Center to Study Nanotechnology’s Social Impact
Science Foundation has selected UC Santa Barbara for a new National
Science and Engineering Center to study the societal implications
of nanotechnology. It will provide $5 million in grants to support
the Center for Nanotechnology in Society–UCSB in its first five
years of operation.
The center, one of only two such NSF-funded centers
in the country, is designed to aid scientists and scholars, policy
makers, and the public in better understanding the societal implications
of nanotechnologies, particularly over the next decade.
It also will help stimulate interdisciplinary research
and educational collaboration across the nation and around the globe
among faculty members and students in the social sciences, humanities,
physical and life sciences, and engineering.
Lead principal investigator of CNS-UCSB is Bruce
Bimber, professor of political science and communication, and head
of the Center for Information Technology and Society. “A revolution
in science and technology is going on around us, and most people
are only dimly aware of it,” said Bimber. “Our job at this new center
is to try to understand how these technologies are affecting societies,
and to influence the direction of innovation in positive ways.”
David Marshall, dean of humanities and fine arts,
said that understanding nanotechnology “in its historical, cultural,
and social contexts will help our society to chart the future as
this exciting field unfolds.” The center will also study emerging
perceptions of risk and public concerns about nanotechnology, and
will provide a context to involve nanoscientists in the discussion.
Two other principal investigators and co-directors
of the new center are Barbara Herr Harthorn, associate director
and research anthropologist at the Institute for Social, Behavioral,
and Economic Research, and W. Patrick McCray, associate professor
UCSB’s sister facility will be at Arizona State
University. They will anchor a NSF-sponsored national network of
researchers studying nanotechnology and society.
“We think that UC Santa Barbara presents the perfect
environment for addressing such a complex and important issue, and
we are pleased that the NSF agreed,” said Michael Witherell, vice
chancellor for research. “This center will take a novel approach
to studying the impact of new technology on society, involving an
extraordinary collaboration of researchers from very different fields.”
UC Santa Barbara is already home to the California
NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), a joint effort with UCLA, the state,
and industrial partners to generate ideas, discoveries, and talent
to fuel innovation in nanotechnology. The new center will open this
coming Jan. 1 in offices located in North Hall and in the new CNSI
Campus officials underscored how the new Center
for Nanotechnology in Society embodies UCSB’s highly interdisciplinary
approach to research.
“This is a real advantage in advancing our understanding
of critical social issues and the social impacts of technology,”
said Melvin Oliver, dean of social sciences. “Few institutions have
these cross-cutting interests and can mobilize them so effectively.”
||Co-directing the new NSF-funded,
UCSB Center for Nanotechnology in Society are, left, research
anthropologist Barbara Herr Harthorn and historian W. Patrick
McCray, far right. Political scientist Bruce Bimber, center,
is lead principal investigator.