New Report on Social and Ethical Issues of Nanotechnology

Photo: @ iStockphoto / Martin McCarthy

January 23, 2009

As Congress considers continued funding for the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) including support for responsible development for nanotechnology, a Northeastern University report funded by the National Science Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies investigates 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 report can be found at http://www.nanotechproject.org/.

For more information, please contact Samantha Fodrowski at 617-373-5427 or at s.fodrowski@neu.edu.

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