Alberta and Texas collaborate on nanotechnology and greenish energy; a meta analysis of public perceptions of nanotechnology risks; how scientists think

The Premier of Alberta (Canada), Ed Stelmach, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Rice University (Texas, US) President, David Leebron, to collaborate through nanoAlberta (Alberta Advanced Education and Technology) and the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (Rice University). The two institutions will collaborate in the energy, environmental, medical,  agriculture, and forestry sectors. From the news item on Azonano,

Wade Adams, director of the Smalley Institute, said the interests of nanoAlberta and those of his team at Rice are perfectly aligned. “We want to help them figure out how to extract oil from their resources in a more environmentally friendly way, a more efficient way and one that will cause less damage to their own territory as well as provide oil for the needs of the human race, as they become a more important source of it.”

When I read the title for the item I thought they were referring to green or bio fuels but, as you can see from the quote, the intention is altogether different. From a pragmatic perspective, since we have to depend on fossil fuels for a while longer, it’s best if we can find more environmentally friendly ways to extract it while developing other renewable sources.

This reminds me of the recent invite I received from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) for the Perverse Incentives: The Untold Story of Federal Subsidies for Fossil Fuels event held on Sept. 18, 2009. Unfortunately, the webcast isn’t available quite yet but I think that in light of this memorandum it could be interesting viewing and might provide a critical perspective on the initiative.

PEN is holding another somewhat related event on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm EST, Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, and Biofuels: What does the public think? If you’re in Washington, DC, you can attend the event live but you should RSVP here, otherwise there’s a live webcast which is posted a few days later on their website.  (There’s a PEN event tomorrow, Sept. 23, 2009 at 12 pm to 2:30 pm EST, titled Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation: Securing the Promise of Nanotechnologies. If you wish to attend the live event, you can RSVP using the link I’ve posted previously. If you’re interested in this event, in June I posted a more complete description of it here.)

One more Canadian development on the nanotechnology front, a meta analysis of 22 surveys on public perceptions of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology has been published at Nature Online as of Sept. 20, 2009. The article (lead author from the University of British Columbia, Canada)  is behind a paywall but you can read more about it in the news item on Nanowerk (from the news item),

Previous studies have found that new and unknown technologies such as biotechnology tend to be regarded as risky, but that’s not the case for nanotechnology, according to this research. People who thought nanotechnology had more benefits than risks outnumbered those who perceived greater risks by 3 to 1 in this study. The 44 percent of people who didn’t have an opinion either way surprised the researchers. “You don’t normally get that reluctance,” says Terre Satterfield of the University of British Columbia in Canada, lead author of the study and a collaborator with CNS-UCSB [Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara].

In almost three years of scanning, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two announcements that both feature a Canadian nanotechnology development of sorts. This is a banner day!

Topping today off, I’m going to segue into How Scientists Think.  It’s a paper about how scientists creatively problem solve.  From the news item on,

Her [Dr. Nancy J. Nersessian] study of the working methods of scientists helps in understanding how class and instructional laboratory settings can be improved to foster creativity, and how new teaching methods can be developed based on this understanding. These methods will allow science students to master model-based reasoning approaches to problem solving and open the field to many more who do not think of themselves as traditional “scientists.”

I’ve been interested in how scientists think because I’ve been trying to understand why the communication with ‘non scientists’ can be so poor. To some extent I think it is cultural. After years of training in special skills and a special language, scientists are members of a unique occupational culture, which has given birth to many, many subcultures. People who are immersed in their own cultures don’t always realize that the rest of us may not understand what they’re saying very well. (Try reading art criticism if you don’t have an understanding of art history and critical theory.) That’s my short answer and, one of these days, I’m going to write a paper with my long answer.

I had every intention of writing another part of my science communication series today but I have a couple of projects to start or finish and these series postings take more time than I have to spare.

3 thoughts on “Alberta and Texas collaborate on nanotechnology and greenish energy; a meta analysis of public perceptions of nanotechnology risks; how scientists think

  1. Pingback: Alberta and Texas collaborate on nanotechnology and greenish … | Nano Broadcast

  2. Pingback: Public opinion doesn’t shake easily; Wilson talk on Artificial Intelligence « FrogHeart

  3. Pingback: Green nanotechnology in Alberta’s oil sands « FrogHeart

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