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A Sad Jab at the ‘Bad Rad Lab’

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were only 20-30 people at Thursday’s “Bad Rad Lab”
against the Molecular Foundry groundbreaking
at Berkeley, but it bugs me, nevertheless.

contrarian in me
understands the power of protest to make a point, but the journalist in
me winces when the protests are based on uneducated assumptions. As
I’ve written
, though, if the people are uninformed about science and
technology policy issues, we
in the niche media
should be held
partially responsible.

The entire idea of the $85 million Molecular
is to help scientists discover how things behave on the
nanoscale, so that we can all make informed decisions on what to do
with the technology, and where we need to worry. Unless the protesters
know something the scientists don’t know, let them do their work.

A while back, I spoke to University of California, Berkeley, researcher
Steven Louie, who is using carbon nanotubes to create the building
blocks of molecular electronics and new types of sensors. Louie, who is
also an adviser to nanotube startup Nanomix,was practically giddy last
fall when he talked to me about the foundry, which broke ground last
week and will be fully functional by 2006.

Inside, he said, there are going to be engineers, chemists, biologists,
even a place for theorists like him, to toss ideas around clear across

different disciplines and departments. That’s one thing about working
on the nanoscale: Everybody is almost equally clueless, so they can
make discoveries together.

“It’s a really fantastic opportunity for the next 5-10 years, for many
disciplines getting together at this same scale,” Louie said.

“Foundry,” though, was probably an unfortunate name for a research
laboratory, since it creates an image of smokestacks belching out

What’s really happening now is that scientists are only beginning to
ask the question of what the environmental impacts of nanomaterials
might be, yet just the fact that the question is being asked in a
public way is an invitation for some to reach a conclusion based on
their own preordained world view. “Aha! See? Even the scientists are
asking the questions!”

The young superjournalists at the Berkeley Daily Planet have been doing
an heroic job of keeping us all informed here
and here
and here.
And more background on the foundry can be found here
and here
and here.

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