancer screening test," Lahann said.
Via The Engineer.
Süddeutsche Zeitung Online features an interesting article on whether nanotech-equipped soldiers are a very likely scenario in the near future. The research, often advanced by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, which is a division of MIT, was recently assessed in a study funded by the German ministry of defense. The researchers at INT Fraunhofer-institute stated that many of the concepts regularily put forward by the U.S. military as almost ready to deploy, are still completely utopian and maybe will be forever. Namely smart dust, self-healing body armor and self-reproducing nanobots.
However, the concepts do play a role in politics already, for example in one incident where the U.S. claimed that China was developing nano-ants to attack America's infastructure. Eventually, it turned out that this strategy was originally developed by RAND Corporation, a notorious U.S. think-tank.
Another scientist, Jürgen Altmann, has a different take on the subject. In a study titled "Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control", he says that although nano-weapons are far from being imminent, there should be international treaties installed and the existing non-proliferation agreements extended. He also proproses a general ban on autonomous robots which are smaller than 20 centimeters.
Scarily remindful of how much this technology is related to military research. Illustration ("MIT to make nanotech army wear") picked from H. Thomas. (Update: This image was apparently used to add some bang to a MIT-proposal for a $50 million grant related to nanotech. It was allegedly taken from Radix, a comic book by two Montréal-based artists. The use of Sci-Fi imagery kind of ironically sums up some things here. Thanks csven.)
Chris Voigt’s team at the University of California have turned a bed of light-sensitive bacteria into a photographic film. Although the system takes 4 hours to take a picture, it delivers extremely high resolution.
The "living camera" uses light to switch on genes in a genetically modified bacterium that then cause an image-recording chemical to darken. The bacteria are tiny, allowing the sensor to deliver a resolution of 100 megapixels per square inch.
To make their novel biosensor, scientists chose E. Coli, the food-poisoning gut bacterium. They shuttled genes from photosynthesising blue-green algae into the cell membrane of the E. coli. One gene codes for a protein that reacts to red light. Once activated, that protein acts to shut down the action of a second gene. This switch-off turns an added indicator solution black. A monochrome image was thus "printed" on a bed of the modified E. Coli.
The experiment could lead to the development of "nano-factories" in which minuscule amounts of substances are produced at locations defined by light beams.
For instance, a different introduced gene could produce polymer-like proteins, or even precipitate a metal. "This way, the bacteria could weave a complex material," says Voigt.
Via New Scientist.