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A one thousand-year-old history lesson awaits those who would deem the cutting edge wicked

Damascus steel was forged using a process of carbon doping iron in a smelting and quenching process.  This steel became famous almost a thousand years ago; it was said a Damascus sword would cut through falling silk, a rock, and then another piece of silk while still keeping its razor sharp edge. 

The ability to make the Damascus steel was lost with the ages.   Blademasters would often take the secret of the forging process to the grave rather than reveal its mysteries. Many were persecuted as heretics, others heralded as deities.

A study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that more than 70% of 1,015 surveyed Americans deem nanotechnology morally repulsive.  Professor Dietram Scheufele attributes this repugnance for technology to American reliance on religion. 

It's easy to say that perhaps the 1,000 Americans surveyed are just not that bright.  Scheufele disagrees, stating, "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."

Scheufele believes that Americans who disprove of nanotechnology do not want humans "playing God."  That is, man manipulating structures of one nanometer, one billionth of a meter, is akin to God manipulating the forces of the universe.

In 2006 German researcher Peter Paufler discovered (with the aid of a sub-nanotechnology, the electron microscope) that a four hundred-year-old Damascus steel sword gained its incredible properties from carbon nanotube structures within the blade's edge.  Fifteen years earlier NEC created the world's first synthetic nanotube. One year later it was awarded the patent for one of the sharpest materials on earth, a plasma polished carbon nanotube blade.

Science has always bordered on the fence of terrifying and mysterious.  Civilization lost the secrets of Damascus steel making when then modern thinkers deemed it a practice of deus ex hominis.

Attempting to describe the morality of natural phenomena leads to an exercise in natural fallacy. Not once, in the history of mankind, has science ever been proven immoral -- and conversely -- nor has it ever been proven moral either. 

Will society deitize nano-researchers as modern day Damascus blademasters, or will it learn to look beyond the meta-ethics of natural phenomena for a change?


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RE: As an aside...
By lexluthermiester on 2/24/2008 4:56:29 AM , Rating: 2
Excellent point about the patent system. The copyright system needs to be reshaped to work in a similar way.

Still I think Damascus steel is a myth. Even if you make such metal, and manage to shape it into a sword, once it cools, how would you sharpen it? Back then[as today] stone was used to sharpen swords and cutting tools. If a Damascus sword could cut through a rock wrapped in silk without loosing it's razor sharp edge, how could stone be used to sharpen the very same weapon in the first place? Today we might have a way, but not back then... Simple physics, reason and logic are all thats needed to conclude that Damascus steel is most likely a total myth...


RE: As an aside...
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/24/2008 11:09:05 AM , Rating: 2
Well, Damascus steel swords are still around. The Japanese had a very similar technique (watered steel) and that has been preserved throughout the ages.

Check out the forging process. It's totally incredible and explains how the ancients ended up with such sharp edges, even though they didn't know they were building nanostructures.


RE: As an aside...
By masher2 (blog) on 2/24/2008 12:26:08 PM , Rating: 2
Wikipedia entry aside, the criteria I remember for a Damascus blade had nothing to do with cutting rock. A true Damascus blade had to pass three tests:

a. Be sharpened fine enough to cut a silk scarf floating in air.
b. Be tough enough to carve the metal of lesser blades
c. Be able to be bent 180 degrees (tip-to-hilt) without breaking or deforming.


RE: As an aside...
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/25/2008 11:58:04 AM , Rating: 2
The reference is from Al Kindi's "Metaphysics"

It's a fantastic but difficult read about astronomy, religion, politics, science, technology and mathematics; authored in 800 AD. He was a true Renaissance man hundreds of years before his European counterparts.


"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki














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