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Home > Press > Nanotechnology’s Socially Responsible Development Discussed

Nanotechnology’s Socially Responsible Development Discussed at IIT’s Center on Nanotechnology and Society Forum

Posted on October 19, 2006

The socially responsible development of nanotechnology was the topic of discussion during the Chicago Nano Forum, hosted by Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Center on Nanotechnology and Society (Nano & Society).

The recent program at IIT’s Chicago-Kent College of Law drew more than 50 attendees and featured panel presentations by:

  • Warren Layne, Ph.D., Quality Assurance Plan Reviewer and Regional Sample Coordinator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 office, which is located in Chicago;
  • Erik Flom, Ph.D., J.D., principal and patent specialist at Welsh & Katz, Ltd., in Chicago;
  • Michael Radnor, Ph.D., professor of management and organization at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Scholl of Management; and
  • George Nassos, Ph.D., professor in and director of the M.S. in Environmental Management Program at IIT’s Stuart Graduate School of Business.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D., Nano & Society director, opened the program, entitled Big Issues & Small Science: Addressing the Socially Responsible Development of Nanotechnology, by welcoming attendees. He shared insights on the critical importance of examining the societal implications inherent in the socially responsible development of nanotechnology as an emerging disruptive and enabling technology. Michele Mekel, J.D., M.H.A., M.B.A., Nano & Society associate director, then offered a few comments in her role as moderator on the relevance of the dialogue in light of the fact that nano-enhanced consumer products are starting to hit store shelves in increasing numbers.

Layne led off the panel presentations by providing an overview of governmental nanotechnology efforts under the National Nanotechnology Initiative, focusing on the EPA’s role within that rubric. Specifically, he spoke of the double-edged sword nano potentially poses in terms of environmentally positive applications for the remediation of pollution and in terms of environmental risks to human health and ecosystems due to as-of-yet-undetermined toxicity. He also discussed the EPA’s efforts in reviewing and developing a regulatory response to nano, which includes the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program, a review of existing regulation, and issuing a white paper on these issues.

Flom then shared an overview of the patenting process and the foibles that plague it in the area of emerging technologies, such as nano. He also stressed the critical importance of interdisciplinarity in nanotechnology development to ensure its full potential is reached.

Building on Flom’s comments, Radnor stressed the need for a broad interdisciplinary approach to nano R&D, which includes all stakeholders and all specialties, including science, law, business and industry, and the social sciences. He stressed the importance of understanding how nano is perceived by using multiple frames.

In closing the formal panel remarks, Nassos urged that nano’s development be based on a model of environmental sustainability. He suggested that it do so by investigating and mimicking natures’ wonders, such as the strength and flexibility of spider’s silk, among other examples.

Following their presentations, the panelists took questions from the audience. A webcast of the event is available at Nano & Society website ( This Nano & Society Chicago Nano Forum event was co-sponsored by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern’s Center for Technology Innovation Management, and IIT’s Stuart Graduate School of Business, and it was endorsed by the Chicago Microtechnology and Nanotechnology Community.

The dialogue will continue during the next Chicago Nano Forum event to be held in March 2007 at University Technology Park At IIT.


Michele Mekel
Jeff Bierig

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