Tag: nanotechnology

Slower Manufacturing Activity Reported in Chicago and Kansas City Regions

Two of the Midwestern Federal Reserve regions reported slower manufacturing activity in their most recent surveys. First, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that its monthly composite index dropped from 8 in August to 2 in September. This suggests that manufacturers in its region were growing more slowly this month.

Indeed, several of the components were consistent with other Fed regions that have noted contracting activity. The Kansas City Fed’s previous survey had bucked the trend somewhat with stronger levels of production and new orders, but this month, global and national weaknesses have appeared to have taken their toll.

The index for new orders, for instance, dropped from 11 to -2, with similar negative values observed for production, shipments, the average workweek, and exports. Job creation has slowed to a near standstill, with the employment index down from 2 to 1.

Meanwhile, pricing pressures have picked up, with the prices paid for raw materials beginning to creep higher. The index for raw material prices has risen from 7 in June to 26 in August to 30 in September. Looking ahead six months, most manufacturers expect for these costs to increase, with the forward-looking index of raw material prices at 60 in September, up from 49 in August. (continue reading…)

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As Secretary Geithner Highlights Nanotechnology…

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is visiting an Arkansas manufacturer that specializes in nanotechnology today, using the stop at NanoMech to highlight the benefits of the R&D tax credit.

The company website (hey, a .biz domain name!) reports fascinating news about its products, including nano-engineered body armor and nano-lubricant technology. So we should expect some commentary from Secretary Geithner about the Administration’s views on nanotechnology.

We always turn to Instapundit to catch up on the latest developments in the technology and policy, and in doing so this morning, spot this post:

WELL, IT’S CAUSING A LOT OF OTHER PROBLEMS: Is policy uncertainty the cause of anemic growth in nanotechnology innovation?

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds links to a blog post from the Foresight Institute, which builds on a column at Nanotechnology Now from Skip Rung, president and executive director of ONAMI, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

In “Getting our Groove Back in Manufacturing Innovation: Nanomaterials, Green Nanotechnology and Policy Uncertainty,” Rung writes:

Post-November 2010, Washington DC swears it recognizes how vitally important entrepreneurs and innovation are, and that regulations will be reviewed for costs vs. benefits (if you believe for even a femtosecond that anything useful will come of that, call me about investing in my new flubber company). And of course, the crowd-pleasing soundbite “staple a green card to science and engineering advanced degrees” continues to be heard from politicians of both major flavors. Anyone currently attempting to keep a key PhD employee here (rather than be sent back to China to compete with them) is thoroughly sick and tired of hearing that empty promise.

If all that and the spectacle of politicians doing everything, anything, except address the impending public insolvencies hasn’t made you suicidal, then I guess you’re like the optimist in me that says ‘policy uncertainty’ in the face of what often seems like firm determination on the part of the U.S. government to undermine its own economy.

Yeah.

Here are the other Instapundit links on nanotech posted this year. (continue reading…)

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Make R&D Tax Credit Permanent, Even in Revamped Tax Code

Bloomberg, “Treasury Department Supports Permanent Research Tax Break Even in Overhaul,” reporting on Treasury’s support for a more robust, permanent R&D Tax Credit as part of a revamped tax code.

Michael Mundaca, assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said that the economic benefits and high-wage jobs generated by the research credit make it worth preserving, even in a tax system with fewer targeted tax incentives.

“In a reformed system, you’d still want some incentives to be provided for research activity, and we think this is a good incentive to provide,” Mark Mazur, the department’s chief tax economist, said at a briefing with reporters in Washington yesterday.

The briefing accompanied the advance release of a new report, as reported by Reuters, “Obama tax credit will support 1 mln workers-report.”

Treasury Secretary Geithner will highlight the jobs connection when he visits a high-tech manufacturer in Northwest Arkansas today. From ArkansasBusiness.com, “NanoMech Ready for Appointment with Geithner“:

NanoMech Inc. chairman and CEO Jim Phillips grasps firmly the significance of U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s Friday visit to northwest Arkansas.

“He could’ve gone to the Silicon Valley, he could’ve gone to the Research Triangle,” Phillips said Thursday morning, “but he’s coming here.”

Geithner’s visit is multi-pronged. He will meet with a group of regional business leaders at the Arkansas World Trade Center and also is expected to address the release of a report detailing the economic benefits of President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget proposal to enhance the Research & Experimentation tax credit.

NanoMech anticipates Secretary Geithner’s visit in a news release, “U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Makes Historic Visit to NanoMech Plant in Springdale.”

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Bag this Ban

From The Los Angeles Times, “Reusable bags found to be dirty“:

Nearly every bag examined for bacteria by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found whopping amounts of bugs. Coliform bacteria, suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination, was in half of the bags, and E. coli was found in 12 percent of the bags.

Running the bags through a washer or cleaning them by hand reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing, the study reported, but nearly all shoppers questioned said they do not regularly, if ever, wash their reusable bags. About a third said they also used their food-shopping bags to haul around non-food items.

The study was funded by the American Chemistry Council amid debate over a California bill that would ban single-use plastic bags. The council is opposed to that measure.

Guess we were ahead of the curve. A year ago July, after the D.C. City Council taxed plastic bags, we joked: “Thankfully, we’ve found a great source of reusable bags, piles of them discarded in the alley right behind the Municipal Diphtheria Clinic.”

Of course, the obvious solution to the contaminated-bag question is a technological one: The imbedding of anti-microbial nano-silver particles in all grocery bags. EPA is stepping up its oversight, enforcement, involvement, and scolding of nanotechnology under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The technology’s mandatory use in all grocery bags is clearly called for. (At least for bags sold into interstate commerce.)

We’re pleased, as well, that California state lawmakers are engaged in this important issue, the banning of plastic bags. Obviously the state legislature has a clear sense of the state’s most pressing priorities.

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Moving Toward Federal Regulation of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology will be on the table when the House Science Committee holds a hearing Wednesday, “The Future of Manufacturing: What is the Role of the Federal Government in Supporting Innovation by U.S. Manufacturers?” Among those testifying is Mark Tuominen, Ph.D., director of the National Manufacturing Network.

The multiagency federal National Nanotechnology Initiative last month released its 2011 budget proposal. In his introductory letter, Presidential Science and Technology Advisor John Holdren, wrote, “Nanotechnology R&D constitutes a core building block of innovation that will ultimately accelerate job creation and transform many sectors of our economy through commercialization.” Can regulation be far behind?

Federal oversight of nanotechnology-containing consumer products was a topic of discussion at the March 4 hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

In her prepared statement, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum noted the CPSC’s FY 2011 budget request called for $2 million to support the federal National Nanotechnology Initiative. She said:

In the last few years, there has been increasing public concern about potential health impacts associated with this technology. Although nanomaterials may have the same chemical composition as non-nanomaterials, at the nanonscale they may demonstrate different physical and chemical properties – and behave diferently in the environment and the human body.

The $2 million proposed will alow the Commission to conduct exposure and risk assessments of nanomaterials, allow for database updates to properly flag reports of nanotechnology incidents with consumer products, and conduct consumer outreach efforts such as public meetings. Perhaps even more importantly, it will allow the Commission to take a very proactive approach to this emerging issue, rather than merely reacting to incident reports after they are received.

In her statement, Commissioner Nancy Nord said, “This is an area where I have an especially strong interest and am pleased to see the agency take a strong role as nanomaterials transition from the research laboratory to the consumer market.”

The technology’s move — already well under way — to the marketplace is certainly welcome. One hopes regulators show restraint as they react so as to not endanger this “core building block of innovation.”

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Congratulations, Secretary Locke; Good Job, Nano Researchers

Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday to be Secretary of Commerce, and we wish him well. As a pro-trade governor from a border state — familiar with all those customs and cargo inspection issues — he’s in a good position to promote an agenda of economic growth through commerce at the agency (tautologically enough).

There’s no Locke speech yet up at the Commerce Department’s website, only this routine release with the statement: “I’m honored to take on this challenge and will work every day to make the Commerce Department an engine for improving our competitiveness, encouraging innovation and creating jobs.” Competitiveness, innovation and jobs — Good!

We’ll check back later for the transcript of his remarks to the agency employees. For now, the webpage does have an exciting report about innovation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in this case, improvements in an essential tool for developing nanotechnology, ”Making a Point: Picoscale Stability in a Room-Temperature AFM“:

Forget dancing angels, a research team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado (CU) has shown how to detect and monitor the tiny amount of light reflected directly off the needle point of an atomic force microscope probe, and in so doing has demonstrated a 100-fold improvement in the stability of the instrument’s measurements under ambient conditions. Their recently reported work* potentially affects a broad range of research from nanomanufacturing to biology, where sensitive, atomic-scale measurements must be made at room temperature in liquids.

Atomic force microscopes (AFMs) are one of the workhorse tools of nanotechnology. AFMs have a sharp, pointed probe fixed to one end of a diving-board-like cantilever. As the probe is scanned across a sample, atomic-scale forces tug at the probe tip, deflecting the cantilever. By reflecting a laser beam from the top of the cantilever, researchers can sense changes in the force and build up a nanoscale topographic image of the sample. The instruments are terrifically versatile—in various configurations they can image electrostatic forces, chemical bonds, magnetic forces and other atomic-scale interactions.

Other good reports cover developments in iron-based superconductors, superfluidity and the use of stairwells in evacuations.

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Taking Precautions Against Nanotechnology

If the Toxic Substances Control Act is to be rewritten (see below), one of the targets in the process will be nanotechnology. From the Houston Chronicle, “Warnings issued on nanotechnology“:

Pressure for regulation

This month, the EPA decided to classify carbon nanotubes as “new” chemicals. But even if all nanomaterials are classified as “new,” they’re unlikely to face a rigorous review because of weaknesses in the toxic substances act, said J. Clarence Davies, a senior advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

Davies plans to be among those testifying at today’s hearing before the U.S. House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. He and others are expected to urge lawmakers to pressure the EPA to adopt a more comprehensive approach to regulating chemicals, similar to that of a 2006 European Union law. That act requires companies to prove chemicals are safe, unlike TSCA, which puts the burden on the government to prove a harm.

The looming regulations have prompted something of a boon for consultants who seek to guide companies.

“Everyone in the country is laying off people,” said Harry Bushong, president of NanoTox. “Right now, I need to hire people.”

Perfect. Apply the precautionary principle to nanotechnology and watch innovation disappear. But consulting firms…

UPDATE: (11:20 a.m.): And indeed, the testimony on nanotechnology came from the Chronicle-cited

J. Clarence Davies, a Senior Advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

 

And here’s the witness list and prepared premarks for today’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Hearing on “Revisiting the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.”

  • Chairman Rush’s Opening Statement
  • Chairman Waxman’s Opening Statement
  • Testimony of John Stephenson
  • Testimony of J. Clarence Davies
  • Testimony of Maureen Swanson
  • Testimony of Cecil Corbin-Mark
  • Testimony of Michael Wright
  • Testimony of Richard Denison
  • Testimony of Kathy Gerwig
  • Testimony of Cal Dooley
  • Testimony of V.M. DeLisi
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    A Small Update on Nanotechnology

    Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit continues citing the many interesting, promising and otherwise cool developments in nanotechnology.

     

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    Nanotechnology, the Community College Course

    From The Star-Tribune, Pittsylvania County, Virginia:

    Danville Community College and Luna Innovations Inc. have entered into a partnership to provide nanotechnology technician training to Southside Virginia residents.

    The partnership is being funded through a three-year, $638,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

    “This funding will help develop a curriculum that will not only provide students with technical skills, but includes hands-on experience in using scientific instruments,” said Dr. Kent Murphy, chairman and chief executive officer of Luna Innovations. “The new program will aid in building a workforce that will be ready to work in this promising new technology field.”

    Headquartered in Roanoke, Luna opened its nanoWorks division in Danville in 2005 in a former tobacco warehouse that has been renovated into an ultramodern 24,000-square-foot manufacturing and research development facility.

    Here’s the joint Danville Community College/Luna news release.

    Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit often posts links about this or that breakthrough in nanotechnology, all interesting and encouraging.

    But when you get to the point of training technicians, well, that tells you the technology has definitely advanced beyond theory and R&D to the practical,  commercial level.

    P.S. Some of those Instapundit links:

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    Popular Mechanics: The Breakthrough Awards

    Looks like it was a big night last night for Popular Mechanics, as the magazine/Internet/multimedia juggernaut commemorated its annual Breakthrough Awards, presented to great innovators. Any ceremony that celebrates aeronautics pioneer Bert Rutan is AOK by us.

    We also applaud Popular Mechanics’ consistent emphasis on energy issues in its reporting, or as in last night, its awards. As major consumers of energy, manufacturers in the United States are intent on conservation and improving efficiency.

    Case in point — Breakthrough winner, Richard Bourgeois and GE’s low-cost electrolyzer:

    FUTURISTS PROMISE that hydrogen will replace fossil fuels someday. There’s just one problem: Today, 95 percent of the world’s available hydrogen is extracted from natural gas. Getting hydrogen from water, the greener alternative, is too expensive to be practical. Or it was, until a recent innovation by engineer Richard Bourgeois and his colleagues at a General Electric research facility in Niskayuna, N.Y.

    Bourgeois’s prototype electrolyzer cuts the equipment cost of using electricity to grab hydrogen from H2O. The key was replacing tooled metal with a moldable, high-tech GE plastic called Noryl, saving on materials, manufacturing and assembly. The result? A kilogram of hydrogen — the energy equivalent of roughly a gallon of gas — that costs $3 instead of the current $6 to $8. “I could imagine a small box that sits on-site making hydrogen for a factory,” Bourgeois says. “Eventually, even filling stations may make their own hydrogen.”

    Popular Mechanics covered the evening’s events in its blog here, and the Breakthrough recipients are all great stories. Stories that evoke a “gee whiz” response, as well, like this account (also energy-related) from MIT:

    Working with colleagues Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang, Belcher genetically altered a virus, the M-13 bacteriophage, inducing it to grab a pair of conductive metals — cobalt oxide and gold — from a solution. As the viruses rearrange themselves, they form highly aligned organic nanowires that can be used as a lithium-ion battery electrode — one so densely packed it can store two or three times the energy of conventional electrodes of the same size and weight.

    So congratulations to all these great innovators, and once you’re done taking a look at their accomplishments, head over to GE’s new blog, too!

    UPDATE: I just realized, I failed to credit Glenn Reynolds for directing our attention to the awards.

    Reynolds has done a fine job in mentioning Popular Mechanics, nanotechnology, and, well, other stuff, so kudos, salutes, and thanks!

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