Sunday, 14 June 2015

Nanoscience - Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey ***

Quantum theory proves the fascination of the science of the very small, and nanotechnology offers the potential for structures and materials at the kind of scale where quantum physics comes into play behaving significantly more impressively than we expect from something as, dare I say, it dull as materials science.

Thanks to the concept of tiny replicators and robots, nanotechnology has some remarkable heights to aim at - and some deadly lows in the form of all-eating 'grey goo' as worried about by Prince Charles. But the reality is that such technology is far beyond us, and may never be possible because of the difficulties of making engineering work at this scale, where all sorts of different influences, from unexpected forces to quantum tunnelling come into play. Practical nanotechnology started with pigments and even now is mostly about small structured particles and tubules, rather than mini-machines.

Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey provide a good basic introduction to aspects like the self-assembly of structures, graphene and medicine making use of nanostructures in a heavily illustrated book. And sometimes the topics are genuinely fascinating. I have to mention graphene again, but I also found quasi crystals a new (to me) and interesting field.

However, there is a bit of a 'But...' I really respect Peter Forbes as a science writer, and have been very impressed with his previous titles like Dazzled and Deceived. But this book really didn't work as well for me. Although it had strong illustrations, some exceedingly beautiful, the layout wasn't inspiring and the near-coffee table book format made it clumsy to read. I do wonder if Forbes' collaborator Grimsey, an artist, was the wrong person to get involved in the project, as there was far too much focus in the text on the trivial artistic side of nanoscience  and unlike Forbes' previous books there was no real narrative flow, but rather a collection of facts that failed to provide an overall vision of the science.

There's lots of good stuff here, and it's one of relatively few books on a nanotechnology, but the way the material has been put across was a bit of a let-down.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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