Nanotechnology has become one of the hottest areas in scientific research, pulling in billions of dollars in government, corporate and foundation cash. But the scientist who coined the term "nanotechnology" says a lot of what passes for nano is just plain ol' science, gussied up with a fancy name to rake in the bucks."'Nanotechnology'" has now become little more than a marketing term," said Eric Drexler, founder of the Foresight Institute, the leading nanotech think tank. "Work that scientists have been doing for decades is now being relabeled nanotechnology."For good reason. Congress recently earmarked $2.4 billion for a National Nanotechnology Initiative. In May, South Korea announced its own $2 billion nanotechnology development program. The National Science Foundation sees a $1 trillion nanotech market by 2015.Little, if any, of this money is going to fund the kind of projects Drexler envisioned when he came up with, and popularized, the word "nanotechnology" in the '80s. Based on the theories of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, nanotechnology was supposed to be a discipline in which individual atoms and molecules are manipulated to make ultrasmall machines. One day, Drexler and others speculated, robots could swim in human bloodstreams to zap cancer cells, chew up pollution and construct materials from the atom up.Instead of that pursuit, scientists are doing small-size chemistry, biology and materials science and "using the name 'nano' -- dressing (their research) up," said Mark Ratner, author of Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea.My Wired News article has more on the nanotech debate.
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