Chinese nanotechnological words of power

The International Journal of Nanotechnology visits China

Published February 7, 2007 11:52PM (EST)

I did not know, when I suggested in my last post, "Wi-Fi in the land of Qin," that if the Yellow Emperor were alive today he would be investing imperial funds in nanotechnological research, that the January/February issue of the International Journal of Nanotechnology is devoted to the topic "Nanotechnology in China." Nor did I intend that every post today visit the Middle Kingdom, but who am I to ignore the Mandate of the SinoBlogosphere? And since the editors of the special issue observe that "the progress of nanotechnology is expected to provide the solutions for the problems in energy and environment which are the great challenges for China, the most populated country in the world, in the next decades," the topic does seem to be squarely within the remit of How the World Works.

The text of the articles is behind a paywall, but that's not too disappointing, since, judging by such titles as "Organic groups functionalised mesoporous silicates" I wouldn't understand much of the content. The abstract for "Toxicological and biological effects of nanomaterials" is interesting, however, since while it is alarming to contemplate that "Results show that some conventional methodology for assessing the biological activities of bulk materials may not be valid for nanomaterials even though they have the same chemical composition..." it is, I think, exciting to learn that "the adverse biological effects of nanomaterials can be reverse-utilised in biomedical fields." (Apparently, dosing cancerous mice with a particular kind of nanoparticle improved immunity and obstructed "tumour invasion" without causing additional toxicity.)

One reaction to the nanotech jargon adorning this special issue is to whistle softly and imagine what kind of massive technological transformations are bound to come as nations such as China and India apply ever more brainpower to the most advanced frontiers of science. But -- and maybe this is because I've spent too much time today reading long (as yet unpublished) papers on the stealth co-optation of genetic modification technologies and my brain is frazzled -- all I could think of as I read the titles of these Chinese nanotech papers was of a couplet from a poem by my favorite Ming Dynasty Neo-Confucian sage, Wang Yangming.

Swimming in the depths, the fish are passing on words of power;
Perched on the branches, birds are uttering the true Tao.

Words of power? How about "Multi-component supramolecular assembly structures" and " ordered semiconductor nanowire arrays?" The true Tao? Well, as the "Dao de Jing" tells us, "the Tao which can be spoken of is not the true Tao," but my bet is that that by using scanning tunnelling microscopy and photoemission spectroscopy we can get pretty darn close.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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