Thursday, December 07, 2006

Public Perception of Nanotechnology

The latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology has an important commentary entitled "What Drives Public Acceptance of Nanotechnology" by Steven C. Currall, Eden B. King, Neal Lane, Juan Madera and Stacey Turner.

Unfortunately neither of my two institutions have a subscription to the journal so I cannot read it myself (let alone post a few excerpts). I suspect this is due to the fact that the journal is relatively new.

The brief outline on the journal webpage has the following description of the piece: "The first large-scale empirical study of how consumers view the risks and benefits of nanotechnology shows that nano-based products are viewed as relatively neutral, and as less risky and more beneficial than GMO".

After a little more digging I did come across this site for the Project of Emerging Nanotechnologies. It has an interview (and a podcast should also be posted eventually... keep an eye on this) with one of the authors of the article. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“A recent poll by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies shows that while public awareness of nanotechnology is increasing, fully 69 percent of Americans have heard little or nothing about nanotechnology,” said Lane. “More young people are seeing nanotechnology in advertisements for MP3 players than are learning about nanotechnology in schools.”

“In my view, given what’s at stake, this situation is unacceptable. I fear that nanotechnology may be heading for a fall. A major environmental, medical or safety problem—real or bogus—with a product or application that’s labeled ‘nanotechnology’—whether it actually is nanotechnology or not—could dampen public confidence and financial investment in nanotechnology’s future, and could even lead to unwise regulation. We should not let this happen,” stated Dr. Lane.

He called on government, corporations and the science and engineering community to take urgently three steps to avert this possible occurrence. “First is a major effort to set aside the resources necessary to investigate nanotechnology’s possible environmental, health, and safety risks.”

A “second step critical to the success of nanotechnology is to infuse nanotechnology education into the curriculum in every school and teacher education program.” Dr. Lane highlighted the huge investment the U.S. made to science and engineering education almost fifty years ago when Russia launched Sputnik—the world’s first artificial satellite. He stressed that America’s “children and workforce need that same level of national commitment to lead and keep them competitive in the Nano Age.”

Finally, Lane called for “a deliberate effort to provide the public with balanced and easily understood information about nanotechnology’s potential benefits and its possible risks and for more public engagement”—led by government, industry and the science and engineering community working together.