From Publishers Weekly
Nanotechnology has become a hot topic in recent years, but few laypeople understand what it is. Hall writes that nanotechnology "involves building machines whose parts are of molecular size, but more importantly, of atomic precision...." He foresees nanotechnology progressing through five stages of development, stage one being our current ability to image objects at an atomic scale with a limited ability to manipulate them, and stage five being the ability of miniature robots to reproduce and learn from experience. A fellow of the Molecular Engineering Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., Hall devotes a chapter to his own concept, "Utility Fog," a fog composed of nanoparticles that will coalesce to form sofas, coffee tables and maybe even artificial plants, and then disintegrate back into fog. More realistic predictions include thin body suits that will control body temperature, allowing people to live in the tropics or in the Arctic and medical advances that will send artificial antibodies into the bloodstream to destroy bacteria or viruses. Hall admits that civilization could face many dangers as nanotechnology advances, but he argues that banning its development in the U.S. would only result in other countries or groups gaining technological dominance. Readers excited by the promises of nanotechnology will find this book a gripping read. (May)
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A leading nanotechnology researcher, Hall offers this popularization of the subject, covering the physical principles of engineering at the atomic scale, possible applications of nanomachines, and their potential alteration of human society. Before overreacting to that last prospect, readers would benefit from learning how a nano-sized gadget is built, which Hall explains clearly with references to chemical bonds, the van der Waals force, and quantum mechanical behavior. What to build comes next, and Hall explores the mechanical possibilities. Traits such as self-repair and self-replication, Hall avers, could be imitated by tiny machines designed for targeted medical therapies, as touted in a recent tract of techno-optimism, More Than Human, by Ramez Naam (2005). Hall also discusses wild-sounding household appliances--a synthesizer that makes clothes and furniture, air cars, fog composed of nanobots, and more that would make techno-pessimists, such as Bill McKibben (Enough, 2003), blanch, and Hall directs more than a few ripostes McKibben's way. Expressed in conversational prose, Hall's positive outlook gives readers the buzz behind the buzzword nanotechnology. Gilbert Taylor
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