Great Issues in Science: Nanotechnology & Society

HSP 124   CRN 2151
Tuesdays & Thursdays
9:10 – 11:00am
Dr. Kevin Metz

Nano is a prefix indicating one-billionth. Nanotechnology is the application of science based on the nanometer scale, or the one-billionth of a meter scale, which is the size of individual atoms. Nanometer scale (nanoscale) science is one of the fastest growing research areas in science at the moment. Scientists from all disciplines, including biological, physical, and chemical sciences, engineering, and medical science, are taking part in nanoscale research. In the nanoscale new properties emerge in substances that differ greatly from their large scale counterparts. For example, nanoscale gold is bright red, nanoscale silver has antibacterial properties, and nanoscale carbons are stronger than steel. Many companies are interested in taking advantage of these properties to improve their consumer products. Currently there are over 1,000 products on the market that contain nanomaterials. This nanomaterial market is expected to break the trillion dollar a year point in the very near future. At the current, however, nanoscale materials are not regulated in any fashion. Thus, the consumer and the environment upon disposal of the products are not protected in any secure fashion from toxicity, or other negative impacts. It is easy to imagine that the same unique properties that make nanoscale materials attractive for use in consumer goods could make them a nightmare for the environment. This course will briefly examine the basic science of nanomaterials. Then we will study, and model, the social, legal, economic, and environmental impacts of nanomaterials. Comparisons will be drawn from other "revolutionizing" technologies such as asbestos insulation, PVC piping, CFC coolants, and genetically modified foods. The role of public perception in public acceptance and policy formation will also be examined.