Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nanotechnology and the Social Sciences

I consider myself somewhat of a generalist. By that, I mean that I like to study all aspects of a particular topic that I am interested in. I am not always successful, and sometimes I run the risk of spreading myself too thin. In other words, I tend to know just a little about a lot of things, rather than become an expert in one small niche. Nanotechnology is an area that is ripe for this sort of approach, because it is so interdisciplinary by its very nature. I have followed this tactic when I schedule speakers for Nano@Tech seminars, trying to bring in viewpoints on nanotechnology from diverse disciplines.

In this vein, I wanted to point out to NRC users and other nano-enthusiasts the presence at Georgia Tech of a group that many may not be aware of (at least I wasn’t until very recently). The Center for Nanotechnology in Society is an NSF supported multi-university consortium (led by Arizona State University). The Georgia Tech group (, part of the School of Public Policy, the Enterprise Innovation Institute and others, is “focusing on Research and Innovation Systems Assessment - research to characterize the technical scope and dynamics of the [nanoscale science and engineering] enterprise.” Additional activity includes looking at equity and equality issues in nanotechnology and public deliberation through a citizen engagement forum in Atlanta.

Two of the CNS-ASU/Georgia Tech faculty (Philip Shapira and Alan Porter) recently presented a webinar entitled “Nanotechnology: Will It Drive a New Innovation Economy for the U.S.?” at the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. More information on this talk and the presentation slides can be found at, although the webcast video is not available yet. You will have an opportunity to hear Prof. Porter again when he is a Nano@Tech seminar speaker during the fall semester.

The CNS-ASU/Georgia Tech group also hosted a seminar on campus (March 31) by Dr. Ismael Rafols, (Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, UK) on the topic “How to shape the direction of innovation in nanomaterials? Broadening the agenda from risk regulation to innovation governance”. Among the tidbits I gleaned from this fascinating discussion is that we need to be careful when we speak about “nanotechnology”. From a policy, environmental, and regulatory perspective this almost always means “manufactured nanomaterials” (i.e. CNT, QD, nanoparticles). However, the public and mass media don’t discriminate between these synthetic materials and natural nanomaterials as well as nanoscale-based devices. At the same time, basing regulation on size alone is not logically supportable; rather application is much more of a classifier. In fact, I recently heard it put succinctly, based on the past experience with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), that “the public has no problem with injecting them (biomedical applications), but they don’t want to eat them (food and agriculture applications).”

1 comment:

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