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Rice UniversityCBEN
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology

Ethics and Politics of Nanotechnology

A central aim of our project is to ensure that productive, highly engaged conversations about the social and ethical nature of science occur across disciplines that are very different:  Anthropology and Nanotechnology.   To do this, it is not enough to simply put social scientists in the same room as scientists and expect something to happen; these juxtapositions have rarely worked well in the past.  Part of the progress made this year involves the training of social science graduate students to read technical scientific literature in nanotechnology without fear.  With each of the interviews, the scientist being interviewed provided the research group ahead of time with a range of materials, from general review-type articles or talks to general audiences, to highly technical papers in membrane or polymer science. We used these materials to generate specific questions about the political, economic, and social aspects of the science being done here at Rice University.  For students without a scientific background, this requires overcoming ingrained assumptions about the impossibility of being able to interact with technical or scientific ideas.  We have been very successful in training the graduate students to find social scientific questions within scientific activities.  It is one goal of this project to innovate social science methodology to better correspond with the realities of emerging sciences, and training a new generation of social scientists is an important component of this work. 

Interviewing of scientists engaged in nanotechnology and the writing up of case studies will continue over the summer.  These case studies will be used in teaching the undergraduate course, Nanotechnology: Content and Context, and as the basis for a small workshop bringing social scientists and the interviewed scientists together to discuss social and political aspects of nanotechnology. This year we have also applied for further grant support from NSF to continue this research on a larger scale.