Larry Bell over on his NISE (Nanoscale Informal Science Education) Net blog has posted about the study, Nanotechnology Long-Term Impacts and Research Directions: 2000-2020, that the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) launched at a day-long workshop on Sept. 30, 2010 (mentioned in my blog posting of Sept. 27, 2010). From Bell’s posting,
Nanotechnology Long-Term Impacts and Research Directions: 2000-2020 went on line yesterday for two weeks of public comment. This is your chance to read and make suggestions concerning the next decade of nanotechnology research, including future educational efforts and engaging the public in future governance. The text document and presentations related to them are online at: www.wtec.org/nano2.
This report and vision document has been developed by a team of scientists led by NSF’s Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology, Mihail Roco, and the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC). Members of the core team held workshops in the U.S., Germany, Japan, and Singapore, and so this report has an international perspective. I participated in the U.S. workshop which was held at Northwestern University in March and just attended a workshop at NSF in which the draft report was presented.
Bell goes on to comment on some of the report’s goals. Here’s a brief sample,
The realization of nanomaterials with biologically inspired attributes including self healing.
Nanodiagnostic tools will become the backbone of clinical medicine by 2020, making the transition from remote labs to hospitals an then eventually to the home. Here comes the “tricorder” from Star Trek as we develop in-vivo sensors, nanoscale sensors physically inside our bodies that communicate to external hand-held devices that communicate to the doctor’s office.
You can download all or any of the 13 chapters of the study from here if you wish to read and comment.
Andrew Maynard over at his 2020 Science blog has commented on the WTEC study’s chapter on Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) in his October 13, 2010 posting,
The EHS chapter (chapter 4) is authored by twelve recognized experts in the field of nano-risks, and presents a comprehensive perspective on near-term research challenges and opportunities. The chapter is far from perfect – as you would expect, it reflects the perspectives and interests of the authors – but then most reports of this type do. It also contains some rather jangling statements. For instance on the first page the definition of “the environmental, health and safety (EHS) of nanomaterials” seems to miss out environmental impact beyond “animal health”. And a rather outmoded focus on educating the public on page 25, where the authors state
“A key issue therefore is for academia, industry and government is to find appropriate mechanisms to reach consensus, and effectively communicate and educate the public on the beneficial implications of nanotechnology, the potential for risk, and what is being done to ensure safe implementation of the technology.”
Mmm, not quite what they are teaching in engagement 101 these days!
If you’re interested in nanotechnology and EHS issues, I encourage you to take a look at Andrew’s comments as he is able to provide some context. I also see that he’s a co-editor of a forthcoming book on risk governance (International Handbook on Regulating Nanotechnologies).
In a related note, Dietram Scheufele has published the presentation he gave at a strategic planning consultation (open to all stakeholders including the general public) held by the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in July 2010 (mentioned in my July 9, 2010 posting). The presentation is in his nanopublic October 6, 2010 posting (note: I can’t link to individual postings). It’s about 10 minutes long (audio accompanies his powerpoint presentation). Dietram has some very interesting to say about public awareness and engagement in nanotechnology which I will get to when I have more time (hopefully, later today).
ETA Oct. 13, 2010: I did manage to get back for a second listening and made a few notes. Dietram commented on three things.
First, what did the NNI do right in the last 10 years? They paid attention to the lessons learned with the biotech and genome debates. There was outreach and discussion about nanotechnology including legal, social and ethical issues.
Second, what deadends did the NNI run into? They reinvented the wheel in some areas. The fact that the general public is not very aware of or interested in nanotechnology is not specific to nanotechnology. The same can be said of politics. Dietram mentioned that the focus on risks and benefits was misinformed. Most people including experts don’t immediately think of risks and benefits when forming attitudes. There wasn’t enough focus on nano-specific policies.
Third, What should be done in the next 10 years? Change the public outreach efforts from something that Dietram calls ‘the build it and they will come’ approach. He stated that both public meetings and museums (informal science education) are important but they do not reach a full spectrum of the population. For example, people with higher education are more likely to go to a museum exhibit than those who finished their education at high school.
Dietram had a number of specific suggestions such as coordinating communication efforts across all federal agencies, evaluating the communication efforts, compiling systematic data, and, most importantly, ensuring online and social media are part of the communication efforts.
I haven’t really done justice to Dietram’s comments. He offers some very compelling bar graph charts to prove his points. I was particularly taken with the last chart which illustrated the number of online science and technology stories as compared to the number of these stories in the mainstream media.