Members of the STS Nanoscience and Society Research Group are undertaking a series of social science projects on the societal implications of nanotechnology. Below you will find a abstracts and contacts for each project or proposal.
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Social Organization and Societal Implications of Nanotechnology Research, Development and Manufacturing Collaborations
Douglas Anderton, Jennifer Geertsma, Fidan Kurtulus and Emily Erikson
The Social and Demographic Research Institute (SADRI) at UMass, an experienced survey and social evaluation research group led by Prof.
Douglas Anderton, will conduct a contextual analysis of the organizational dynamics of university based research and development. This research will focus on the rewards, costs and risks embodied in research consortia on issues of product development, environmental health and safety, social implications, and regulation. This study will address the lack of information and literature regarding organizational dynamics in the context of nanotechnology complementing the Research and Innovation System Analysis—Research Program Analysis activity taking place at CNS—Georgia Tech.
This research will utilize different types of data from several sources including interviews with university researchers, an industry survey, and organization documents. A survey of nanotechnology industry leaders planned for the fall will capture this group's understanding of risks and rewards involved in bringing nano-based processes and products to market. Given emerging survey results and NSF site visit concerns our survey is being more narrowly targeted to industry experts rather than the general public.
Preliminary results of this research have been presented at two national social science conferences. Publication of research results in academic journals and presentation at national conferences will continue. Broad dissemination will be employed for the industry survey results. Information from the survey, including primary data, will be freely provided to the Center for nanotechnology and society and will be available for either direct use, or simply to inform, efforts to develop curricular and public distribution materials.
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The organization of technology transfer activity at UMass
University technology transfer, or the translation of academic scientific research into industrial and technological R&D (research and development), is an area of interorganizational activity that has been studied in institutions that ventured early into adopting (and in actuality establishing many of) such practices (e.g. MIT, Stanford, UCal Berkeley, University of Wisconsin at Madison). Much lesser studied, if at all, are late-comers to the adoption of such organizational practices. The University of Massachusetts system, and specifically its flagship campus, Amherst, provides an organizational case study to examine, theoretically, processes whereby such desired goals are institutionalized, and practically, how the attainment of these desired goal-processes might be fostered or prevented.
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Nanoparticle Models and New Analytical Methods to Study the Bioavailability and Toxicity of Nanomaterials
A CHM Seed project proposal
Due to their anticipated high-volume production and widespread use in coming years, engineered nanomaterials will inevitably be released into the environment during manufacture, use, and/or disposal, resulting in their accumulation in air, water, soils, food, and organisms. Once released into the environment, the impact of nanomaterials on the health of humans, plants, microbes, and ecological systems as a whole is potentially substantial but is woefully understudied. Consequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently called for a better understanding of the environmental fate, behavior, transport, bioavailability, and toxicity of intentionally produced nanomaterials.
Studies on their toxicological effects, fate and transport, and aggregation behavior have appeared, but many of these studies have conflicting conclusions, likely due to poor control over the physical and chemical properties of the materials used in these studies. In other instances, existing reports have been questioned due to inadequate measurement techniques. We propose to address some of the shortcomings in existing research by using nanoparticles (NPs) with well-defined chemical and physical properties and by developing new measurement approaches to track NPs in complex samples.
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Nanotechnological Innovation and Dispute Resolution
Ethan Katsh and Alan Gaitenby
The National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution (NCTDR) explores the use and impact of information-communication technologies (ICT) and dispute resolution practices. The NCTDR is the only university-based institute in the U.S. concerned with developing online dispute resolution approaches that can foster the growth of new technologies while preserving accountability. The experience of NCTDR in observing how digital technology, particularly the Internet, responded to the emergence of disputes, will provide valuable lessons of transfer to nanotechnology.
NCTDR is identifying and evaluating institutional possibilities for effective conflict resolution, particularly in the patent domain, where increased nanotechnology applications and delays in processing claims create areas of contention and conflict.
- Public policy rule-making
- Expanding and enhancing participation
- Enabling more responsive (and effective) policy making with respect to emerging and innovative technologies
- Individual disputes
- Nanotechnology research, development, and applications will create areas of contention and conflict in multiple contexts (e.g. intellectual property)
Visit the NCTDR website for more information on this project.
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Public Opinion Formation and Public Policy
Professor Hanson’s research and teaching involve the relationship of media/digital technology and society; international telecommunications policies, and social and behavioral aspects of interacting with technology. Her current research involves the social and behavioral aspects of cell phones and the Internet, and the emerging field of nanotechnology, and the impact of media coverage of the war in Iraq on rhetorical dimensions of dealing with democratic practices.
Professor Hanson is exploring:
- How the public develops impressions and opinions about nanotechnology based on images and imagery in the media and popular culture
- How the public constructs “acceptable” risk based on these impressions
- How policies are crafted to respond to public opinion about nanotechnology and “acceptable” risk
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Visual Perception of Nanoscale Phenomena
Professor Cave’s main research interests cover the various aspects of visual cognition, including visual attention, visual imagery, and object recognition. Many of his experiments are devoted to measuring how visual attention is allocated during complex visual tasks such as search. He is also constructing computational models of visual attention and object recognition to try to explain the results from his and the many other experiments on attention.
Professor Cave is exploring:
- Models and manipulation
- How is our ability to understand events at the nanoscale constrained by limits on our ability to visualize 3-dimensional interactions?
- Scale and frames of reference
- Do our intuitions about the macro scale of the physical world help or hinder our ability to visualize the nanoscale?
- New technologies make unusual demands on the human perceptual system
- Searching for weapons in baggage X-rays
- Searching for oil deposits in seismic images of geological formations
- The use of color, shape, etc. should be designed to take full advantage of human perceptual mechanisms
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Societal Dimensions of Nanotechnology Workshop
The Science, Technology and Society Initiative, a multi-disciplinary research effort and a strategic priority of the College of Social and Behavior Sciences (SBS), will organize, convene, and host three workshops on nanotechnology and its implications for society and public policy. More information about past and future workshops is available on our Workshop page.
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0531171.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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