Just a quick note before I drift off to study for my exams.
I re-read the famous ‘there’s plenty of room at the bottom‘ speech made by Richard Feynman recently. Aside from being inspired by his genius and foresight (as usual) I think I hit on an interesting idea.
At the end of the speech Feynman half-jokingly proposes a contest for high school students with the goal of writing smaller than anyone else. I think we have enough industrial infrastructure and technical expertise to make that contest come true, albeit with possibly different goal than simply ‘writing small’ and perhaps geared towards undergraduate students.
Those of you who have been following this blog or any other one of my web presence knows that I am deeply interested in synthetic biology, to the extent that I ventured into the recent Synthetic Biology conference 4.0 in Hong Kong armed with my meager knowledge of genetics and molecular biology. In fact, I’ve been so interested in the discipline that I’ve been driving my professors crazy with questions, delving deep into molecular biology texts and courses outside my proclaimed field of expertise (which is plasma physics), even touching up with a bit of crude wet work.
The reason why I became aware of the field of synthetic biology and began taking its possibilities and my involvement with it seriously, was the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition or iGEM. It is an international competition for high school-to-undergraduate students to build the best synthetic organism (or genetically engineered machine) using opensource biological parts termed BioBricks, which can be pieced together like puzzle to form a working genetic system complete with chassis (usually E.Coli or Yeast). The quality of the competition entries have been phenomenal so far. The winning entry in this year’s iGEM competition actually prototyped a whole new vaccine against gastritis. It took undergraduates six months to come up with that stuff (with help of graduate level faculty). Just imagine what people will be able to do once we streamline the whole process and work out some kinks inherent in dealing with biological systems!
Now, let’s imagine something similar with nanotechnology. I believe that it is possible to put together some minimal nanotech components/chassis in the fashion of the BioBricks, opensource them, and apply it toward high school-undergraduate level competition. Of course, the things we can come up with using today’s technology won’t be as vibrant as the projects pursued by those of iGEM teams, but I still believe that we have enough room for ingenuity and improvisation in constructing minimal nanotechnological systems and parts. With suitable industrial support the international nanoengineered machine competition (iNEM?) might lend the field of nanotechnology accessibility and interest the field rightly deserves.