2001 Foresight Prize in Communication

for excellence in educating the public and R&D community on emerging technologies

Nominations are due by September 7, 2001

Winner of 2001 Prize Announced

Ivan Abel Amato, associate editor for Science News magazine, a well-known weekly magazine in the world of science communication, was named the winner of the year 2001 Foresight Prize in Communications. Previously he was editor for Science magazine, where he orchestrated a special series of essays, called “Pathways of Discovery.” The essays appeared once each month throughout the year 2000 and now John Wiley & Sons is converting the series into a book. In addition to work for Science News and Science magazines, Mr. Amato has contibuted to National Public Radio, done work for the Naval Research Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the American Chemical Society, along with various freelance assignments. His first book Stuff: the materials the world is made of became a New York Times Notable Book of 1997.

A few recent articles by Ivan Amato available on the Web

Ivan Amato was the writer for the brochure Nanotechnology: Shaping the World Atom by Atom prepared by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Technology and the The Interagency Working Group on Nanoscience, Engineering and Technology (IWGN)

From June 2001 The Soot that Could Change the World
“One of today’s hot technologies, the making of amazing molecules called nanotubes, is moving into products.”

From February 2001 Future Tech: Molecular Beauty
“Sleek carbon nanotubes could be the greatest thing since sliced silicon”

From September 2001 Big Brother Logs On
“Feeling exposed? Watchful technologies could soon put everyone under surveillance.”


Comments upon winning the 2001 Foresight Prize in Communication

Ivan Amato
November 10, 2001

There’s Plenty of Room at the Top and Bottom

First let me thank the Foresight Institute and the judging committee for choosing me to receive this year’s Prize in Communication. Most often, writers are privy to only one side of the communications dynamic. We know what we have written, but once we toss our words over the wall, we most often have no idea what happens to them on the other side of the wall. If we hear anything from our readers, it more likely than not will be a diatribe of some kind rather than praise fit for high-profile display on the refrigerator. That’s why external acknowledgments like this one are so precious. To me, this prize provides a sweet, coveted message that I’m doing OK. So I can’t thank you enough for this gift of professional recognition.

I would have liked to express my gratitude in person, but life intervenes. Too bad your conference isn’t a few miles from my home like it was last year. It so happens that today, November 10, is the day of my 6-year-old’s final soccer game for the season. I am the coach of the team so I needed to see my son and his dozen teammates through to the end. Rest assured, however, that even as I did so, I was reminded of the great stories of nanoscience and nanotechnology that you are sharing today at the conference. After all, these kids are small, some hardly more than a billion nanometers tall. And as they have throughout the season, they played the game today with a gargantuan version of buckminsterfullerene—one of the most recognizable monuments to the incipient era of nanotechnology.

Let me round this bit of verbiage out with an observation about the unfolding nanotechnology story. Let’s say there’s plenty of room at both the top and the bottom. By the top, I mean the macrostory—the chronicle of nanotechnology as a culmination of dozens of technical fields coming together, as well as government agencies and industry innovators, to form an expansive historical movement that quite likely will be as transformative of society, the economy, the military, and the world as was the Industrial Revolution and as is the ongoing Information Age. By the bottom—I mean the thousands of microstories with thousands of protagonists who are working on thousands of projects for which we use vague umbrella phrases, such as nanoscience and nanotechnology, as a way to put them into a bin of some kind. The challenge to covering this field well is to approach it, and to report it, from angles at both the top and the bottom. It’s a story that spans from atoms to worlds. That’s not easy to do in a newspaper article or even in a feature article in a magazine, but the stories that achieve this blending of the top and the bottom are the ones that I suspect will communicate best.

The Foresight Institute and its founders always have stood out in my mind for embracing both the macro- and micro- dimensions of nanotechnology. I remember attending the maiden Foresight Conference in 1989 and being struck by the inclusion into the agenda of an open discussion about the potential social consequences of nanotechnology. In fact, nanoscience cannot be a value-free endeavor, the way studying, say, the evolutionary origins of lemurs might be. There are existential, sociological, military, ethical, and all kinds of humanly relevant consequences to controlling matter with the miraculous finesse of a biological cell. That’s what makes the nanotechnology story simultaneously so compelling and so difficult to tell. It’s also why this story must be told.

Bottom: “I prepared a pretty corny little photo using that great germanium nanopyramid image from Hewlett Packard. I’m no graphic artist, so it has some rough edges, but it’s kind of fun. I think of it as representing the feeling a writer gets when he or she wins the Foresight Prize in Communication.”
— I. Amato

About the Prize

This award recognizes outstanding journalistic or other communication endeavors that lead to a better public understanding of molecular nanotechnology or other key emerging technologies of high social or environmental impact.

By offering this Prize, Foresight hopes to encourage continued responsible coverage of molecular nanotechnology and other emerging technologies as a means for engaging the public in dialogue leading to improved public policy on these important issues.

The Prize includes a $1000 honorarium and certificate, to be presented at the Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.

Special thanks go to the law firm of Millstein & Taylor, PC, which underwrites the Prize, and to Foresight Senior Associate Larry Millstein of that firm, who initiated this program.

Selection Criteria

Submissions will be judged on their quality in portraying subjects, themes, or incidents, or on their editorial content. They may include an individual presentation or a series of presentations that lead to a better public understanding of the contributions necessary to the development of molecular nanotechnology or other key emerging technologies of high social or environmental impact. Submissions are limited to nonfiction: print and broadcast media, including books, Internet, and film.

In general, priority will be given to those entries which display clear, unbiased, and imaginative writing and production content that lifts the story out of the routine category and gives the reader greater insight regarding the topic covered.

Preferred submissions will have:

  • Accurately and thoroughly described the underlying project or issue, including balanced treatment of technological benefits and potential risks;
  • Effectively explained how the molecular nanotechnology or other emerging technology project, or the outcome of a particular issue, will benefit the community;
  • Covered all sides of the issue fairly, in cases of controversy;
  • Clearly described the molecular nanotechnologist’s or other researcher’s role (Examples: How did researchers contribute to the project’s completion? How did researchers influence the positive outcome of key developmental issue, an environmental issue, or critical legislation?);
  • Advanced public knowledge and understanding of molecular nanotechnology or other emerging technology, our issues, and the challenges of the profession.

Entry quality will be judged on the basis of accuracy, objectivity, scope, content, and appeal.

A panel will be appointed annually by the President and Executive Director of Foresight Institute to evaluate submissions and will consist of five or more persons respected in the fields of molecular nanotechnology or other emerging technologies, at least one of whom shall also be experienced in journalism.

This panel shall select the submission that, in their judgment, best fulfills the objective, as well as two alternates. It shall include an explanation of its decision. The recommendation will then be reviewed by the Foresight Institute Board of Directors for final approval.

Nomination Procedures — deadline September 7, 2001

Nominations may be submitted by any interested individual or by the publisher, author, radio or television station, responsible for the effort.

The nomination must include either:

  1. complete identification and a copy of the article (with the necessary permission to display the piece at the Awards Banquet, should it be selected as a finalist); or
  2. complete identification of the media piece, with location and time presented, and submission of tapes, URLs, transcripts or other reasonable evidence that may be used by the panel in judging, accompanied by a 50-100 word summary of what the basic subject is and why the piece meets the objectives in an outstanding way.

The article or presentation must have been published, aired, or heard in the three calendar years preceding the submissions, which must be received no later than September 7.