Week 9: Nanotechnology by Mitch Platter

After reading a few articles about the field of nanotechnology, it seems to be a general consensus that most people are infatuated with the subject. The first explanation that I thought of was that naturally, ridiculously small objects astound people, because it is something they are entirely unfamiliar with. However, I quickly realized that this was not true. I attended the exhibit “Invisible Earthlings” last week, which reminded me that this idea is not always true. In the exhibit, the artist, Beatriz Da Costa, sought to address the problem of people ignoring microbes when they think about our environment. When people think about nature, they immediately think about large animals and plants, but they rarely consider the invisible microbes that play a huge role in our environment. So, the fact that nanotechnology deals with objects that are really small does not provide a just explanation to why people are so infatuated. So what is it?

In the article “The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of fact & fiction in the construction of a new science,” the two authors make reference to nanotechnology being a revolutionary field where new possibilities are endless. This seems like a more rational explanation to justify people’s interest. During the Cold War, people became obsessed about the Space Race, due in large part to the Cold War itself, but also because of the idea of venturing out into a new frontier. Scientists were exploring a world that had never been seen before, and this caught the attention of nearly everyone. Now that space has been thoroughly explored, with the discovery of and stars hundreds of light years away, it seems that the field of space has been thoroughly exhausted.  With the vast field of space explored, it seems that the only field that has not been discovered is what is not visible to the human eye.  The nanometer is as mysterious a concept as space was to the citizens of the 1960’s.

So yes, nanotechnology is an interesting new field that can possibly change the world as we know it. But what about the dangers of nanotechnology? With the development of almost all new technologies there have been negative effects to both the environment and the individual. The book, Nanotechnology and Society does an excellent job of addressing this concept. The authors state how recent problems with mercury, asbestos, and DDT have all arisen from the ill treatment of new technologies in their time. With nanotechnology being such an extraordinary new field, they rationalize that it could have tremendous negative effects if handled in the wrong way. However, they also mention that a scientific group known as the Quebec Commission de I ethique de la science et de la technologie (CEST) have already published a position regarding the ethical treatments of nanotechnology. The three chapters of the position deal with the scientific, legal, and ethical issues attributed to this new science, and they give appropriate warnings as to what needs to be done with the new field. It appears that nanotechnology is being well regulated, so we can only hope that it does not bring about the troubles that it is fully capable of doing.

Here is a link to the book Nanotechnology and Society:

http://books.google.com/books?id=DEZHKYoeEBYC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq=fascination+with+nanotechnology&source=bl&ots=t37Ob2pm7i&sig=6giL901Oazv0WZWbU9F5V1JJMng&hl=en&ei=4PO1SYn6J5WksAPT7bzmCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA75,M1

by Mitch Platter

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