American public remains uninformed about nanotechnology

American public remains uninformed about nanotechnology

A recently released poll shows that the American public is largely uniformed about both nanotechnology and synthetic biology, and furthermore that the level of public awareness about nanotechnology has not changed since 2004. Perhaps there is a need for an imaginative public education effort. From the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, via AAAS EurekAlert “Nanotech and synbio: Americans don’t know what’s coming“:

A groundbreaking poll finds that almost half of U.S. adults have heard nothing about nanotechnology, and nearly nine in 10 Americans say they have heard just a little or nothing at all about the emerging field of synthetic biology, according to a new report released by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) and Peter D. Hart Research. Both technologies involve manipulating matter at an incredibly small scale to achieve something new.

This new insight into limited public awareness of emerging technologies comes as a major leadership change is about to take hold in the nation’s capital. Public policy experts are concerned, regardless of party, that the federal government is behind the curve in engaging citizens on the potential benefits and risks posed by technologies that could have a significant impact on society.

…the poll found that about half of adults say they have heard nothing at all about nanotechnology. About 50 percent of adults are too unsure about nanotechnology to make an initial judgment on the possible tradeoffs between benefits and risks. Of those people who are willing to make an initial judgment, they think benefits will outweigh risks by a three to one margin when compared to those who believe risks will outweigh benefits.


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  1. Nanoman October 7, 2008 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Alright then I have a question, Jim, Christine, anyone else reading this: Is this a good idea or useless? I was thinking of finding a cheap printing company, and having them print up a few hundred thousand or so paper leaflets with a short basic message about Molecular nanotech, and perhaps weblinks such as Foresight and others, so people can learn more about nanotech, and setting up a table when I have some free time, on a busy street or park, and giving people the leaflets. Will this help somewhat to get the people more aware?

  2. spinoneone October 8, 2008 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Well, looks like you guys had better get in gear and inform the American public. Why? Because if you don’t then environuts will invoke the “precautionary” principle and try to put an end to your efforts. Many on the left are already thinking about this, and they tend to be the people who know something, correct or not, about nanotechnology.

  3. Scott Locklin October 8, 2008 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    The general public doesn’t know about it because nanotech is mostly imaginary fairy dust which violates the laws of thermodynamics. The few recognizable “nano” applications out there are known by more common names, like “paint” or “suntan lotion.”

  4. Nanoman October 9, 2008 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Molecular Manufacturing is true Nanotechnology and it does NOT VIOLATE THERMODYNAMICS. Drexler style Nano Mechanisms work like natural bio nano machines because they will have 1 Information via computers, 2 Materials via atoms and 2 Energy via solar, chemical, and other forms. In order for something to violate thermodynamic law for real it must create energy from NOTHING, no pre existing energy, and, it must operate within a closed system and not break down. Nanomachinery will use energy and will operate within the known laws of thermodynamics.

  5. Radha October 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    I believe the popularity received by areas of astronomy, space mission, particle physics, Big-bang or Genetics, human genome etc in science is absent in this wider, all-encompassing area of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Someone earlier (referred to in rightly commented that nanotechnology is not just another technology but is a movement that has to gain momentum. And yes, it is up to us, workers in this field to contribute in building it up.

  6. Michael M. Butler October 9, 2008 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Scott, great to see your exemplary work here. You managed to state a fact about the marketing BS / co-option of the term. Good for you on that.

    I’m sure you’ll be publishing your detailed proof of your thermodynamics claim any day now, right? Or maybe you could provide a JSTOR cite of work you’ve already published?


  7. Scott Locklin November 17, 2008 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Some very small guy wrote:
    “Molecular Manufacturing is true Nanotechnology and it does NOT VIOLATE THERMODYNAMICS.”

    This may or may not be true, but we’ll never really know, since nobody has managed to invent such things yet. Writing a science fiction book is not the same as inventing a technology.

    As for Mr. Butler’s smarm; thanks for parroting Drexler’s “you can’t prove we can’t do it” non falsifiable piffle at me. I remember being impressed with such reasoning when debating people who believe the world was created 7000 years ago.

    Allow me to revise my original statement: “if we make artificial life forms using the magic of the Schroedinger equation, the future will be super great and we’ll have mighty and epic super powers! Please donate generously!” Meanwhile, the only “nano” applications which exist are paint and suntan lotion, so the public doesn’t need much more “education” than it already has about paint and suntan lotion.

  8. Michael M. Butler July 18, 2011 at 12:57 am - Reply

    Mister Locklin: Eric Drexler has taken a serious shot at addressing the matter of thermal positional uncertainty, and the matter of delivery and disposal of energy in systems, which do not appear to violate any physical law, including your from-the-hip shibboleth use of “the laws of thermodynamics”.

    His calculations are in principle falsifiable as incomplete or erroneous, but vague handwaving non-quantitative appeals are mere rhetoric. “Writing a science fiction book is not the same as inventing a technology” is true, but you’ve done nothing to show that the sentence applies to the matter at hand.

    A germane response to the quantitative work he’s published could be substantive. In the years since you posted your most recent comment I’ve waited for your substantive criticisms of what is actually in print in /Nanosystems/.

    I take it that you haven’t got any.

  9. Michael M. Butler July 18, 2011 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Attempting to treat the closest thing to quantitative criticism provided, in as non-smarmy a manner as I can manage:

    In the studies I’ve undertaken, when one speaks of “the laws of thermodynamics”, there are generally said to be three, and the shorthand for them is sometimes given as “you can’t win; you can’t break even; you can’t get out of the game”.

    I am at a loss as to understand which of these laws is violated by anything Drexler has ever published. Net over-unity? No. Zero loss? No. A violation of the statistics of entropy? No.

    Perhaps there is some generally accepted law of thermodynamics other than those three which my education didn’t introduce me to. I’m only aware of Onsager reciprocal relations being sometimes called the “fourth law of thermodynamics”, but it too doesn’t seem to relate to your claim.

    Or maybe you really were just handwaving.

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