Washington DC Nano News - Public Engagement on a Plane

Margaret Glass

authored by Margaret Glass, ASTC

I was at the NISE Net public engagement planning meeting in late July at the Science Museum of Minnesota. On the return flight to Boston, I had a conversation about nano with a fellow passenger that, to me, underscored the timeliness of the activities we are developing. As we began to descend, my closest seatmate - a well-groomed woman of indeterminate age - asked if I knew Boston well. I said that I had visited a few times recently and enjoyed the time. She asked, “What’s a really fun thing to do in Boston?” Without thinking, I gave a classic museum junkie response, “Go to the Museum of Science, it’s got all kinds of great stuff!” Now, while that may be a good answer for a family with children, I immediately suspected it might be less appropriate for this woman visiting her single, adult daughter. To my surprise, she responded quite cheerfully in a rolling lilt right out of Lake Wobegon, “Why I might just do that! I’m a science teacher, don’t ya’ know!” I breathed easier. I described to her some of my favorite spots in MoS; we compared notes on exhibits at SMM, where she brings her 7th and 8th grade classes. I couldn’t resist the inevitable question, “Do you know anything about nanotechnology?” “Why yes,” she responded. “And you know, it kinda worries me, all those tiny particles and nobody has any idea what happens to them, do they, now?” She looked at me with tiny worry lines around her mouth and eyes. That’s all it took for me to launch into a brain dump about the project, the public engagement challenges, the regulatory status of the industry, the exhibits and programs designed for different topics (poor woman!). At one point she mentioned “What I would really like is some way to learn about all this as an adult, to talk with other people in my town and school about this.” Perfect – she was describing the NISE Net forums! This is really the first time I have had a substantive conversation about nanotechnology with a random stranger outside of a museum (not someone at a NISE Net event) – someone who knows enough to be asking what implications nano might have, and who recognizes how important it could be in the future. It was a welcome change from the guarded faces and glazed eyes that are the more common responses to this subject matter. As if that weren’t enough, the woman sitting in the aisle seat of our row joined the conversation as we landed. “I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about nanotechnology,” she began. “You might like this book I just finished – it’s a story about nanomedicine and the President.” Later, I looked up the title she mentioned: The First Patient, by Michael Palmer. Has anyone read it?