Development of Nanotechnology Safety Education Courses – Part 1

Development of Nanotechnology Safety Education Courses – Part 1

The next award for two nanotechnology safety courses was made by the National Science Foundation [NSF] to Texas State University in San Marcos with Professor Jitendra Tate as the Principal Investigator [PI].  The announcement from the web site reads: “Texas State University and the University of Texas at Tyler; have recently received a NSF-NUE (Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education) grant to develop introductory and advanced curricula that address  “nanotechnology safety issues” that include social, ethical, environmental, health; and safety issues of nanotechnology. The curricula will be modular in nature, suitable for use either as two full-semester courses that will be taught online at UT Tyler or for insertion as separate modules into undergraduate engineering, engineering technology, and industrial technology courses taught face-to-face at Texas State.” [1]

The course development was based on segmenting the teaching effort into 9 modules, each of which covers one week of instruction.  Each of the modules can be inserted into various courses as deemed appropriate by the course instructor. The first course developed was the Introduction to Nanotechnology Safety.

The initial offering of the course was done through an on-line offering in the Summer of 2013 from the University of Texas at Tyler under Professor Dominick Fazarro [co-PI].  In the 2013 Fall semester, a number of the modules were included in various engineering and science courses at Texas State University.  The 2014 Spring semester will be used to introduce the Advanced course modules.  The modules will be updated after the comments and received from students, instructors, and reviewers.

The modules are developed to provide an understanding of the possible impact of nanotechnology on society and to enable the student to grasp the implications of introducing emerging technologies that have a large number of unknowns.  There is a strong emphasis on ethics and the impact on society.  Since many evaluations of impacts on people can take seven to ten years, we considered it important to address these issues.  This is especially true in light of the fact that most start-ups do not last for 2 years.  Without this background, others would need to be responsible for the “clean-up” of whatever problem is left behind.  The focus of each of the modules is presented below along with a short listing of the material that is covered.

  1. What is nanotechnology and nano-ethics?
    1. Defining disciplines -Historical perspective (Richard Smalley) –
    2. ASTM E2456 terminology used in nanotechnology –
    3. National agenda: US congressional testimony on societal implications nanotechnology –
    4. Role of National nanotechnology initiatives (NNI) –
    5. Societal dimensions of nanotechnology
  2. Ethics of Science and Technology
    1. Ethics at intersection of science, business, and governance
    2. Science and technology as agents of social change
    3. Moral agents: scientist and engineers, business community and corporations, policy makers and regulators
    4. Nanotech’s promise of overcoming humanity’s more pressing challenges,
    5. What products are produced?
  3. Societal Impacts
    1. Defining ethical and societal implications: interest groups and meanings; spheres of impact and categories of concern; moral dimensions; pace, complexity and uncertainty
    2. Technology revolution and problem of prediction
    3. Precautionary principle in nanotechnology–Nanotechnology and privacy: instructive case of RFID
    4. Nanoscience as catalyst for educational reforms
    5. Impact of nanotechnology on developing countries
  4. Ethical Methods and Processes
    1. Language of ethics
    2. research in human subject research
    3. Ethical framework for technology assessment
    4. Model for ethical analysis
    5. Describing the context: scientific and engineering; legal, regulatory, and policy; economic and market; environmental health and safety
    6. Framing ethical questions
    7. Assessing options for action – Finding common ground
  5. Nanomaterials and Manufacturing
    1. Metal-based, carbon-based, dendrimers, and composites
    2. Processes used (e.g. etching & laser ablation)
    3. Framing ethical questions: principles of respect for communities, common good,  and social justice
    4. Assessing options for action
    5. Finding common ground
  6. Environmental Sustainability
    1. Searching for a sustainable future
    2. What are the issues of nanotechnology?
    3. Context described: environmentalism and sustainability; environment risks and nanotechnology; potential benefits of nanotechnology for sustainable development
    4. Applying life cycle thinking
    5. Framing ethical questions
    6. Assessing options for action
    7. Finding common ground
  7. Nanotechnology in Health and Medicine
    1. What are the issues?
    2. Context described:
      1.  pharmaceuticals and therapeutics;
      2.  diagnostics and imaging;
      3.  nanoscale surgery; implants and tissue engineering;
      4.  multifunctional nanodevices and nanomaterials; personalized medicine; broader health care system
    3. Framing ethical questions
    4. Assessing options for action
    5. Finding common ground
  8. Military and National Security Implications
    1. Homeland Security
    2. New era of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)?
    3. Context described: nanotechnology and art of war; nanotechnology and national security
    4. Framing ethical questions
    5. Assessing options for action
    6. Finding common ground
  9. Nanotechnology Issues in the Future
    1. Rapidly emerging developments.
    2. Challenges and pitfalls of exponential manufacturing
    3. Nanotechnology and life extension
    4. Who will control this technology? -Global implications

Next week’s blog will cover the contents of the Advanced Course in Nanotechnology Safety Education.



About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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