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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