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Answers by: Judith Light Feather (JLF)
President The NanoTechnology Group Inc.
A Global Education Consortium
President & Founder, TNTG NanoNEWS Division
NN: From your point of view, what is nanotechnology?
JLF: Nanotechnology is the resultant technology that is being developed from universities and corporations who are working in research at the nano scale of science which is now visible with Scanning Tunneling Microscopes and Atomic Force Microscopes. Before the advent of these tools which were invented only a few decades ago, the nano scale of science could only be theorized. These tools gave scientists the abilities to not only view atoms at this scale, but also move them. The elements from the nanoscale of science are being explored for every avenue of development in the material world, including quantum dots which may provide the base for programmable matter within the next decade.
NN: Why are you involved with nanotechnology? What are your long-term goals for your area or field?
JLF: The ability to learn the secrets of nature which will allow humans to finally understand the mechanisms of not only their physicality, but all of matter has drawn me into this science. My long-term goals involve developing unique education modules for preK-20 which will introduce nanoscale science into the current curriculum. My long-term goals are to move society forward with education for everyone until we reach the platform of desiring "Life Long Learning".
NN: What is your vision regarding the changes that nanotechnology will bring to society?
JLF: The long-term vision involves programmable matter and molecular assembly of products whereby humans will move from their 'wage slave' survival mode to a more creative lifestyle that allows them time to learn and create. Everyone should have the same learning opportunities to develop skills and talents to their maximum ability, sharing the results with their neighbors and families. Intellectual property developed from humanity will have the value for exchange now given to mundane products. The properties of nanomaterials which repel dirt and grime, when put into building materials, flooring, glass, appliances and automobiles, will finally free mankind from many of the time consuming chores that take up their precious few leisure hours. Improved clothing and recreation equipment will enhance the lifestyles of society, along with more time to learn new skills and create new ideas for culture benefits.
NN: How can government and educational institutions address the need for significantly larger numbers of nano-educated college grads?
JLF: The problems in the universities, regarding the lack of students interested in science reflects back to our main education issues in the elementary schools. Until our government leaders realize that the Department of Education was created with no authority to mandate curriculum on a national level, but are permitted to mandate National Testing on the sub-standard curriculum which local schools boards make the decisions to accept, nothing will change. In the latest volume of 'The Condition of Education 2003, the following stats were released:
Percentage of dropouts in high school by region:
Performance of 12th graders in all US schools:
17% scored at or above Proficiency Level in Mathematics
25% scored at or above Proficiency Level in Geography
10% scored at or above Proficiency Level in History
Science was not tested, but will be added in next years mandatory testing.
Employed adults ages 25-64, who participated in adult education, 87% received employer financial support. Even after a college education, the employers still have to support some sort of re-training education for their employees.
NN: Given that most people do not have advanced science training, how can they participate in the debate over advanced technologies?
JLF: It will be impossible to start any debate on advanced technologies without first providing the basic information to the public.
NN: What, if anything, are you planning to do to educate or enable public debate in these areas?
JLF: Our organization gathers news and information from around the world on nano scale science research and development along with education news. We provide a free website for people to explore and add to that effort a monthly free "Nano for People Newsletter" which anyone can subscribe to for continually updated information. We have also developed the first NanoNEWS.TV online station that will eventually provide educational videos, video interviews, conference presentations and information on nano scale science which people can access on demand when they have time to explore and learn.
NN: Given that any technology poses some degree of risk to people and the environment, what do we need to do in order to avoid serious and unexpected harm arising from nanotechnology?
JLF: The issue is being addressed and has been for two years at Rice University Center for Biological and Environmental Nano Science, who is a member of our organization. I attended a talk given by Kevin Ausmann at the NanoSpace 2002 Conference and witnessed the actions of the UPI reporter, who seemed to be there to antagonize the speaker, rather than listen to his answers. In fact, he came back specifically for Kevin's talk and proceeded to write an article which had statements out of context and the normal sensationalism concerning this topic. As long as the media enjoys writing hype instead of reporting with accuracy, the issues will remain blown out of proportion. The few people with the agendas keep the issue alive, but the public does not yet understand the science nor the technology in enough detail to form an opinion. We have offered many avenues for this education but it does not happen overnight.
I would like to add that since the nanoscale of science is now observable we should begin to teach the secrets of nature that we are discovering in the research labs concerning matter and how energy from the atomic scale becomes one of the states of matter, including our physicality. This should be a subject that brings excitement to the people as it does in the research labs. By allowing and encouraging the media to only listen to people with their own agendas that exist on fear based realities, we are missing the most exciting science revelations in our history. Focus on something that brings joy to the people, and encourage them to look for the magic. We don't always have to assume that every new discovery or technology will bring harm. Since creating fear also assures headlines and news blips on TV stations, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to be heard. They are not interested in whether it harms the people or the environment, they are really playing their egos against each other to see who makes it on the 6 o'clock news the most often.
NN: Several leading researchers have predicted an unprecedented rapid development of extremely powerful technologies, and been proven correct. And the trend continues, upward. In your opinion, does this require the development of new ethics and/or regulations?
JLF: I don't think you can regulate nature, and since nano scale science involves the understanding of how nature works to move from the unseen realm to the physical states of matter, finally allowing the human race to understand this beautiful complexity of creation and embodiment, what you would be regulating is the transfer of new knowledge that everyone has a right to know. Just because it hasn't been taught yet in the schools, doesn't mean that it should be regulated. If more funds were spent on information transfer and developing a real knowledge base of education for all society, the fear which develops from lack of knowledge would be erased. We already have powerful technologies that have not been explained properly to the public. Should be ban the HARP project and all the new weapons that our government spends billions on for our defense because they are harmful not only to the environment, but to the lives of millions of people who may at any time become our enemies. I think you need to look at the agendas of these groups who bring issues to the table before they are even designated as issues. What is their agenda?
NN: What risks do you expect from future nanotechnologies, including molecular manufacturing?
JLF: There are quite a few informative books on molecular manufacturing, including programmable matter from quantum dots. They are well written and completely understandable to the lay person, and they are all listed on our organization website and recommended in our newsletter. I personally read most of the books and write reviews on them for the lay person. Information is provided for those who want to learn.
NN: What, if anything, are you planning to do to address public concerns about issues such as gray goo?
JLF: I personally don't think the public is concerned with issues like gray goo, which is really science fiction at it's worst. I love to read good science fiction and do not have a problem identifying the real from the fiction. Most people who are not scientists do not even know about this field of science nor are they interested yet in the technology that will be developed from the research. They are too busy surviving our worst economical era in recent history to get hysterical about science fiction.
NN: How can the benefits of new technology, including nanotechnology, be made available to all people, not just an elite?
JLF: They are already available to people. Nano materials are in tires, sun screens the new Docker pants by Levi, and will be appearing in many optics like glass that won't need cleaned, floor coverings and paint that repels dirt. Eventually these will become normal products and nano materials will be sought after by many companies. The articles about designer medicine for the elite are really to defend the large pharmaceutical companies who naturally do not want to spend large development funds on a cure that would only affect a few poor people. All new prescription drugs in America are overpriced and the pharmaceutical companies will not work as humanitarians under any condition. So I would say that biological discoveries in nano scale science that benefit many will be developed, but those that benefit a few will not.
NN: By necessity, government plays a role in many aspects of our lives. What role do you see government playing in the development of nanoscale technologies?
JLF: The only role they should play is funding the science education and basic research, and workforce re-training. How would you choose which arm of government would even understand what they are looking at in the technology arena?
NN: What role can nanoscale technologies play in any given country's growth within the global economy?
JLF: The country that can identify what role they excel at in current industry, then research that industry to discover if any current nanomaterials can be added to a product for strength or resiliency attributes. Utilize this research to develop the university level course of study and also to develop workforce training modules for the future of workers. Nanoscale science is so interdisciplinary that there is still 'room at the bottom' and will be for quite some time. We already have a global economy however, the key to success is finding your special niche.
NN: If you could sit down with the leaders of every country and talk to them about the development of nanotechnology, what issues would you focus on?
JLF: We recently had this conversation with the leaders of Thailand and Vietnam concerning development of courses for education and the future technology. The first issue we focused on was types of education modules that would reach all ages and develop into a lifelong learning situation. Education is always first, then the research, then the technology. Culture was an important issue as each country strives to preserve their identity while becoming competitive in a global society. Communication between scientific disciplines and each other was also top on the list. The ability to form relationships and share information in friendship and trust was the result of this first effort.
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