Monthly Archives: January 2011

S.NET 2011 annual meeting

S.NET is the Society for the Study of  Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies and members will be holding their 3rd annual meeting in Tempe, Arizona from the 7th to the 10th of November 2011 according to Dietram Scheufele’s Jan. 11, 2011 posting on his nanopublic blog (I can’t link directly to the posting but you can find it by scrolling down). From Dietram’s posting,

Invitation. S.NET invites contributions to the Third Annual Meeting of the The Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies (S.NET) to be held in Tempe (Phoenix), Arizona. The workshop will engage diverse scholars, practitioners, and policy makers in the development and implications of emerging technologies.

About S.NET. S.NET is an international association that promotes intellectual exchange and critical inquiry about the advancement of nanoscience and emerging technologies in society. The aim of the association is to advance critical reflection on developments in a broad range of new and emerging fields of science and technology, including, but not limited to, nanoscale science and engineering, biotechnology, synthetic biology, cognitive science, and geoengineering.

Eligibility. S.NET includes diverse communities, viewpoints, and methodologies from across the social sciences and humanities, and welcomes contributions from scientists, engineers, and other practitioners.

To Apply. The program committee (see below) invites submissions from the full breadth of disciplines, methodologies, and epistemologies, as well as from applied, participatory, and practical approaches to studying these emerging fields and from different regional or comparative perspectives. Committed to diverse styles of communication, S.NET welcomes proposals for individual papers, posters, traditional panels, roundtable discussions, and other more innovative formats. In particular, the program committee encourages proposals for topics and formats that will encourage greater dialogue and interaction. Details of the submission process are available online at All proposals should be submitted online between 1 Feb and 1 March 2011.

Stipends. Travel stipends may be available for US graduate students, and post-doctoral scholars, and non-US participants from the Global South.

I mentioned the 2010 S.Net annual meeting in my Sept. 14, 2010 posting and briefly in my Nov. 8, 2010 posting. In both cases, you will have to scroll down to find the information as the meeting was not the main subject.

Update on Health Canada’s public consultation on its Interim Policy Statement on a Working Definition for Nanomaterials

A reader sent in a response to a query about the public consultation’s status since it closed Aug. 31, 2011.

Consultation Results – Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials

Dear [XXX],

Thank you for your interest in the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials (Interim Policy Statement). Extensive comments were received from a wide-range of stakeholders.

Health Canada is currently reviewing and considering all comments, and any necessary revisions to the Interim Policy Statement. Further information on how Health Canada will address these comments, including any possible amendments to the policy statement will be made available on Health Canada’s Web site soon. Stakeholders will be notified at that time. [emphasis mine]

Thank you

Science Policy Directorate/La direction des politiques scientifiques
Strategic Policy Branch/Direction générale de la politique stratégique
Health Canada/Santé Canada

Thank you to my reader. I wonder how they define a stakeholder?

After receiving the message, I checked out the Health Canada website page again and found this under Reporting to Canadians,

Health Canada will make the results of this consultation available on this Web site. Health Canada will take further steps to illustrate how the policy statement will be applied in specific contexts. These steps could include guidance documents for specific products or substances, targeted workshops and postings of answers to frequently asked questions. The Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials will be updated as comments are received, as the body of scientific evidence increases, and as international norms progress.

In my April 26, 2010 posting, I published an interview with a Health Canada representative (Christelle Legault) about Canada’s nanomaterials definition, a nanomaterials inventory that was announced in January 2009 (but not yet implemented), and a proposed nanoportal for Spring 2010 (still not launched). I’m hopeful they will find it easier to publish the results of the consultation than they have found the implementation of their other initiatives. Perhaps the inventory and the nanoportal are contingent on a nanomaterials definition?

Sciences are creative too

There’s an interesting essay by Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association on the UK’s Dept. for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) website about British attitudes to science and the notion that science is part of ‘culture’ in the way that the arts are. From the Science and Public Attitudes project page on the website,

I have always been interested in what the Public Attitude Surveys tell us, and not least to use the results to challenge those who still persist in claiming that the UK public is ‘anti-science’ when it is clearly nothing of the sort.

This time round I developed a particular interest in the concept of science and culture, leading out of the work we did on the Science for All Group ( In our Report and Action Plan we identified a number of actions to encourage UK cultural institutions to take a strategic approach to the sciences in culture, and we recommended that public perceptions of science and culture should be explored in this upcoming Survey.

It has always irked me that the arts community in the UK seems to have purloined the words ‘culture’ and ‘creativity’ as if they are synonymous with the ‘arts’. For example, the European Capital of Culture bidding process, and that of the UK City of Culture, have no requirement for a science-based cultural programme (though the use of digital technologies is graciously and instrumentally encouraged in the latter to ‘maximise participation and access’). Not that I have anything against the arts, but my concept of culture and of creativity certainly includes the sciences, and they are implicitly excluded in the way these bidding documents are written and interpreted.

So, it is good to see the Public Attitudes Survey 2011 seeking to test out how the public views science and culture.

I look forward to seeing the Public Attitudes Survey when it is released in March 2011.

Flaws in opinion polls about science

If you’ve ever had the experience of trying to answer an opinion poll and wanting to scream in frustration because the questions are vague or cover too much ground, this is the study for you: Measuring risk/benefit perceptions of emerging technologies and their potential impact on communication of public opinion toward science published online in the journal Public Understanding of Science, Jan. 6, 2011. From the Jan. 13, 2011 news item on,

A new study from North Carolina State University highlights a major flaw in attempting to use a single survey question to assess public opinion on science issues. Researchers found that people who say that risks posed by new science fields outweigh benefits often actually perceive more benefits than risks when asked more detailed questions.

We set out to determine whether we can accurately assess public opinion on complex science issues with one question, or if we need to break the issue down into questions on each of the issue’s constituent parts,” says Dr. Andrew Binder, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study. “We found that, to varying degrees, accuracy really depends on breaking it down into multiple questions for people.” [emphasis mine]

To assess the problematic nature of a single-question surveys, the researchers developed two surveys; one focused on nanotechnology and the other on biofuels. In each survey, respondents were asked an overarching question: do the risks associated with nanotechnology/biofuels outweigh the benefits; do the benefits outweigh the risks; or are the risks and benefits approximately the same? The researchers then asked survey participants a series of questions about specific risks and benefits associated with nanotechnology or biofuels.

Precisely! Your answer to questions like these tends to be informed by the situation. In other words, you might see a benefit outweighing a risk where self-cleaning windows are concerned but not where transgenic goats (e.g. goats with spider genes) are concerned. Both of these are nanotechnology oriented, the windows being an application and the spidery goats supplying milk that can be spun for nanotechnology applications.

The article is behind a paywall but you can find out more about the study at nanopublic, Dietram Scheufele’s blog (from his Jan. 14 2011 posting,  [note: I cannot link to directly to the post so you may need to scroll down or search for it by date],

Studies tapping public perceptions of the risks and benefits surrounding new technologies have long relied on a single-item measure asking respondents a variant of the following question: “Do the risks associated with technology x outweigh the benefits; do the benefits outweigh the risks; or are the risks and benefits approximately the same?” More recently, we raised concerns about this single item measure and suggested that — especially for nanotechnology — a more application-specific look at risk perceptions might be useful.

Dietram is one of the paper’s authors.

Making Stuff (nanotechnology) on PBS’s Nova tonight

Tonight, PBS’s Nova tv series will broadcast part one of its four-part series on nanotechnology. I first mentioned the programme in my Jan. 7, 2011 posting where I noted that Andrew Maynard (2020 Science blog) had seen a preview and had some reservations about one item in the four-part series. (The host, David Pogue, in a bit intended to be amusing, drinks some milk from a goat that has been injected with spider genes.) I will be watching eagerly tonight (and subsequent nights) to see if the producers have made any changes after receiving some feedback about the ‘humourous’ bit. You can read more about the PBS nanotechnology series here on their Making Stuff page.

Since this seem to be my week for television, I did watch Chuck on Monday night (as per my Jan. 17, 2011 posting) and the nanotechnology part of the story was unexceptional largely because it had very little to do with the story. The nanochip everyone was chasing was a ‘McGuffin’ (from the Wikipedia essay),

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction”. The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot.

Arts research at Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and the University of Alberta

Big props to the University of Alberta’s Vice-President (Research), Lorne Babiuk and Associate Vice-President (Research), George Pavlich,,  who initiated the new Scholar in Residence for Arts Research in Nanotechnology project and to Heather Graves who has snagged the position. From the Jan. 11, 2011 article by Michael Davies-Venn for the University of Alberta’s Express News,

Establishing the Scholar in Residence for Arts Research in Nanotechnology is the latest initiative by the U of A to foster interdisciplinary research among scholars in the social sciences, humanities, engineering, creative arts and sciences. Lorne Babiuk, U of A vice-president (research), says the program furthers the university’s commitment to interdisciplinary research. “The aim is to broaden the impact of the National Institute for Nanotechnology, or NINT, across the full spectrum of disciplines on campus, into areas that aren’t normally a part of the nano-scientific process,” he said.

The National Institute of Nanotechnology’s (NINT) director also had a few things to say,

Nils Petersen, NINT’s director general, says the scholar in residence program adds value to the institute. “By having colleagues from the arts join us in telling our story, perhaps in non-traditional ways, we hope more Canadians will come to understand the potential of nanotechnology.”

I’m encouraged to see that he wants to have the nanotechnology story told. This is a change of heart. I first started (in 2008) trying to get an interview from Petersen and/or Martha Piper (who was on the board for two years) both of whom stonewalled my efforts (in Petersen’s case, I persisted for 3 or 4 months and in Piper’s case, it was two years [she kept promising]). Interestingly, the NINT website does not have a news release about this new arts scholar initiative on its website. You can check for yourself.

Getting back to the arts scholar herself, here’s a little bit about Heather Graves, University of Alberta professor,

Heather Graves, a U of A English and film studies researcher, will be the first to hold the position of Scholar in Residence for Arts Research in Nanotechnology when she begins working with her colleagues at NINT. She says she will examine how researchers in nanotechnology negotiate the ambiguities of language in their research.

“This is an opportunity to watch the discourse of the new field of nanotechnology emerge and the language usage negotiated among the experts involved,” said Graves. “One of the things we hope that nanotechnologists will get out of our examination is a vocabulary that they can use to talk about what they do.”

The scholar in residence program is a three-year pilot program, funded by Alberta Innovates Technology Futures.

I look forward to hearing more about this interdisciplinary initiative in the near future. Hopefully, they will list this project on the NINT website soon.

Ireland’s nanotechnology scene

I missed this back when it was launched in August 2010: NanoNet Ireland. From the Jan. 17, 2011  news item on,

Organisations working with nanoscience from academia and industry have come together to form NanoNet, a single body designed to represent and promote awareness of nanotechnology.

Of €150 billion in goods and services exported by Ireland in 2008, it is estimated 10% were enabled by nanoscience and related nanotechnologies. By focusing on the area of nanotechnology there is the potential to grow this figure to 20% allowing Ireland to take a significant share of an estimated global market of €3 trillion in 2015.

NanoNet brings together the key stakeholders from [the] nano ecoysystem in Ireland which comprises academic institutions, multinational companies and indigenous Irish companies. Ireland has more than 500 companies, both multinational and indigenous, employing approximately 130,000 people in the ICT, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors. These companies utilise nanotechnology for continued product innovation and competitiveness.

NanoNet is made up of two major nano related consortia. INSPIRE, funded by the HEA, is comprised of internationally leading researchers across ten third level institutions and coordinated by CRANN (TCD), a Science Foundation Ireland funded Centre for Science and Engineering Technology. The recently announced Competence Centre for Applied Nanotechnology (CCAN), funded by Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Agency, includes both leading multi-national companies such as Intel, Analog Devices and Seagate and indigenous Irish companies such as Creganna, Aerogen, Audit Diagnostics and Proxybiomedical. CCAN, hosted by the Tyndall National Institute at UCC and CRANN, together with INSPIRE represents an impressive Nano-ecosystem for Ireland.

In the works for Jan. 31 – Feb. 1, 2011 is a Nanoweek Conference in Carton House, Co. Kildare. From NanoNet Ireland’s Nanoweek conference webpage,

Following the success of Nanoweek 2009 and the INSPIRE-09 National Scientific Meeting, NanoNet Ireland is pleased to announce the second Nanoweek Conference, to be held from the 31st January – 1st February 2011 in Carton House, Co. Kildare.

Nanotechnology is now impacting products and businesses in most major industry sectors. This event will bring together leading Irish and international nanoscience researchers and invited speakers with direct experience in building technology companies from world class nanotechnology research.

The conference will also allow researchers to identify and interact with other leading nanotechnology researchers from Irish research institutes, to meet with funding agency representatives, and to network with and present their work to potential industry partners.

Questions addressed

For researchers

What nanoscience areas are viewed as key for commercial success? Who is working in these areas in Ireland? I want to commercialise my research – what are the first steps I should take? What funding is available? What opportunities exist for collaboration? What expertise are companies seeking? What is the international view of nanoscience commercialisation? What is best practice in technology transfer? What changes have taken place in the funding landscape? – the funding agencies’ view?

For industry attendees

How can nanotechnology help my business? How can nanotechnology improve my competitiveness? How are companies currently using nanotechnology? What nanotechnology expertise is currently available in Ireland? How do I access it? How can I get financial support for the work?

For everyone

How have nanotechnology-enabled ideas been commercialised? Where are the market opportunities? What are the hurdles? What is the investor viewpoint?

Delegate Profiles

Product developers and designers from the medical device, diagnostics and ICT industries.

Manufacturing and quality engineers keen to learn how advanced characterisation tools can help troubleshoot product issues more efficiently.

Nanoscience researchers keen to understand the leading new nanoscience research topics, meet the researchers, understand the commercial possibilities and processes, and network with potential industry partners promote and develop commercial potential of their research.

Investment professionals seeking business opportunities from nanotechnology

I last posted about some of the nanotechnology initiatives in Ireland, Oct. 27, 2010.