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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-27 - March 13, 2003

Media contact:

 David Hart

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Geoffrey Prentice

 (703) 292-8371

University of South Carolina Hosts International Conference on the Global Societal Impacts of Nanoscience

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Scholars from the United States and Europe will converge at the University of South Carolina (USC) March 20-23 for the first of two international conferences to discuss the societal implications of nanoscale science and technology on a global scale. The conference is the first ever focusing on "nanoscience studies" -- the examination of the philosophy, ethics, politics, and culture of nanoscience.

Opening with a panel discussion of Michael Crichton's recent novel "Prey," the conference features a wide range of papers and discussions. Invited speakers include sociologist Hans Glimell of Göteborg University in Sweden and ethicist Emmanuelle Boubour of Nobel laureate Richard Smalley's research group at Rice University. The conference is supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"The core motivation for supporting nanotechnology is its promise of broad societal implications, so its societal implications must be studied from the beginning and be an integral part of the scientific pursuits," said Mihail "Mike" Roco, NSF senior advisor for nanotechnology and chair of the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology. "Nanotechnology has the potential to affect human health, the environment, the global economy and public policy. We can better understand these effects and take advantage of the new technology with a solid grounding in a variety of philosophical, ethical and sociopolitical perspectives."

The conference participants will explore such questions as "Does nanoscale research describe and explain nature or transform it?" "What are the potential military applications of nanoscale research?" "What is the difference between an interdisciplinary nanoscience and the traditional sciences?" and "Does nanotechnology require a wholly new ethics?"

Glimell, for example, will discuss the politics of nanotechnology in his paper "Lilliput Politics: Staging the Exploration of 'the Endless Frontier.'" The paper outlines how the evolving nanoscience community "attempts to conceive and equip itself as an accountable and well-protected expedition into the future." The paper also examines the transplantation of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative model to Europe.

"This conference is part one of a two-part conference," said USC philosophy professor Davis Baird, who leads an NSF-supported project to examine the philosophical and social dimensions of nanoscale research. Several members of the project will make presentations at the conference. "Part two will take place in Darmstadt, Germany, in October. It's also a major step in developing a European Center for the discussion of nanoscience, on a par with the NanoCenter here at USC."

NSF sponsored the first conference on Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in September 2000 and organized an NSF-European Commission workshop on nanotechnology's societal implications in January 2002. "However, this is to my knowledge the first conference that frames the issue of implications in this broader philosophical and historical perspective," said conference co-organizer Alfred Nordmann of Darmstadt Technical University.

The panel discussion of Crichton's "Prey" is open to the public. Panelists include Rick Adams, director of USC's NanoCenter; science-fiction specialist Steve Lynn of the USC English Department; as well as Baird and Nordmann.

The discussion takes place March 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information and registration for the conference, see the conference Web site at


Discovering the Nanoscale:

Principal Investigator: Davis Baird, (803) 777-4166, ext. 12,

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