Nanotechnology ignorance a danger?

Scientists are more worried about the potential dangers of inappropriate use of nanotechnologies than the public is. And that’s mainly because most of the public has little or no idea what nanotechnology really is and what it can do.

In their recent telephone survey of American households and nanotech scientists and engineers, two university professors who did the study say this reaction is unusual compared to controversies that surrounded discoveries of the past like nuclear power and genetically modified foods. In those cases, scientists perceived them as less risky than the public did. And scientists, of course, are the ones who have the greatest knowledge of these things.

The main problem is that there’s little research to prove or disprove dangers associated with nanotech. Manufacturers are simply plunging in and using this incredibly powerful technology to make things like stronger, more flexible materials (think tennis rackets and golf clubs) and antimicrobial food containers. Members of the public seemed more concerned about possible privacy violations when this technology can help create smaller surveillance devices and loss of US jobs when other countries would adopt the technology and “steal” business.

The good news? The public trusts scientists on this issue. So the next step is to get the government listening and sending funds to get that research done. More about nanotechnology in the Nature Nanotechnology journal.

And a reader commented to share this website that chronicles risks of nanotechnology. Thanks, Mathilde.