Week 9: Nanotechnology and Society by Simon Wiscombe

While Professor Gimzewski’s lecture was very informative. I was one of those many people who, though I had heard of nanotechnology and was aware that it dealt with the development of particles on the 10^(-9) scale (despite, may I had, having no true cognition of exactly how small this is), I had no actual idea what advancements have been made in recent years. It was enlightening to hear about the development of “bottom up” technology, mimicking the development of natural systems, as well as the fields in which nanotechnology is drastically enhancing at this very moment. I’d like to break up this blog post into two main areas, the first dealing with nanotechnology and society, while the second addresses the first cooperation with artists.

Social outlooks for these new technologies that are much more, shall we say, private, are always grim. For some reason, there is always very hesitant behaviour on the part of the general public in accepting these technologies. It happened for biotech, and it’s relieving to hear Professor Gimzewski warn us that taking the same approach to nanotech as was taken for biotech could lead to its ruin. The professor already elaborated and mentioned many products that already contain nanoparticles without the public’s knowledge. In fact, they’re entering the market at an alarming rate, up to three to four a week [link]., most of them in health, fitness, and, as the professor mentioned, related cosmetics [link].

These products contain nanoparticles.

These products contain nanoparticles.

The Professor warns that companies shouldn’t attempt to hide the fact that they’re using nanoparticles, but rather that they should inform the public upfront. I would take it one step further. In my research for my final product, I found that a third of the general public is completely against biotechnology and genetically modified foods, but this was mostly due to their ignorance of the field [1]. If we start public awareness programs about nanotechnology, despite its complex nature, I believe we can avoid the societal fear that may backlash against the scientific community.

Professor Gimzewski, although he may not realize it, is taking the steps in the right direction by contacting artists. The Professor lists his reason to include artists as an imaginative one. The limits of nanoscience aren’t understood at all, and he believes that artists, being able to see things from a new perspective, will be able to find novel application for these technologies. While I agree with the Professor whole-heartedly (his closing comments were so poetic and insightful that they could have been the closing comments on Inside the Actor’s Studio), I also believe that his connection with artists will help communicate the wonders of nanotechnology to a society that might otherwise fear it.

If scientists contact artists, inform them of the current technologies available, and ask for their help, nanotechnology has already established a vital link in understanding. There is no reason why a well-informed artist wouldn’t be able to interpret the technical jargon spoken by the scientists and, in turn, communicating this to the public at large through their artwork, whether it be fine art or literary art. And who knows? Maybe the artists will teach the scientists how to create as they do, bridging the gap between the rift in the two cultures.

- Simon Wiscombe

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