Week 9 - Nanotechnology and Society - By Arthur To

Nanotechnology is the study of matter on a molecular and atomic scale. This is a rather new field of scientific interest along with genetics. From what I’ve understood, nanotech is still at its infant stage and still has a far ways to go, but the possibilities seem endless. Genetics, too, although much more established than nanotech has gone a long way. Not only has it been able to triumph scientifically, it has also had to triumph politically as well. Genetics’ idea of cloning and stem cell research was and still is a touchy subject; many had fears of abuse of either cloning or stem cell research. It was as much as a scientific interest as it was a moral crisis. People questioned the ethics of playing God’s role in creation of living organisms. As for stem cell research, that was even a more sensitive subject matter. The idea of using fetal subjects in order to advance science and help the currently living was seen as very offensive to many, especially religious pro-life activists. In the end, although some laws have slowed down the advances of genetics, it has not stopped it. It seems like the hot discussion is starting to shift from genetics to nanotechnology now. It seems that it takes a few studies and several years to calm down society.

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Nanotechnology fits the technological model of advancement through trying to make things as small and compact as possible. Computers use to be the enormous just so they can make some simple calculations. Now they can be very compact personal laptops that anyone can carry from place to place. Nanotechnology is not only new to the public eye, but it is still new to scientist as well. Many of nanotechnology side effects are still not fully understood and there has yet to be a consistent and fully credible report on environmental effects of nanotechnology. This uncertainty, similar to genetics and cloning, has created many skeptics, some going further than others. To be honest, although I do believe that skepticism is very important to the well-being of society, there is a clear difference between skepticism and paranoia. Skepticism puts things under scrutiny to the test, puts a form of check and balance to them. Paranoia on the other hand is usually oversimplified and exaggerated and is more of an annoying road bump to progress.

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Although this was a while back, I went to the CNSI seminar featuring Jim Hutchinson. There goals are to end the uncertainty and fear of nanotechnology by taking a more environmental friendly approach to nanotechnology. There work is called greener nanotechnology and they strive to use less toxic compounds to produce their experiments and research. I found this to be a very innovative way to deal with the uncertainty issue. Sadly though, even Hutchinson runs into some people who still think he is up to no good. There are too many times where congressmen act irrationally without any convincing evidence to put unnecessary regulations to scientific studies. I think it is best to leave most of the decision making to the scientist that know best of their subject with minimal regulations.

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By Arthur To

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