Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nano in Vancouver, Pt. 2

Tucked away in the basement of the Bulgarian-inspired hotel called the Empire Landmark were two sessions this morning that addressed a range of nano and society topics.

Two things struck me as especially interesting about them. One: Nano and society research varies considerably in the degree to which it actually concerns nano. Some of the talks I heard today addressed broader topics such as privacy, regulation, public engagement, and so forth that actually have little specifically to do with nano itself. Addressing privacy and public engagement, just to give two examples, could be done without ever considering nano. While this represents only my personal view, I think it important for people to get inside the subject and address what is particular special, to look for the "nano-ness" in other words. Or to paraphrase Langdon Winner, to open up the "nano-box" and see what's inside.

Second, I am also struck by how a good deal of the focus on nano has shifted to issues of environmental, health, and safety issues. I find this striking because, in my recollection, the EPA, OSHA, and the FDA were not participating agencies when the U.S. government first funded the National nanotech Initiative in 2000. I think it would make a small yet useful history project for someone to investigate when and how these regulatory agencies became part of the nano enterprise. Any takers?

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