Nanotechnology/Nano and Society

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Principles for the Revision and Development of this Chapter of the Wikibook


Unless they are held together by book covers or hypertext links, ideas will tend to split up as they travel. We need to develop and spread an understanding of the future as a whole, as a system of interlocking dangers and opportunities. This calls for the effort of many minds. The incentive to study and spread the needed information will be strong enough: the issues are fascinating and important, and many people will want their friends, families, and colleagues to join in considering what lies ahead. If we push in the right directions - learning, teaching, arguing, shifting directions, and pushing further - then we may yet steer the technology race toward a future with room enough for our dreams. -Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation, 1986

Our method for growing and revising this chapter devoted to Nanotechnology & Society will emphasize an open source approach to "nanoethics" - we welcome collaboration from all over the planet as we turn our collective attention to revising and transforming the current handbook. Nature abhors a vacuum, so we are lucky to begin not with nothing but with a significant beginning begun by a Danish scientist, Kristian Molhave. You can read the correspondence for the project.

Our principles for the revision and development of this section of the wikibook will continue to develop and will be based on those of wikibooks manual of style



Nanotechnology is already a major vector in the rapid technological development of the 21st century. While the wide ranging effects of the financial crisis on the venture capital and research markets have yet to be understood, it is clear from the example of the integrated circuit industry that nanotechnology and nanoscience promise to (sooner or later) transform our IT infrastructure. Both the World Wide Web and peer-to-peer technologies (as well as wikipedia) demonstrate the radical potential of even minor shifts in our IT infrastructure, so any discussion of nanotechnology and society can, at the very least, inquire into the plausible effects of radical increases in information processing and production. The effects of, for example, distributed knowledge production, are hardly well understood, as the recent Wikileaks events have demonstrated. The very existence of distributed knowledge production irrevocably alters the global stage.

Given the history of DDT and other highly promising chemical innovations, it is now part of our technological common sense to seek to "debug" emerging technologies. This debugging includes, but is not limited to, the effects of nanoscale materials on our health and environment, which are often not fully understood. The very aspects of nanotechnology and nanoscience that excite us - the unusual physical properties of the nanoscale (e.g. increase in surface area) - also pose problems for our capacity to predict and control nanoscale phenomena, particularly in their connections to the larger scales - such as ourselves! This wikibook assumes (in a purely heuristic fashion) that to think effectively about the implications of nanotechnology and emerging nanoscience, we must (at the very least) think in evolutionary terms. Nanotechnology may be a significant development in the evolution of human capacities. As with any other technology (nuclear, bio-, info), it has a range of socio-economic impacts that influences and transforms our context. While "evolution" often conjures images of ruthless competition towards a "survival of the fittest," so too should it involve visions of collective symbiosis: According to Margulis and Sagan,[1] "Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking" (i.e., by cooperation)[2].

Perhaps in this wikibook chapter we can begin to grow a community of feedback capable of such cooperative debugging. Here we will create a place for sharing plausible implications of nanoscale science and technology based on emerging peer reviewed science and technology. Like all chapters of all wikibooks, this is offered both as an educational resource and collective invitation to participate. Investigating the effects of nanotechnology on society requires that we first and foremost become informed participants, and definitions are a useful place to begin.

Strictly speaking, nanotechnology is a discourse. As a dynamic field in rapid development across multiple disciplines and nations, the definition of nanotechnology is not always clear cut. Yet, it is still useful to begin with some definitions. "Nanotechnology" is often used with little qualification or explanation, proving ambiguous and confusing to those trying to grow an awareness of such tiny scales. This can be quite confusing when the term "nano" is used both as a nickname for nanotechnology and a buzzword for consumer products that have no incorporated nanotechnology (eg. "nano"- car and ipod). It is thus useful for the student of nanoscale science to make distinctions between what is "branded" as nanotechnology and what this word represents in a broader sense. Molecular biologists could argue that since DNA is ~2.5 nm wide, life itself is nanotechnological in nature -- making the antibacterial silver nanoparticles often used in current products appear nano-primitive in comparison. SI units, the global standard for units of measurement, assigns the "nano" prefix for 10 -9 meters, yet in usage "nano" often extends to 100 times that size. International standards based on SI units offer definitions and terminology for clarity, so we will follow that example while incorporating the flexibility and open-ended nature of a wiki definition. Our emerging glossary of nano-related terms will prove useful as we explore the various discourses of nanotechnology.

Imagining Nanotechnology


As a research site and active ecology of design, the discussions in all of the many discourses of nanotechnology and nanoscience must imagine beyond the products currently marketed or envisioned. It thus often traffics in science fiction style scenarios, what psychologist Roland Fischer called the "as-if true" register of representation. Indeed, given the challenges of representing these minuscule scales smaller than a wavelength of light, "speculative ideas" may be the most accurate and honest way of describing our plausible collective imaginings of the implications of nanotechnology. Some have proposed great advantages derived from utility fogs of flying nanomachinery or self replicating nanomachines, while others expressed fears that such technology could lead to the end of life as we know it when self replicating nanites take over in a hungry grey goo scenario. Currently there is no theorized mechanism for creating such a situation, though the outbreak of a synthesized organism may be a realistic concern with some analogies to some of the feared scenarios. More profoundly, thanks to historical experience we know that technological change alters our planet in radical and unpredictable ways. Though speculative, such fears and hopes can nevertheless influence public opinion considerably and challenge our thinking thoroughly. Imaginative and informed criticism and enthusiasm are gifts to the development of nanotechnology and must be integrated into our visions of the plausible impacts on society and the attitudes toward nanotechnology.

While fear leads to overzealous avoidance of a technology, the hype suffusing nanotechnology can be equally misleading, and makes many people brand products as "nano" despite there being nothing particularly special about it at the nanoscale. Examples have even included illnesses caused by a "nano" product that turned out to have nothing "nano" in it.

Between the fear and the hype, efforts are made to map the plausible future impact of nanotechnology. Hopefully this will guide us to a framework for the development of nanotechnology, and avoidance of excessive fear and hype in the broadcast media. So far, nanotechnology has probably been more disposed to hype, with much of the public relatively uninformed about either risks or promises. Nanotechnology may follow the trend of biotechnology, which saw early fear (Asilomar) superseded by enthusiasm (The Human Genome Project) accompanied by widespread but narrowly focused fear (genetically modified organisms).

What pushes nano research between the fear and hype of markets and institutions? Nanotechnology is driven by a market pull for better products (sometimes a military pull to computationally "own" battlespace), but also by a push from public funding of research hoping to open a bigger market as well as explore the fundamental properties of matter on the nanoscale. The push and pull factors also change our education, particularly at universities where cross-disciplinary nano-studies are increasingly available.

Finally, nanotechnology is a part of the evolution of not only our technological abilities, but also of our knowledge and understanding. The future is unknown, but it is certain to have a range of socio-economic impacts, sculpting the ecosystem and society around us.

This chapter looks at these societal and environment aspects of the emerging technology.

Building Scenarios for the Plausible Implications of Nanotechnology


Scenario building requires scenario planning.

Technophobia and Technophilia Associated with Nanotechnology




Technophobia exists presently as a societal reaction to the darker aspects of modern technology. As it concerns the progress of nanotechnology, technophobia is and will play a large role in the broader cultural reaction. Largely since the industrial revolution, many different individuals and collectives of society have feared the unintended consequences of technological progress. Moral, ethical, and aesthetic issues propagating from emergent technologies are often at the forefront discourse of said technologies. When society deviates from the natural state, human conciseness tends to question the implications of a new rationale. Historically, several groups have emerged from the swells of technophobia, such as the Luddites and the Amish.



It is interesting to contemplate the role that technophilia has played in the development of nanotechnology. Early investigators such as Drexler drew on the utopian traditions of science fiction in imagining a Post Scarcity and even immortal future, a strand of nanotechnology and nanotechnology that continues with the work of Kurzweil and, after a different fashion, Joy. In more contemporary terms, it is the technophilia of the market that seems to drive nanotechnology research: faster and cheaper chips.

Anticipatory Symptoms: The Foresight of Literature


...reengineering the computer of life using nanotechnology could eliminate any remaining obstacles and create a level of durability and flexibility that goes beyond the inherent capabilities of biology. --Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near

The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It would be, in principle, possible...for a physicist to synthesize any chemical substance that the chemist writes down..How? Put the atoms down where the chemist says, and so you make the substance. The problems of chemistry and biology can be greatly helped if our ability to see what we are doing, and to do things on an atomic level, is ultimately developed--a development which I think cannot be avoided. --Richard Feynman, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom

There is much horror, revulsion, and delight regarding the promise and peril of nanotechnology explored in science fiction and popular literature. When machinery can allegedly outstrip the capabilities of biological machinery (See Kurzweil's notion of transcending biology), much room is provided for speculative scenarios to grow in this realm of the "as-if true". The "good nano/bad nano" rhetoric is consistent in nearly all scenarios posited by both trade science and sci-fi writers. The "grey goo" scenario plays the role of the "bad nano", while "good nano" is traffics in immortality schemes and a post scarcity economy. The good scenario usual features a "nanoassembler", an as yet unrealized machine run by physics and information--a machine that can create anything imagined from blankets to steel beams with a schematic and the push of a button. Here "good nano" follows in the footsteps of "good biotech", where life extension and radically increased health beckoned from somewhere over the DNA rainbow. Reality, of course, has proved more complicated

Grey goo, the fear that a self-replicating nanobot set to re-create itself using a highly common atom such as carbon, has been played out by many sources and is the great cliche of nanoparanoia. There are two notable science fiction books dealing with the grey goo scenario. The first, Aristoi by Walter John Williams, describes the scenario with little embellishment. In the book, Earth is quickly destroyed by a goo dubbed "Mataglap nano" and a second Earth is created, along with a very rigid hierarchy with the Aristoi--or controllers of nanotechnology--at the top of the spectrum. The other, Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds, describes the scenario as a virus called the melding plague. It converts pre-existing nanotechnology devices to meld and operate in dramatically different ways on a cellular level. This causes the namesake city of the novel to turn into a large, mangled mess wildly distorted by a mass-scale malfunctioning of nanobots.

The much more delightful (and more probable) scenario of a machine that can create anything imagined with a schematic and raw materials is dealt with extensively in The Diamond Age or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neil Stephenson and The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Essentially, the machine works by combining nanobots that follow specific schematics and produces items on an atomic level--fairly quickly. The speculated version has The Feed, a grid similar to today's electrical grid that delivers molecules required to build its many tools.

Is the future of civilization safe with the fusion of malcontent and nanotechnology?

Early Contexts and Precursors: Disruptive Technologies and the Implementation of the Unforeseeable


In 2004, a study in Switzerland was conducted on the management of nanotechnology as a disruptive technology.

In many organization R&D models, two general categories of technology development are examined. “Sustainable technologies” are those new technologies that improve existing product and market performance. Known market conditions of existing technologies provide valuable opportunities for the short-term success of additions and improvements to those technologies. For example, the iphone’s entrance into the cellular market was largely successfully due to the existence of a pre-existing consumer cell phone market. On the other hand, “disruptive technologies” (e.g. peer-to-peer networks, Twitter) often enter the market with little or nothing to stand on - they are unprecedented in scale, often impossible to contain and highly unpredictable in their effects. These technologies often have few short-term benefits and can result in the failure of the organizations that invest in such radical market introductions.

At least some nanotechnologies are likely to fit into this precarious category of disruptive technologies. Corporations typically have little experience with disruptive technologies, and as a result it is crucial to include outside expertise and processes of dissensus as early as possible in the monitoring of newly synthesized technologies. The formation of a community of diverse minds, both inside and outside cooperate jurisdiction, is fundamental to the process of planning a foreseeable environment for the emergence of possible disruptive technologies. Here, non-corporate modalities of governance (e.g. standards organizations, open source projects, universities) may thrive on disruptive technologies where corporations falter. Ideally in project planning, university researchers, contributors, post-docs, and venture capitalists should consult top-level management on a regular basis throughout the disruptive technology evaluation process. This ensures a broad and clear base of technological prediction and market violability that will pave a constructive pathway for the implementation of the unforeseeable.

A cooperative paradigm shift is more often than not needed when evaluating disruptive technologies. Instead of responding to current market conditions, the future market itself must be formulated. Taking the next giant leap in corporate planning is risky and requires absolute precision through maximum redundancy "with a thousand pairs of eyes, all bugs are shallow." Alongside consumer needs, governmental, political, cultural, and societal values must be added into the equation when dealing such high-stakes disruptive technologies such as nanotechnology. Therefore, the dominant function of nanotech introduction is not derived from a particular organization’s nanotech competence base, but from a future created by an inter-organizational ecosystem of multiple institutions.

Early Symptoms


Global Standards


Global standards organizations have already worked on metrological standards for nanotechnology, making uniformity of measurement and terminology more likely. Global organizations such as ISO, IEC, OASIS, and BIPM would seem likely venues for standards in Nanotechnology & Society. IEC has included environmental health and safety in its purview.

Examples of Hype


Predicted revolutions tend to be difficult to make, and the nanorevolution might turn in other directions than initially anticipated. A lot of the exotic nanomaterials that have been presented in the media have faded away and only remain in science fiction, perhaps to be revisited by later researchers. Some examples of such materials are artificial atoms or quantum corrals, the space elevator, and nanites. Nano-hype exists in our collective consciousness due to the many products with which carry the nano-banner. The BBC demonstrated in 2008 the joy of nano that we currently embrace globally.

The energy required to fabricate nanomaterials and the resulting ecological footprint might not make the nanoversion of an already existing product worth using – except in the beginning when it is an exotic novelty. Carbon nanotubes in sports gear could be an example of such overreach. Also, a fear of the toxicity, both biologically and ecologically speaking, from newly synthesized nanotechnologies should be examined before full throttle is set on said technologies. Heir apparent to the thrones of the Commonwealth realms, Charles, Prince of Wales, has made his concerns about nano-implications known in a statement he gave in 2004. Questions have been raised about the safety of zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen, but the FDA has already approved of its sale and usage. In order to expose the realities and complexities of newly introduced nanotechnologies, and avoid another anti-biotech movement, nano-education is the key.

Surveys of Nanotechnology


Since 2000, there has been increasing focus on the health and environmental impact of nanotechnology. This has resulted in several reports and ongoing surveillance of nanotechnology. Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties is a report by the UK Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Nanorisk is a bi-monthly newsletter published by Nanowerk LLC. Also, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars is starting a new project on emerging nanotechnologies (website is under construction) that among other things will try to map the available nano-products and work to ensure possible risks are minimized and benefits are realized.



Nanoethics, or the study of nanotechnology's ethical and social implications, is a rising yet contentious field. Nanoethics is a controversial field for many reasons. Some argue that it should not be recognized as a proper area of study, suggesting that nanotechnology itself is not a true category but rather an incorporation of other sciences, such as chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. Critics also claim that nanoethics does not discover new issues, but only revisits familiar ones. Yet the scalar shift associated with engineering tolerances at 10-9th suggests that this new mode of technology is analogous to the introduction of entirely new "surfaces" to be machined. Writing technologies or external symbolic storage (Merlin Donald) and the wheel both opened up entirely new dimensions to technology - consciousness and smoothed spaced respectively. (Deleuze and Guattari)

Outside the realms of industry, academia, and geek culture, many people learn about nanotechnology through fictional works that hypothesize necessarily speculative scenarios which scientists both reject and, in the tradition of gedankenexperiment, rely upon. Perhaps the most successful meme associated with nanotechnology has ironically been Michael Chrichton's treatment of self-replicating nanobots running amok like a pandemic virus in his 2002 book, Prey.

In the mainstream media, reports proliferate about the risks that nanotechnology poses to the environment, health, and safety, with conflicting reports within the growing nanotechnology industry and its trade press, both silicon and print. To orient the ethical and social questions that arise within this rapidly changing evolutionary dynamic, some scholars have tried to define nanoscience and nanoethics in disciplinary terms, yet the success of Chrichton's treatment may suggest that nanoethics is more likely to be successful if it makes use of narrative as well as definitions. Wherever possible, this wikibook will seek to use both well defined terms and offer the framework of narrative to organize any investigation of nanoethics. Nanoscience and Nanoethics: Definning The Disciplines[3] is an excellent starting guide to the this newly emerging field.

Concern: scientists/engineers as

-Dr. Strangeloves? (intentional SES impact)

-Mr. Chances? (ignorant of SES impact)

  • journal paper on nanoethics[1]
  • Book on nanoethics [2]

Take a look at their chapters for this section…

  • Grey goo and radical nanotechnology[3]
  • Chris Phoenix on nanoethics and a priests’ article [4] and the original article [5]
  • A nanoethics university group [6]
  • Cordis Nanoethics project [7]

Concern: Nanohazmat

  • New nanomaterials are being introduced to the environment simply through research. How many graduate students are currently washing nanoparticles, nanowires, carbon nanotubes, functionalized buckminsterfullerenes, and other novel synthetic nanostructures down the drain? Might these also be biohazards? (issue: Disposal)
  • Oversight of nanowaste may lead to concern about other adulterants in waste water: (issue: Contamination/propagation)
  • estrogens/phytoestrogens[8]
  • BPA[9]?
  • Might current systems (ala MSDS[10]) be modified to include this information?
  • What about a startup company to reprocess such materials, in the event that some sort of legislative oversight demands qualified disposal operations?

There may well be as many ethical issues connected with the uses of nanotechnology as with biotechnology. [4]

  • Joachim Schummer and Davis Baird, Nanotechnology Challenges, Implications for Philosophy, Ethics and Society


Prisoner's Dilemma and Ethics


The prisoner's dilemma constitutes a problem in game theory. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence payoffs and gave it the prisoner's dilemma name (Poundstone, 1992). In its classical form, the prisoner's dilemma ("PD") is presented as follows:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

If we assume that each player cares only about minimizing his or her own time in jail, then the prisoner's dilemma forms a non-zero-sum game in which two players may each cooperate with or defect from (betray) the other player. In this game, as in all game theory, the only concern of each individual player (prisoner) is maximizing his or her own payoff, without any concern for the other player's payoff. The unique equilibrium for this game is a Pareto-suboptimal solution, that is, rational choice leads the two players to both play defect, even though each player's individual reward would be greater if they both played cooperatively. In the classic form of this game, cooperating is strictly dominated by defecting, so that the only possible equilibrium for the game is for all players to defect. No matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect. Since in any situation playing defect is more beneficial than cooperating, all rational players will play defect, all things being equal.

In the iterated prisoner's dilemma, the game is played repeatedly. Thus each player has an opportunity to punish the other player for previous non-cooperative play. If the number of steps is known by both players in advance, economic theory says that the two players should defect again and again, no matter how many times the game is played. Only when the players play an indefinite or random number of times can cooperation be an equilibrium. In this case, the incentive to defect can be overcome by the threat of punishment. When the game is infinitely repeated, cooperation may be a subgame perfect equilibrium, although both players defecting always remains an equilibrium and there are many other equilibrium outcomes. In casual usage, the label "prisoner's dilemma" may be applied to situations not strictly matching the formal criteria of the classic or iterative games, for instance, those in which two entities could gain important benefits from cooperating or suffer from the failure to do so, but find it merely difficult or expensive, not necessarily impossible, to coordinate their activities to achieve cooperation.

The Nanotechnology Market and Research Environment




Value chain

See also notes on editing this book in About this book.

The National Science Foundation has made predictions of the of nanotechnology by 2015

  • $340 billion for nanostructured materials,
  • $600 billion for electronics and information-related equipment,
  • $180 billion in annual sales from nanopharmaceutircals

[5] All in all about 1000 Billion USD.

“The National Science Foundation (a major source of funding for nanotechnology in the United States) funded researcher David Berube to study the field of nanotechnology. His findings are published in the monograph “Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz". This published study (with a foreword by Mihail Roco, Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation) concludes that much of what is sold as “nanotechnology” is in fact a recasting of straightforward materials science, which is leading to a “nanotech industry built solely on selling nanotubes, nanowires, and the like” which will “end up with a few suppliers selling low margin products in huge volumes."

Market analysis

  • The World Nanotechnology Market (2006) [11]

Some products have always been nanostructured:

  • Carbon blac used to color the rubber black in tires is a $4 billion industry.
  • Silver used in traditional photographic films

According to Lux Research, "only about $13 billion worth of manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnology in 2005."

"Toward the end of the decade, Lux predicts, nanotechnology will have worked their way into a universe of products worth $292 billion."

Three California companies are developing nanomaterial for improving catalytic converters: Catalytic Solutions, Nanostellar, and QuantumSphere. QuantumSphere, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of high-quality nano catalysts for applications in portable power, renewable energy, electronics, and defense. These nanopowders can be used in batteries, fuel cells, air-breathing systems, and hydrogen production cells. They are also a leading producer of NanoNickel and NanoSilve.

Cyclics Corp adds nanoscale clays to it's registered resin for higher termal stability, stiffiness, dimensional stability, and barrier to solvent and gas penetration. Cyclics resins expand the use of thermoplastics to make plastics parts that cannot be made using thermoplastics today, and make them better, less expensively and recyclable. Naturalnano is a nanomaterials company developing applications that include industrial polymers, plastics, and composites; and additives to cosmetics, agricultural, and household products. Industrial Nanotech has developed nansulate, a spray on coating with remarkable insulating qualities claiming the highest quality insulation on the planet with temperature ranges from -40 to 400 C. The coating can be applied to: Pipes-Tanks-Ducts-Boilers-Refineries-Ships-Trucks-Containers-Commercial-Industrial-Residential.

ApNano is a producer of nanotubes and nanosphere made from inorganic compounds. ApNano product, Nanolub is a solid lubricant that enhances the performance of moving parts, reduces fuel consumption, and replaces other additives. Production will shift from the United States and Japan to Korea and China by 2010, and the major supplier of the nanotubes will be Korea. Nanosonic is creating metal rubber that exhibits electrical conductivity. GE Advanced Materials and DOW Automotive have both developed nanocomposite technologies for online painted vertical body panels. Mercedes is using a clear-cost finish that includes nanoparticle engineered to cluster together where form a shell resistant to abrasion. eMembrane is developing a nanoscale polymer brush that coats with molecules to capture and remove poisonous metal proteins, and germs.

A study by FTM Consulting reported future chips that use nanotechnology are forecasted to grow in sales from $12.3 billion in 2009 to $172 billion by 2014. According to one Harvard researcher, applied nanowires to glass substrates in solution and then used standard photolithography techniques to create circuits. Nanomarkets predicts the market for nano-enabled electronics will reach $10.8 billion in 2007 and $82.5 billion in 2011. IBM researchers created a circuit capable of performing simple logic calculations via self-assembled carbon nanotubes (Millipede) and Millipede will be able to store forty times more information as current hard drives. MRAM will be inexpensive enough to replace SRAM and nanomarket predicts MRAM will rise to $3.8 billion by 2008 and 12.9 billion by 2011. Cavendish Kinetics store data using thousands of electro-mechanical switches that are toggeled up or down to represent either a one or a zero as a binary bit. Their devices use 100 times less power and work up to a 1000 times faster. Currently, the most common nanostorage devices are based on ferroelectric random access memory, FRAM. Data are store using electric fields inside a capacitor. Typically FRAM memory chips are found in electronics devices for storing small amounts of non-volatile data. A team from Case Western has approached production issues by growing carbon nanotube bridges in its lab that automatically attach themselves to other components with the help of an applied electrical current. You can grow building blocks of ultra large scale integrated circuits by growing self-assembled and self-welded carbon nanotubes. Applied Nanotech using an electron-beam lithograph carved switches from wafers made of single-crystal layers of silicon and silicon oxide.

Research Funding


//Michael can you tell me how much funding the EC goes to ‘nano’?

How big a percentage of nano research funding is

  • Corporate research funding (eg. Intel)
  • Public funding (eg. National nano initiative)
  • Military funding (public and corporate) [12]

These may sum up to more than 100% since the groups overlap.

For the US 2007:

135 billion federal research budget[13]

73 billion military Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation

The nanotechnology related part is a fraction of this budget amounting to a couple of billions [14] [15]

(newer reference is needed)

Open Source Nanotechnology


Common property resource management is critical to many areas of society. Public spaces such as forests and rivers are natural commons that can generally be utilized by anyone. With these natural spaces, resource management is in place to minimize the impact of any single user. With the advent of intellectual property, such as publications, designs, artwork, and more recently, computer software, the patent system seeks to control the distribution of such information in order to secure the livelihood of the developer. Open source is a development technique whereby the design is decentralized and open to the community for collaboration.

While patents reward knowledge generation by an individual or company, the reward of open source is usually the rapid development of a quality product. It is characterized by reliability and adaptability through continual revisions. The most notable usage for open source is in the software development community. The Linux operating system is continually improved by a large volunteer community, who desire to make robust software that can compete with the profit-based software companies while making it freely downloadable for users. The incentive for programmers is a highly regarded reputation in the community and individual pride in their work.

Author Bryan Bruns believes that this open source model can be applied to the development of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology and the Commons - Implications of Open Source Abundance in Millennial Quasi-Commons is a thoroughly written paper concerning open source nanotechnology by Bryan Bruns. The article describes roles of the open source nanotechnology community based on the claim that the technology for nanotechnology manufacturing will one day be ubiquitous. Since his early work a more urgent call has been coming for nanotechnology researchers to use open source methodologies to development nanotechnology because a nanotechnology patent thicket is slowing innovation.[6] For example, a researcher argued in the journal Nature the application of the open-source paradigm from software development can both accelerate nanotechnology innovation and improve the social return from public investment in nanotechnology research.[7]

Building equipment, food and other materials might become as easy, and cheap, as printing on paper is now. Just as a laborious process of handwriting texts was transformed first into an industrial technology for mass production and then individualized in computer printers, so also the manufacturing of equipment and other goods might also reach the same level of customized production. If "assemblers" could fabricate materials to order, then what would matter would not be the materials, but the design, the knowledge lying behind manufacture. The most important part of nanotechnology would be the software, the description of how to assemble something. This design information would then be quintessentially an information resource, software. -Bryan Bruns, Nanotechnology and the Commons - Implications of Open Source Abundance in Millennial Quasi-Commons

Several important elements of an open source nanotechnology community will be:

  • Establishment of standards - early adopters will have the task of developing standards of nanotechnology design and production for which the rest of the community will improve gradually.
  • Development of containment strategies - built-in failsafes that will prevent the unchecked reproduction and operation of "nanoassemblers". One possible scheme is the design of specialized inputs for nanoassemblers that are required for operation--the machine has to stop when the input runs out.
  • Innovative nanotechnology design and modelling tools - software that allows users to design and model technology produced in the nanoscale before using time and materials to fabricate the technology.
  • Transparency to external monitoring - the ability to observe the development of technology reduces the risk of "unsafe" or "unstable" designs from being released into the public.
  • Lowered cost - the price of managing an open source community is insignificant compared to the cost of management to secure intellectual property.

Application of Open Source to Nanotechnology


There are many currently existing open source communities that can serve as working models for an open source nanotechnology community. Internet forums promote knowledge and community input. In addition, new forum users are quickly exposed to a wealth of knowledge and experience. This type of format is easily accessible and promotes widespread awareness of the topic. One such community is:

[H]ard|OCP ( "[H]ard|OCP (Hardware Overclockers Comparison Page) is an online magazine that offers news, reviews, and editorials that relate to computer hardware, software, modding, overclockingcooling, owned and operated by Kyle Bennett, who started the website in 1997"[1]. Hardforum is a direct parallel to an traditional open source software community. Members obtain recognition, reputation, and respect by spending time and effort within the community. Members can create and discuss diverse topics that are not limited to just software. Projects focusing on case modding are of key interest as a parallel example of what is possible for a nanotechnology project. Within these case modding projects, specific steps, documention, results, and pictures are all shared within the community for both good and bad comments. The information is presented in a pure and straight forward manor for the purpose of information sharing.

Socioeconomic Impact of Nanotechnology


Predicting is difficult, especially about the future and nanotech is likely not going to take us where we first anticipated.

For a Perspective

  • Nuclear technology was hailed the new era of humanity in the 60’s, but today is left with little future as a power source due to low availability for long term Uranium sources[16] and evidence that utilization of nuclear power systems still generates appreciable CO2 emissions[17]. The development of nuclear technology however has provided us with a wide range of therapeutic tools in hospitals and taught us a thorough lesson on assessing the potential environmental impact before taking a new technology to a large scale.
  • DDT was once the cure-all for malaria and mosquito related diseases as well as a general pesticide for agriculture. It turned out that DDT accumulated in the food chain and was banned, leading to a rise in the plagues it had almost eradicated. Today DDT is still generally banned by slowly reintroduced to be used where it has a high efficiency and will not be spread into nature and in minute quantities compared to when it was lavishly sprayed onto buildings, fields and wetlands in the 1950’s. [18]
  • I need references for this one:

Polymer technology was ‘hot’ in the early 90’s but results were not coming as fast as anticipated, leading to a rapid decline in funding. But after the ‘fall’, the technology has matured and polymer composites are now finding applications everywhere. One could say the technology was actually very worthy of funding but expectations were too high leading to disappointment. But time has been working for polymer technology even without large scale funding and now it is reemerging –often disguised as nanotechnology.

  • Biotechnology, especially genemodified crops, were promised to eradicate hunger and malnutritionreference needed. Fears of the environmental impact led to strict legislation limiting its use in practical applications, and many cases have since proven the restrictions sensible as new an unexpected paths for cross-breeding have been discovered[[reference needed]. However, the market pull for cheaper products leads to increased GM production worldwide with a wide range of socio-economic impacts such as poor farmers dependence on expensive GM seeds, nutrition aspects and health influence[[reference needed].

These examples do not even include the military aspects of the technologies or the spin-off to civil life from military research – which is luckily quite large considering that in the US the military research budget is about 40% of the annual research funding [19] reference needed and check up on the number!.

Socioeconomic Impact


The examples in the previous section demonstrate clearly how difficult it is to predict the impact of new technology society because of contingency - the inability to know which trajectories today determine the future.

Contingency stem from two main causes:

1) Trends versus events

Events -Taking a non-linear dynamics and somewhat mathematical point of view, Events (in nonlinear dynamics) are deterministic and so can be described with a model but they are also unpredictable (i.e. the model does not give point predictions when exactly they will occur)

Trends – The trends we observe depend largely on the framing we have in our perception of problems and their solutions. The framing is the analytical lens through which we perceive evolution and it changes over time.

Impact of Nanotechnologies on Developing Countries


Many in developing countries suffer from very basic needs, like malnutrition and lack of safe drinking water. Many have poor infrastructure in private and public R&D., including small public research budgets and virtually no venture capital.Even if they are developing such infrastructures, they still have little experience in technology governance, including the launch and conduct of research programs, safety and environmental regulations, marketing and patenting strategies, and so on. These are a couple of points to point out on the effect of Nanoenabled cheap produced solar-cells on these counties:

  • Whether a product is useful and its use is beneficial to a country are difficult to assess in advance.
  • The Problem with many technologies is that scientific context often ( by definition) ignores the prevailing socioeconomic and cultural factors of a technology, such as social acceptance, customs and specific needs.
  • Expensive healthcare products only benefit the economic elite and risk increasing the health divide between the poor and rich.
  • According to the NNI, nanotechnology will be the “next industrial revolution”. This can be a unique opportunity for developing countries to quickly catch up with their economical development.
  • About two billion people worldwide have no access to electricity (World Energy Council, 1999), especially in rural areas.
  • Nanotechnology seems to be a promising potential in increasing efficiency and reducing cost of solar cells.
  • Solar technologies seem to be particularly promising for developing countries in geographic areas with high solar radiation.
  • Many international organizations have promoted solar rural electrification since the 1980’s, such as UNESCO’s summer schools on Solar Electricity for Rural Areas and the Solar Village program.
  • The real challenges of these technologies are largely of an educational and cultural nature.
  • Implementing open source into nanotechnology, cheap solar cells for rural communities might be a possibility.

[1] "Impact of nanotechnologies in the developing world"[8]



This page is largely based on contributions by Kristian Mølhave and Richard Doyle.

Case Studies of Ongoing Research and Likely Implications


E SC 497H (EDSGN 497H STS 497H) is a course offered at Penn State University entitled Nanotransformations: The Social, Human, and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology. Three case studies from the Spring 2009 class offer new insight into three different areas of current Nano and Society study: Nanotechnology and Night Vision; Nanotechnology and Solar Cells; Practical Nanotechnology. A sample syllabus for courses focused on nanotechnology's impact on society can prove helpful for other researchers and academics who want to synthesize new Nano and Society courses.


  1. Margulis, Lynn (2001). "Marvellous microbes". Resurgence. 206: 10–12. {{cite journal}}: Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  2. Witzany, G. (2006) The Serial Endosymbiotic Theory (SET): The Biosemiotic Update. Acta Biotheoretica 54: 103-117
  3. Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff, Nanoethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.
  4. a b Joachim Schummer and Davis Baird, Nanotechnology Challenges, Implications for Philosophy, Ethics and Society, (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2006). Invalid <ref> tag; name "ChallengesSB" defined multiple times with different content
  5. From a review of the book “Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz”
  6. Usman Mushtaq and Joshua M. Pearce “Open Source Appropriate Nanotechnology ” Chapter 9 in editors Donald Maclurcan and Natalia Radywyl, Nanotechnology and Global Sustainability, CRC Press, pp. 191-213, 2012.
  7. Joshua M. Pearce "Make nanotechnology research open-source", Nature 491, pp. 519–521(2012).
  8. Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff, Nanoethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.

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