As Con­gress con­siders con­tinued funding for the U.S. National Nan­otech­nology Ini­tia­tive (NNI)includingsupportfor respon­sible devel­op­ment for nan­otech­nology, a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity report funded by the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nan­otech­nolo­giesin­ves­ti­gates common mis­con­cep­tions asso­ci­ated with emerging nan­otech­nolo­gies and empha­sizes the impor­tance of attending to eth­ical issues within ongoing respon­sible devel­op­ment dis­courses and efforts.

Nan­otech­nology has tremen­dous poten­tial to con­tribute to human flour­ishing in socially just and envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able ways,” said Ronald San­dler, phi­los­ophy and reli­gion pro­fessor at North­eastern and author of the report. “The National Nan­otech­nology Ini­tia­tive affords a unique oppor­tu­nity to take a crit­ical and con­struc­tive per­spec­tive on the rela­tion­ship between tech­nology, gov­ern­ment, envi­ron­ment and society. Emerging nan­otech­nolo­gies offer a novel chance to make social progress through broad, inno­v­a­tive, forward-​​looking respon­sible development.”

Written by San­dler in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nan­otech­nology and Society Research Group, the report empha­sizes ways in which social and eth­ical issues inter­sect with gov­ern­mental func­tions and respon­si­bil­i­ties including sci­ence and tech­nology policy and funding, reg­u­la­tion and research sup­port. It also pro­vides a typology of the social and eth­ical issues asso­ci­ated with nan­otech­nology and dis­cusses sev­eral spe­cific issues of each type.

Many of the social and eth­ical issues asso­ci­ated with emerging nan­otech­nolo­gies are deter­mi­nate, imme­diate, dis­tinct, sig­nif­i­cant and action­able,” explained San­dler. “Con­sid­er­a­tion and respon­sive­ness to them is needed now in order to antic­i­pate and proac­tively address poten­tial neg­a­tive aspects of emerging nan­otech­nolo­gies, as well as to iden­tify and pro­mote oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to con­tribute to human flour­ishing and envi­ron­mental sustainability.”

Addi­tional sup­port for this work was pro­vided by the Center for High-​​rate Nanoman­u­fac­turing and the NSRG’s Nan­otech­nology Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Research Team award.

The full reportcan be found at http://​www​.nan​otech​pro​ject​.org/.