Nanotechnology, Risk and Upstream Public Engagement

By Macnaghten, Phil | Geography, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Nanotechnology, Risk and Upstream Public Engagement


Macnaghten, Phil, Geography


ABSTRACT:

This article examines the troubling relationship between emerging technologies, the uncertain and intensifying character of technological risk, and public concerns. It argues that serious gaps, dislocations and distortions exist between the forces driving novel science and technology and wider public values and sensitivities. The argument is developed through detailed examination of a recently completed research project on the social production and reception of nanotechnologies (for an extended account, see Kearnes, Macnaghten and Wilsdon, 2006).

Nanotechnology, as a case study, has a specific place in contemporary debates on science and technology as perhaps the site for potential future controversy (Joy, 2000; ETC, 2003). For its cheerleaders, the technology is seen to be ushering in a 'new industrial revolution' that will include breakthroughs in computer efficiency, pharmaceuticals, nerve and tissue repair, catalysts, sensors, telecommunications and pollution control.

The prefix 'nano' itself refers to the length scale (one nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a metre), and the term nanotechnology refers to the engineering, measurement, and characterisation of nano-scaled materials and devices. The ability and desire to manipulate matter 'atom by atom', and to create new properties on the 'nano' scale, is fast becoming a proven technology and there is an ever growing array of consumer products that make use of nanotechnology's uncanny properties in the nano world (Maynard, 2007). A recent report from Lloyd's Emerging Risks Team uses a striking analogy to demonstrate the increased reactivity and surface area that is observed at the nanoscale (Lloyd's Emerging Risk Team, 2007, p. 8). While a cube of 1cm^sup 2^ has a surface area of 6cm^sup 2^, dissecting that cube into lnm particles would increase the total combined surface area to approximately the size of a football pitch, some 10 million times larger. And given that the chemical reactivity of a material is related to its surface area compared to its volume, substantially less material at the nanoscale may be required to do the job than at a conventional scale. This dynamic has applications in the use of catalysts, clean-up and capture of pollution, and any application where chemical reactivity is important - such as medicine. The nano world is thus very different from the world around us in that physical laws derived from quantum mechanics come into operation, superseding the common-sense world of classical and Newtonian physics (Jones, 2004).

Given the undoubted potential of nanotechnology, research funding has increased exponentially. In terms of government investment, North America, Asia and Europe are spending significant amounts (US$1.1 billion to US$1.7 billion each in 2005) on researching and developing nanotechnology, up from around $100 million a decade earlier. Similar amounts are invested by industry in each of these regions. In 2006, worldwide funding for nanotechnology reached US$11.8 billion, an increase of 13% from 2005 according to the latest report by Lux Research. This report also suggests that US$30 billion to US$200 billion worth of products contained nanotechnology in the year 2005, that the number of products containing nanotechnology doubled between April 2006 and May 2007, and that 15% (by value) of all products are predicted to contain nanotechnology by the year 2014 (Lux Research, 2007). This is an indication that nanotechnology is viewed as a serious and important element for the world's future economy.

Nanotechnologies are also commonly heralded as offering the path for social betterment, and formal statements frequently stress the ways in which research programmes are attentive to wider societal and environmental concerns. Indeed, such 'socially responsible' considerations are seen as effective mechanisms for ensuring that the negative aspects and risks can be identified early, thereby permitting nanotechnology to 'maximise benefits for humanity' (Roco and Bainbridge, 2003). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Nanotechnology, Risk and Upstream Public Engagement
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.