Nanotechnology: the Convergence

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A scientific revolution is taking place – a revolution whose influence may well exceed the combined effects that electricity, antibiotics, and computers have had on our lives.  This revolution takes place in the world of the infinitely small – where construction happens atom-by-atom and molecule-by-molecule.  It brings together the scientific disciplines of biology, engineering, chemistry, and physics, where scientific discoveries are offering us unprecedented understanding and control over the fundamental building blocks of all physical things, both animate and inanimate.   This technologic convergence is called nanotechnology.

The potentially polarizing and controversial questions raised by this revolutionary science lend themselves to the type of Socratic dialogue that has distinguished the Fred Friendly Seminars for over 20 years. The objective of The Fred Friendly Seminars is to open minds to the complexity and ambiguity of issues facing contemporary society. The Seminars begin by painting “little pictures” – dilemmas or conflicts such as almost anyone would confront in their lives – and end with an informed and emotionally compelling exploration of the large ethical, legal and public policy questions at the heart of a well-functioning democratic society.  The 3 part series, Nanotechnology: The Power of Small, is moderated by the renowned journalist John Hockenberry, and includes scientists, social, ethical, and legal scholars, policy and decision makers, and business leaders . Our distinguished panelists explore how nanotechnology may affect our privacy and security in the first hour of The Power of Small - Watching Me, Watching You. In the second hour of the series - Forever Young -  the panelists consider implications for our health, including what it might mean to live to be 150 years old. In the final hour - Clean, Green, and Unseen -  our panelists must weigh potential benefits against the unknown risks of the release of nanoparticles into our environment.   Nanotechnology: The Power of Small is available for broadcast beginning April 1, 2008; consult the project website for local station broadcast information.

To help the public explore the issues raised as applications of nanotechnology continue to emerge, ScienceVIEW at Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley has developed a supporting web resource for the project,, where visitors can go to share their opinions, view video clips from the programs, and access additional information.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science directed a community outreach initiative targeted to specific stakeholders in 9 cities throughout the U.S. and Earth & Sky has produced a series of Clear View podcasts focused on issues raised during the Seminars.  Materials for use in formal and informal educational settings include a video discussion guide, which can be downloaded from the website.

The development for this project has been conducted with funding from Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Department of Energy.

Major funding for the project was provided by the National Science Foundation, with additional funding from the Department of Energy.