Nanotechnology Project

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Environment, Health and Safety Research

Ethics of the Nanoscale

Project Information

Principal InvestigatorChristine Curtis
InstitutionAuburn University
Project URLView
Relevance to ImplicationsMarginal
Class of NanomaterialEngineered Nanomaterials
Impact SectorCross-cutting
Broad Research Categories Risk Management
NNI identifier

Funding Information

Anticipated Total Funding$200,000.00
Annual Funding$200,000.00
Funding SourceNSF
Funding MechanismExtramural
Funding SectorGovernment
Start Year2006
Anticipated End Year2007


An interdisciplinary team of faculty members representing chemistry, biology, engineering, philosophy, and the humanities will develop curriculum materials and use them to educate freshman and sophomore students in all disciplines about nanotechnology and its potential ethical, social, and environmental impacts. Faculty will cross-educate themselves, develop course material communicating the fundamentals of each field, and determine the key ethical, societal and environmental questions that must be asked and discussed. Five course delivery methods will be used: Ethics of the Nanoscale is a new semester course for science, engineering, social sciencesand philosophy freshman and sophomore students who will learn about the science ofnanotechnology, its applications, the fundamentals of ethics, and the ethical, societal andenvironmental implications of nanotechnology. Real-time distance education course, Ethics of the Nanoscale, will be transmitted to freshman and sophomore students at Tuskegee University and Auburn University at Montgomery. Modules on nanotechnology and its ethical, societal, and environmental implications will be taught in three core curriculum courses for freshman/sophomore students from all disciplines. A nanotechnology and ethics module will be included in the Auburn University Summer Bridge Program for incoming minority science, engineering and pre medicine freshmen. Experts in nanotechnology, the ethical issues of nanotechnology and its applications will present seminars to the previously mentioned classes and give seminars to faculty, graduate students, and upper division undergraduates. Intellectual Merit of the Proposed Activity. It is imperative that future scientists, engineers, social scientists, and ethicists understand the ethical, societal, and environmental implications of emerging scientific and engineering technologies. These issues must be considered and discussed as discoveries are being made and the technology developed. Ethical discussions concerning the impact of the discoveries on society and environment that occur during the discovery process will result in appropriate safeguards being put in place to protect society and the environment. Teaching integrated concepts of both nanoscience and ethics to university freshmen and sophomore presents new opportunities for development of critical thinking and analysis skills among students. This approach will strengthen their cognitive abilities and give them the ability to analyze in ethical terms advances in nanotechnology and other scientific and engineering fields. Broader Impacts Resulting from the Proposed Activity. Through these courses, university students, as part of the electorate, will come to understand that every emerging technology has its associated ethical questions, risks, and issues that must be understood, debated and, ideally, eventually accepted or rejected by the citizenry via electoral and legislative processes. Developing and teaching these courses and assessing and evaluating their impact on students’ thinking and ethical views will provide faculty with a solid framework for improving our pedagogy in this area. Dissemination of the results from this project will provide the foundation for the development of new courses that integrate our social and ethical responsibilities with knowledge of emerging scientific and engineering technologies and will strengthen America’s undergraduate education.