In this issue NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern and contributing writers Judith Light Feather and Pearl Chin cover nanotechnology education. We also surveyed several leading academic institutions to see how nanotechnology has changed their programs, and spoke with several other experts in their fields.


Interviews with Educators

By Rocky Rawstern - Editor Nanotechnology Now, NanoNews-Now, and NanoNews-Digest
Rocky Rawstern - Editor Nanotechnology Now -

In a series of interviews, designed to gauge the changes happening in response to the need for more qualified "nanotechnologists," NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern asked the following three questions to representatives of leading universities:

1. In the past few years, what changes have you seen at the [your university] regarding courses in nanoscale sciences? To what do you attribute these changes?
2. Regarding the need for a growing number of graduates who understand nanoscale science: over the next few years what changes do you expect to see at academic institutions world-wide?
3. What are some of the positions your "nanotech" students can look forward to in the job market after graduation?


Wanting to get a different take on the education issue, I interviewed Robin D. Hanson, Assistant Professor of Economics, George Mason University. Given his background (1), I thought it appropriate to ask him to address a couple questions:

1. In your opinion, and in regards to advanced technology, how much should the general public participate in the debate over whether or not to implement a given technology?

That's a really tough question. In principle a rational public should attend to a few issues, but then delegate most others to their representatives. The question then would be whether this issue is important enough for the public to address directly.

However, for an irrational public it may well be better for them to remain ignorant of the technology until it is nearly ready to be deployed. It seems that for real publics, discussions of future technologies are often highjacked to become places where extremists have symbolic discussions about how much we care about each other, or the future, or nature, etc. The political mainstream tolerates this because they typically don't really believe the future technology will appear or make much difference.

2. What do you see as the major issues we as a society face in regards to advanced technology? Are we adequately addressing those issues? If not, what must we do?

The biggest issues are whether "radical" nanotech will be possible, and if so whether we should subsidize research into that area. Unfortunately, what has happened is that the mainstream powers have decided to declare that the radical scenarios (e.g., "nanobots") are impossible, in order to avoid possible public opposition such as biotech has suffered. Each person gives a different description of what these radical scenarios are, and a different reason why they are impossible. The only common element is that they are whatever it is that ordinary people are afraid of.

3. What would you consider the best and greatest use of advanced technology, and what needs to be done to ensure that with it we don't create a divide between the "haves" and "have-nots?"

As an economist I have to give the standard economist answer - we should and do use tech to give people more of the things they want. Social inequality is largely independent of specific technologies, and if you want to reduce inequality the answer is simple - take money from the rich and give it to the poor.

(1) "I have a social science Ph.D. from Caltech, and a physics M.S. and philosophy M.A. from the University of Chicago. I have been thinking about nanotechnology since 1985, when I read a draft of Eric Drexler's first book, and have specialized somewhat in economic analysis of future technologies." In December of 2003, he published "Five Nanotech Social Scenarios" See also Five Nanotech Social Scenarios