NIRT: Nanotechnology and its Publics

  • Geiger, Roger R.L. (PI)
  • Easterling, William E. (CoPI)
  • Lewenstein, Bruce B.V. (CoPI)
  • Hallacher, Paul (CoPI)
  • Wolpe, Paul (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details




This NSF 'pilot' project brings together researchers from Penn State, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania to build an integrated research and education program addressing varied but interconnected topics on societal implications of nanotechnology, around the common theme of nanotechnology and its publics. More specifically, the aim of this pilot project is to establish a foundation for comprehensive examination of nanotechnology and its publics, encompassing public policy, economic, environmental, public opinion and the media, and ethical issues. Five activities will be carried out with seed grant funding. These are 1) conduct a case study to improve understanding of state government nanotechnology policy initiatives; 2) conduct a case study to examine patterns of commercialization of nanotechnology research; 3) conduct a national public opinion survey to measure public perceptions about societal implications of nanotechnology; 4)conduct secondary research to improve understanding of environmental issues of nanotechnology; and 5) conduct research to improve understanding of ethical and legal issues of nanotechnology. Exploratory qualitative research on a single state, Pennsylvania, will gather preliminary data for generating hypotheses about the impact and efficacy of state policies, on one side, and the pathways of commercialization of laboratory research on the other. Regarding patterns of commercialization of Nanotechnology Research , commercialization at the grass roots will be examined through at least three lenses: Intellectual property; the prevalence and nature of start-up firms, and the role they play in advancing technology toward commercial applications; and, similarly with established corporations, what is their stake in nanotechnology and what is their relationship to state-subsidized efforts for technology creation. For the National Public Opinion Survey, Cornell University will conduct a national opinion survey on public attitudes toward societal implications of nanotechnology. The survey will involve telephone interviews with a stratified random sample of 500 adults. The survey instrument will be designed to measure public responses to media coverage of nanotechnology, as well as public attitudes toward various public policies relating to nanotechnology, nanotechnology commercialization and economic development, environmental implications of nanotechnology, and ethical and legal implications of nanotechnology. Regarding Environmental Issues, the project team will conduct secondary research to explore environmental and ethical issues about nanotechnology. This will involve examining nanotechnology research programs with environmental thrusts sponsored by NSF and other agencies, and reviewing scholarly literature and other sources to identify potential environmental impacts of nanotechnology research programs addressing other thrust areas, such as nanobiosystems, nanostructures, nanomanufacturing, nanodevices, and others. Finally, regarding Ethical and Legal Issues, the project team will also explore ethical and legal issues about nanotechnology through literature reviews by discussions with panels of experts. A number of prominent scholars in ethics, law, religious studies, and nanoscale science and engineering have been identified as potential panel participants. Additional participants will be identified through the other four thrusts comprising this seed project, and from other sources. One set of discussions will take place as part of a workshop on Nanotechnology and Its Publics to be held in 2004 in Philadelphia with leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. A second set of discussions will be held as part of a national conference on societal implications of nanotechnology to be held in 2005 in partnership with the University of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina, through its NIRT: From Laboratory to Society: Developing an Informed Approach to Nanoscale Science and Technology, is currently organizing semi-annual conferences on the societal implications of nanotechnology. The Nanotechnology and Its Publics seed project team will organize a discussion on ethical and legal issues through the established University of South Carolina national conference series in 2005.

Effective start/end date7/15/046/30/06


  • National Science Foundation: $199,887.00


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