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Diverse Viewpoints Shared at IIT Center on Nanotechnology & Society's First Forum


Chicago , October 13, 2005--Diverse viewpoints on nanotechnology's impact on society were presented to nanotechnology experts from business, science, law, and the social sciences during the inaugural event of the Chicago Nano Forum, hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology's (IIT) Center on Nanotechnology and Society (Nano & Society). 

The October 7 program at IIT's Chicago-Kent College of Law focused on the intersection of nanotechnology, risk and ethics, and featured Brent Blackwelder, one of Washington's leading environmental lobbyists and president of Friends of the Earth; Nik Rokop, leader of the Chicago Microtechnology and Nanotechnology Community and CEO of nLake Technology Partners, LLC; Vivian Weil, Director, Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Institute of Technology; and Joan Lebow, a partner with Lebow & Malecki, LLC, who specializes in health law, and a Chicago-Kent College of Law adjunct faculty member.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Nano & Society director, opened the program by sharing the Center's goal of catalyzing the national discussion on the ethical, legal and societal implications of nanotechnology, which has been billed as “the killer app” of the 21 st century.  He also posed questions about what the technology means for the human future.

Rokop provided an optimistic view of nanotechnology.  “(Nanotechnology is) the next extension of technical progress,” and such innovation often initially meets with resistance.  He said industry is concerned with the environmental and health safety issues, and desires to understand the ethical and societal issues in order to produce nanotechnologies that are beneficial.

Blackwelder warned that nanotechnology has the potential to follow in the footsteps of genetically modified food and become the next biotechnology fiasco.  He also called for a moratorium on the commercial manufacturing of nanoproducts until their health and environmental effects have been evaluated.

Weil, who has served as an ethicist on National Science Foundation nanotechnology initiatives, pointed to the increasing gap between science, and regulation and ethics.  However, she said that the nascent stage of nanotechnology provides an opportunity “to avoid errors made with the introduction of other technologies.”

Lebow said that it is natural for law to follow technology, but she called for thoughtful reflection about how to regulate it appropriately before the science further outpaces law in this arena.  Specifically, she expressed concern that the workforce engaged in nanotechnology research and manufacturing has become, de facto, the first human subjects of this new technology.

Following their formal presentations, panelists took questions from the audience on the nascent status of regulatory and ethical issues related to nanotechnology.  A webcast of the event is available on Nano & Society's website ( www.nano-and-society.org ). 

This dialogue will continue at the next event of the Chicago Nano Forum, entitled Brave New Nano:  Regulating the Future , scheduled for January 30, 2006, at 5:30 p.m. in the Chicago-Kent College of Law Auditorium at 565 West Adams Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Thom Karmik
Director Marketing & Communications
Illinois Institue of Technology
3300 S. Federal
Chicago , IL 60616