Identifying Nanotechnology in Society

December 8th, 2006  |  Published in All, Essays, Technology and Society

preprint; Chapter in Advances in Computers 71:Nanotechnology, edited Marvin Zelkowitz, Elsevier, 2007

Identifying Nanotechnology in Society

Charles Tahan Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, JJ Thomson Ave, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, UK charlie@tahan.com (2006)

Manufacturing materials and systems with components thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair promises vast and sometimes unimaginable advances in technology. Yet the term nanotechnology has formed as much from people’s expectations as from scientific reality. Understanding the creation and context of this social construction can help us appreciate and guide what may be a burgeoning revolution. This chapter considers what different groups are referring to when they say nanotechnology, how this relates to the science involved, and how the various definitions of this broad field of endeavor might be improved. The ramifications and implications of these seemingly innocuous naming choices are also discussed. Although in many respects nanotechnology serves as cover justification for increased spending in the physical sciences, at present it is the most hopeful route to solving some of the planet’s greatest problems.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1.1 The scope of nanotechnology 1.2 Threats and futures and politics 1.3 What’s in a name?

2. Definitions ad infinitum 3. Perspectives from science

3.1 Cold or hot, quantum or not 3.2 The nano in nanoparticles 3.3 Not nanotechnology

4. Conclusions

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