UCSB announced the opening of its Center for Nanotechnology in Society, hailing it as a “large-scale international collaboration of social scientists, humanists, and scientific partners” studying the social ramifications of emerging nanotechnologies. Potential applications of nanotechnologies—which manipulate minute materials, primarily atoms and molecules—include creating thin but strong elastic coatings to repair joints, using nanorobots to treat medical patients on a cellular level, and commercial or government espionage via invisible nanodust. According to the center’s co-director, Barbara Herr-Hawthorne, responses to nascent nanotechnologies run the gamut; on one end of the spectrum are groups portending unintended consequences of nanorobots as depicted in science-fiction horror movies, while venture capitalists backing no-holds-barred development represent the other extreme. The center aims to study ethical questions related to the field, to document individual scientists’ progress, and to facilitate communication among nanoscientists in various disciplines.

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