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New Grants Are Awarded to Inform the Public and Explore the Implications of Nanotechnology


 

October 6, 2005 --- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a series of initiatives that will greatly expand efforts to inform the general public about nanotechnology, and to explore the implications of that fast-moving field for society as a whole.

The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network. NSF has selected the Museum of Science, Boston, along with the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Exploratorium in San Francisco, to create and lead this network, which will also include many other science museums and research institutions (partial list below). The $20 million, five-year effort represents the largest single award NSF has given to the science-museum community, and will be a cornerstone of the foundation's multidisciplinary Nanoscale Science and Engineering Education program. The award was made by NSF's Informal Science Education program, with additional funding provided by 12 research programs from across the foundation.

Among the desired outcomes:

  • Interactive Programs and Exhibits that will engage visitors to science museums and non-traditional venues in inquiry-based learning about the "nanoworld"
  • Immersive Media such as planetarium shows and 3-D cinema that will showcase the nanoworld
  • Visualization Labs where visitors will be able to explore the hidden features of the nanoscale landscape
  • Public Forums that will allow for open discussion and debate about issues related to nanotechnology
  • A Media Network that will bring current developments in nanoscale research to a broad audience
  • A Website that will provide on-line access to exhibits, media, and interactive activities related to nanoscale research, as well as a gateway to other resources
  • Professional Development efforts that will foster collaborations between nanoscience researchers and educators, and
  • An online Professional Resource Center that will provide current information about nanotechnology education, tools and materials, research and evaluation, and other professional resources

Nanotechnology in Society. NSF has selected the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., to create two new Centers for Nanotechnology in Society. These centers will support research and education on nanotechnology and social change, as well as educational and public outreach activities, and international collaborations.

In addition, building on previously supported efforts, the foundation has funded nanotechnology-in-society projects at the University of South Carolina and at Harvard University.

All four of these efforts are being funded under the Nanoscale Science and Engineering program at NSF, which is one of 22 federal agencies in the government-wide National Nanotechnology Initiative . More specifically:

  • The Santa Barbara center will receive about $5 million over five years to focus on the historical context of nanotechnology; on the innovation process and global diffusion of ideas in the field; and on risk perception and social response to nanotechnology, with a special focus on collective action and the action of global networks in response to nanotechnology. The center will also explore methods for public participation in setting the agenda for nanotechnology's future.
  • The Arizona State center will receive $6.2 million over five years to develop a broad program of "real-time technology assessment" (RTTA) for nanotechnology research. The center will use RTTA to map the research dynamics of nanotechnology; to monitor the changing values of the public and of researchers; to engage both these groups in deliberative and participatory forums regarding nanotechnology; and to assess the influence of these activities on the researchers. The center will organize its efforts around two broad nanotechnology-in-society themes: freedom, privacy, and security; and human identity, enhancement, and biology.
  • Building from a current Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) award, the South Carolina project will receive about $1.4 million over five years to examine the role of images in communicating about nanotechnology, and how research in this field is changing the scientific and engineering practices of the researchers themselves.
  • The Harvard project will receive $1.7 million over five years to expand upon a prior NIRT award to UCLA. That project developed NanoBank: an electronically accessible database providing information about nanoscale researchers, research organizations and groups, patents, and firms. The new project, called NanoConnection to Society, plans to add a NanoEthicsBank and NanoEnvironBank; to integrate these and other databases into an overall NanoIndicator series; and to study the flow and distribution of patents in nanotechnology.

Taken together, these awards represent a new point of departure for NSF, explained Mihail Roco, NSF's Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology: "Since 2000 NSF has created 21 large centers and networks for nanotechnology," he said, each pursuing fundamental advances in topical areas from electronics, materials and biomedicine to manufacturing. "The two new networks are relevant to society and the public not only through their research and education targets, but also through their national goals, 50-state outreach programs and stakeholder participation. The nanotechnology field has been evolving rapidly since 2000, with technological, economic, social, environmental and ethical implications that could change our world."

The NISE Network Core Leadership Team

  • The Museum of Science, Boston
  • The Science Museum of Minnesota
  • The Exploratorium in San Francisco
The NISE Network Institutional Working Partners


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This story has been adapted from a news release -
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