SBS Researchers Explore Societal and Policy Implications of Nanotechnology as Part of New National Center
Zeolytes offer enormous scope for
nanotechnology applications through
tailoring of nanostructure. The new Science, Technology and Society (STS) Initiative, based in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) and the Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA), will lead a major initiative to define and articulate the societal implications of nanotechnology. This new research effort is part of a five-year $16 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an additional $7 million in university and state funding that will establish the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing (CHM) at UMass Amherst. The STS Initiative, led by Jane Fountain, professor of political science and public policy, involves a team of SBS faculty researchers engaged with several dimensions of the societal impacts of nanotechnology, including communications, public values and perceptions, dispute resolution, and government regulation.
SBS has moved aggressively in recent years to establish the STS Initiative, building on existing faculty strength and responding to a critical national need to bring social and behavioral scientists into the study of technology and its social impacts. STS builds multidisciplinary collaboration by connecting researchers in the social sciences and public policy with their counterparts in the natural and physical sciences and in engineering. Based in CPPA, STS provides a single point of contact for campus-wide and multi-university research collaborations, enabling effective teaming on major scientific research initiatives. NSF found the strong partnership between the STS Initiative and their research partners to be a critical element in the selection of the new national center. Fountain noted: “We are delighted that STS has been asked to play such an important national role in fostering public understanding of nanotechnology and in guiding decision makers who will be responsible for communicating with the public, resolving inevitable disputes, and shaping an emerging regulatory environment.”
STS’s involvement in the nanotechnology project includes exploring new mechanisms for policy, regulatory and institutional responses as well as new opportunities for public engagement. STS will coordinate a national survey of public perceptions of nanotechnology and three national workshops on key policy and societal issues: effective use of expertise and public participation in an emerging regulatory environment; appropriate and effective technology and risk communication to the public; and institutional possibilities for effective conflict resolution.
For this project, the STS Initiative draws on four research centers within SBS. CPPA brings expertise in science and technology policy, regulation of emerging technologies, and the use of scientific experts in policy and politics. The National Center for Digital Government brings wide experience in multidisciplinary collaborations and the ways in which government institutions change in the face of technological advances. The Social and Demographic Research Institute has a long and distinguished history of survey and evaluation research. The Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution has significant experience in understanding the manner in which new technologies generate disputes and in how online systems might be designed to respond to large numbers of novel disputes. In addition, faculty from the Communication Department bring to bear research on public communication of scientific developments.
CHM at UMass Amherst is one of sixteen elite nanotechnology centers to be developed across the country. Headed by James Watkins, professor of polymer science and engineering, and Mark Tuominen, professor of physics, the center will focus on nanoscale manufacturing. They anticipate many innovations—from nanoscale devices, such as memory chips capable of storing billions of bytes, to nanoscale particles that help diagnose and treat disease. The STS Initiative will work side by side with physical and natural scientists to be aware and ahead of social processes, impacts, and needs arising from this new area of innovation.
Nanoscale manufacturing focuses on tools and processes for engineering, fabricating, assembling and integrating nanoscale materials and particles into larger-scale structures, devices and systems. The new national center will accelerate research and production of ultra-tiny devices, creating new manufacturing opportunities and stimulating economic development. Twenty-six researchers from UMass Amherst and partner institutions will concentrate on nanoelectronics, bionanotechnology, and new material and processes.
“Nanotechnology is truly our next great frontier in science and engineering,” says Michael Reischman, deputy assistant director for engineering at NSF. “This new center will address one of our greatest challenges: moving these innovations more quickly from the laboratory to manufactured components and devices.”
SBS is well positioned to anchor a multidisciplinary social science component at CHM and to work coordinate closely with scientists affiliated with in the College of Engineering, and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and private industry, Finally, underscoring its dedication to excellence, SBS will help students connect in relevant and critical ways to an increasingly technological world in relevant and critical ways through courses and research that build their capacity to understand and respond to public policies, perceptions and values.
May 8, 2006
Read article about STS Director Jane Fountain