Nanotechnology and equity issues explored in new book

November 18, 2010

Scientists and policymakers both contend that investments in nanoscale science and engineering will create revolutions in areas as diverse as materials, drug delivery, cancer treatment, and space travel. The hope is that many of the problems of today can be addressed using nanotechnology enabled products. While new technologies often do provide solutions to pressing issues, they also can exacerbate other social problems or create entirely new ones. The newly-released book Nanotechnology and the Challenges of Equity, Equality and Development, the second volume in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS-ASU) series "Yearbook of Nanotechnology in Society," looks at the potential ways nanotechnology will change the fabric of society. Published by Springer, it was co-edited by CNS-ASU's assistant director for education Jameson Wetmore, who is an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and Susan Cozzens, a CNS-ASU senior investigator, professor of public policy at Georgia Tech and director of its Technology Policy and Assessment Center.

"This book is the first major work that explores the current and potential future relationship between equity and nanotechnology," said Wetmore. "It brings together authors from six continents who examine the wide number of groups that might benefit or suffer from new developments in nanotechnology including women, industrial workers, differently-abled people, developing countries, and the poor." Wetmore also co-edited the first volume in the "Yearbook of Nanotechnology in Society" series, Presenting Futures.

Nanotechnology could alter distributional dynamics and raise important issues about fairness around the globe. It could greatly aid the economies and public health of poor areas, or it could increase the gulf between poor and rich ones. As with any new technology, the costs and benefits of nanotechnology are unlikely to be spread evenly around the world. The changes will make life easier for some while others will likely be less well off than they were before. This volume begins to develop a better understanding of how those changes might play out and what we should be aware of as new nanotechnologies and industries are created.

Issues and ideas explored Nanotechnology and the Challenges of Equity, Equality and Development are organized in five sections: Dimensions of Nano Fairness; Uneven Structures; Equalizing Processes; Nanotechnology and the World System; and Lessons for Action. They include such topics as gender equity, ableism and abilities governance, women and patenting, nanotechnology workforce, potential wage disparities, nanomedicine and public values, ethics and policymaking, and nanotechnology and the developing world. The volume also offers practical advice to scholars developing a research plan to better understand nanotechnology and equity, and to policy and decision makers who want to work for more equitable outcomes.

"We've created the Yearbook series in an attempt to consolidate the emerging scholarship on nanotechnology in society and provide a constructive overview of recent research and other activities in the field," said David Guston, director of CNS-ASU and editor of the "Yearbook of Nanotechnology in Society" series. "Each volume is intended to represent not only a chronological slice of nanotechnology in society but a thematic one as well, a product of the Center's intellectual perspective."

Upcoming in the "Yearbook of Nanotechnology in Society" series are Nanotechnology, the Brain and the Future (Volume III), edited by CNS-ASU faculty members Jason S. Robert, Clark A. Miller,Ira Bennett and former CNS-ASU doctoral student Sean Hays, and Nanotechnology and Democracy (Volume IV), edited by Miller and Daniel Barben, a former CNS-ASU faculty member and now professor and chair of future research at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.
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For more information about Nanotechnology and the Challenges of Equity, Equality and Development, visit online at www.springer.com.

About CNS-ASU

In 2005, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a set of major grants in nanotechnology in society, including the creation of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) to pursue scholarship on and methodological and theoretical approaches to the social studies of nanotechnology. In 2010, NSF renewed its funding of CNS-ASU for another five years, with an award of $6.5 million. CNS-ASU is the largest center for research, education and outreach on the societal aspects of nanotechnology in the world.

CNS-ASU is the largest project of ASU's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO). CSPO's ideas and goals - advancing change to assure that science and technology have positive impacts on human well-being - are put to the test at CNS-ASU and guide its work.

The goals of CNS-ASU are two-fold: to increase the capacity for social learning that informs about the available choices in decision making about nanotechnology and to increase the ability of society and institutions to seek and understand a variety of inputs to manage emerging technologies while such management is still possible. Through this improved contextual awareness, CNS-ASU can help guide the path of nanotechnology knowledge and innovation toward more socially desirable outcomes and away from undesirable ones.

CNS-ASU pursues these goals through two cross-cutting research programs: real-time technology assessment (RTTA), including such activity as analyzing research and innovation systems, surveying public opinion and values, creating opportunities for public deliberation and participation regarding nanotechnology decision-making, and evaluating the impact of CNS-ASU activities; and two thematic research clusters (TRC) that investigate equity and responsibility, and human identity, enhancement and biology.

Arizona State University

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