Yesterday Andrew Maynard chatted with Alex Hogg of Moneyweb Radio about the implications of emerging nanotechnologies. You can check out the full text or read an excerpt below. Click here to listen to the interview.
ALEC HOGG: In future we’ll be getting a monthly update on the small stuff from nanotechnology guru Dr Andrew Maynard. He’s a professor at the University of Michigan. I met him at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, and asked him to help us and he said “with pleasure”.
Many people of David Shapiro’s vintage will recall a 1966 Sci-Fi movie called Fantastic Voyage. Raquel Welch was in that, Dave. It was about a nuclear submarine that was miniaturised and injected into the vein of a scientist, and the mission was to unblock a blood clot in the guy’s brain. Well, in this clip from our chat today I asked Dr Maynard whether that fiction of 1966 was perhaps becoming fact with nanotechnology today.
ANDREW MAYNARD: The answer is yes and no. On the no side, no, we’re not going to be able to shrink something that looks like a submarine down to such a small size that it can swim through the bloodstream. However, there are some really intriguing technologies coming a long way. You can create a really small particle that is programmed to do multiple things, and put it into the bloodstream. So for instance there is now research and actually stuff that is coming close to market, where you can create a really small particle which is designed to both detect and kill cancerous cells. You can put it into the body, it will swim around the bloodstream, it will detect a cancerous cell, it will attach to it. It will actually tell position when it’s in place and it will sit there and wait for a signal from the physician to tell it to destroy that cell. So, in a very sophisticated way that’s actually getting remarkably close to what we were looking at with the 1966 movie.
ALEC HOGG: That’s fascinating. How do you put something like that together? How does it get developed?
ANDREW MAYNARD: Oh, with a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds working together. So what we’ve found here is we’ve had an incredible collaboration between the material scientists who know how to play around with atoms and molecules and put really interesting materials together, with the medical personnel and the biologists who understand how things work in the body and understand biology. So we have this incredible sort of merging of the physical and the biological worlds to create these multi-functional particles.
ALEC HOGG: Which companies, Andrew, are leaders in developing nanotechnology today?
ANDREW MAYNARD: There are huge numbers of companies, ranging all the way from big multinationals, so a lot of the big materials companies like BASF, DuPont, Evonik, have got major stakes in this area. But there are an increasing number of what people call pure-play nanotech companies, a company that has taken a specific application nanotechnology out of the research lab and begun to develop a business around that. If you look at the number of companies investing in this area, there are probably more small start-ups and pure-plays than there are major companies investing in it.
ALEC HOGG: You might find the next Google or Google look-alike in the nanotech field as a small little business above someone’s garage at the moment.
ANDREW MAYNARD: You absolutely may do. If you’re looking at some of the key material technologies coming along, things like the use of carbonology, which is really incredibly thin, strong structures of carbon, or you look at the next generation of batteries. Here you have a number of small companies that are really expanding very rapidly.