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Ethics and Nanotechnology

Photonics.com
Jan 2009
Washington, Jan. 28, 2009 – Recent action in Congress to reauthorize the US federal nanotechnology research program offers the chance to address the social and ethical issues concerning the emerging scientific field, experts say. 

Currently, nanotechnology is the focus of an annual $1.5 billion federal research investment.

“It is crucial to address social and ethical issues now as we consider both the substantial potential risks of nanotechnology and its possible significant contributions to our well-being and environmental sustainability,” said Ronald Sandler, Northeastern University philosophy professor and author of a new report funded by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) and the National Science Foundation.

The report, Nanotechnology: The Social and Ethical Issues, emphasizes ways in which such topics intersect with governmental functions and responsibilities, including science and technology policy, research funding, regulation and work on public engagement.

“Too often, discussions about the social and ethical issues surrounding new technologies are treated as afterthoughts or, worse still, as potential roadblocks to innovation. The ethical discussions are relegated to the end of scientific conferences, outsourced to social scientists or generally marginalized in the policymaking process,” PEN director David Rejeski said.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology is considering legislation that will strengthen federal efforts to learn more about the potential environmental, health and safety risks posed by engineered nanomaterials as well as the ethical and societal aspects of the technology.

The new bill, H.R. 554, is almost identical to legislation that passed the House last year with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 407-6. The Senate was expected to mark up similar legislation, but lawmakers ran out of time during the session.

“Every emerging technology offers us a new opportunity to engage stakeholders in a social and ethical debate. The nanotech revolution is still beginning, and we still have time for an open and public discussion of its consequences, both intended and unintended. Hopefully, this paper will provide a framework for thinking through some of those impacts, particularly as the legislative debate on reauthorizing the federal nanotech program moves forward,” Rejeski said.

For more information, visit: www.nanotechproject.org


GLOSSARY
nanotechnology
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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