Growing focus on societal implications in NISE Net work

Larry Bell

Just about a year ago NISE Net launched an expanded collaboration with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society and you'll hear more about upcoming activities in the months ahead. The conversation started when staff from seven science centers brought cart demos and stage presentations to the S.NET conference in Seattle on Labor Day weekend last year. S.NET is a new professional society for the study of nanoscience and emerging technologies in areas of the social sciences and humanities. I was a little naive and thought the participants were all social scientists, but learned that many were historians, political scientists, philosophers, and ethicists and really not social scientists. The week started with presentations at the Pacific Science Center by NISE Net Program staff and both staff and students from the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS) at Arizona State University.

Troy Benn and nano silver socks
Carlos Perez and swimming robots
Two graduate students at ASU, Troy Benn and Carlos Perez presented cart demos that they produced with the intention of capturing the interest of kids with interesting stuff and raising questions in the minds of adults about societal or environmental implications of the specific nano application on display.
Frank Kusiak and nano iron demo
Rae Ostman, Brad Herring, Frank Kusiak, and Marilyn Johnson presented table top demos on nano iron and nano silver developed by NISE Net partner the Franklin Institute. The following day we took these table top demos to the S. NET conference and showed them off to attendees during an evening reception and poster session. The two faculty members from ASU involved in this project Ira Bennett and Jamey Wetmore, pointed out how many of the younger people at the conference (graduate students rather than gray-hairs) gravitated to the hands-on displays. (OK, a couple of us had gray hairs.)
Jamey, Rae, Brad, Troy, Marilyn, and Leigha at the S.NET reception
In addition to the table top demos, Stephanie Long, Leigha Horton, and Frank Kusiak delivered some theater and stage presentations, including "Wheel of the Future" and a new presentation on predicting the future called "Flying Cars." Jamey and Ira are hoping to get more of their university colleagues from around the world to consider having students develop public demonstrations about their research work. They feel that when they explain their work to the public, the questions the public asks help raise issues that may not have come up in their science classes or their research work. They become more aware of the societal implications of their work and they put thought into those implications in order to answer the questions they are asked. One observation Jamey has made is that it's not really necessary to plan the displays to present societal implications. If they focus on applications, it's not hard for societal implications to come up among the adults in the audience. The interaction between NISE Net folks and CNS folks at the S.NET conference was very productive and further collaborations were planned, including development of new materials for future NanoDays kits and a workshop being planned for the spring. We can both learn from each other as we explore the common goal of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology education.


In response to this blog entry:  The S.NET conference last year was the beginning of some very good working relationships. We've continued to develop a number of collaborative projects which hopefully many will hear about soon on this website. Perhaps most importantly has been the development of posters and brochures that were designed to spark discussions about the social implications of nanotechnology. These were piloted at a few museums this past spring and will be available to all for NanoDays 2011. We look forward to the next 12 months of awesome collaboration.

-Jamey Wetmore and Ira Bennett, Arizona State University