Last year we announced a talk that Miguel F. Aznar, Foresight’s Director of Education, would be givng a talk on critical thinking about nanotechnology. The talk “Critical Thinking about Nanotechnology” is now available on the web; however, only in Spanish. Here for comparison with the output from translate.Google.com, are the first two paragraphs from the English draft that Mr. Aznar forwarded:
Most people do not know what nanotechnology is, but they make choices that are influenced by nanotechnology. As individuals and as groups we make choices in education, career/employment, politics, health, energy, and environment that are influenced by nanotechnology because it is changing the tools that we use in an increasing number of fields. What does the general public need to know about nanotechnology in order to make informed, rational choices?
Nanotechnology presents several challenges. First, it crosses disciplines, so understanding a given example of it could require familiarity with, for example, physics and microbiology. Few experts span such diverse fields. Second, it requires experts. Designing a nanoscale enclosure to carry chemicals into a cell’s mitochondria requires expert understanding of chemistry and cell biology. Third, the field—or fields—of nanotechnology are expanding all the time. So a full understanding becomes ever less possible with global, around-the-clock experimentation and publication.
Aznar presents an approach to developing critical thinking and contextual understanding of the issues surrounding nanotechnology that has been tested for more than a decade in classes of children aged 10-17. The approach is framed around nine questions, each of which is then considered in some detail:
1. What is nanotechnology?
2. Why do we use nanotechnology?
3. Where does nanotechnology come from?
4. How does nanotechnology work?
5. How does nanotechnology change?
6. How does nanotechnology change us?
7. How do we change nanotechnology?
8. What are nanotechnology’s costs and benefits?
9. How do we evaluate nanotechnology?
The framework presented has the virtues of being simple enough for the general public to use and flexible enough to accommodate changing nanotechnology as current nanoscale science and technology evolves toward the atomically precise manufacturing that will eventually revolutionize civilization.
—James Lewis, PhD