Survey highlights support for nanotech in health fields but disapproval elsewhere

Nov 13, 2008

A landmark national survey on the use of nanotechnology for "human enhancement" shows widespread public support for applications of the new technology related to improving human health. However, the survey also shows broad disapproval for nanotech human enhancement research in areas without health benefits. A team of researchers at North Carolina State University and Arizona State University (ASU) conducted the study, which could influence the direction of future nanotechnology research efforts.

The "Public Awareness of Nanotechnology Study" is the first nationally representative survey to examine public opinion on the use of nanotechnology for human enhancement. The survey found significant support for enhancements that promise to improve human health. For example, 88 percent of participants were in favor of research for a video-to-brain link that would amount to artificial eyesight for the blind. However, there was little support for non-health research endeavors. For example, only 30 percent of participants approved of research into implants that could improve performance of soldiers on the battlefield.

Nanotechnology is generally defined as technology that uses substances having a size of 100 nanometers or less (tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair), and is expected to have widespread uses in medicine, consumer products and industrial processes. Human enhancement is a sweeping term that applies to the use of such technologies to alter human capabilities.

NC State's Dr. Michael Cobb, one of the leaders of the study, says the survey's findings are important because "what the public wants could drive the direction of future research." Cobb, an associate professor of political science, explains, "The public should have input into where the government invests its research funding." Dr. Clark Miller, an associate professor of political science at ASU and another leader of the survey, adds, "One of the most important findings is the difference in support for different applications of human enhancement. Research and public policies will need to reflect this differentiated view, recognizing that there are some applications the public supports and some that the public is quite skeptical of."

While the survey shows strong public support for research into nanotechnology applications in the health field, those findings are tempered by a similar concern from the public about the scope of that research. The study found that 55 percent of participants felt that researchers should "avoid playing God with new technologies." Similarly, the public expressed little confidence in the government and mass media to inform people about potential risks from new technologies. Rather, participants said they had the greatest confidence in university scientists and environmental groups to protect the public.

The survey was conducted between July and October of 2008. The survey included 556 participants, had a 28 percent response rate, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Source: North Carolina State University

Explore further: New electronic stent could provide feedback and therapy—then dissolve

Related Stories

Power to the batteries

May 22, 2015

Better solar panels and wind turbines are important to helping ensure a low-carbon future. But they are not enough. The energy from these intermittent sources must be stored, managed, converted and accessed ...

Something is rotten in the state of US education

May 18, 2015

A report released last year estimates that nearly half of the nation's new teachers quit within five years, a rate of attrition that costs the United States over US$2 billion annually. ...

Latest self-driving Google car heading to public streets

May 15, 2015

The latest version of Google's self-driving car—a pod-like two-seater that needs no gas pedal or steering wheel—will make its debut on public roads this summer, a significant step in the technology giant's ...

Recommended for you

Non-aqueous solvent supports DNA nanotechnology

5 hours ago

Scientists around the world are using the programmability of DNA to assemble complex nanometer-scale structures. Until now, however, production of these artificial structures has been limited to water-based ...

Nanosilver and the future of antibiotics

6 hours ago

Precious metals like silver and gold have biomedical properties that have been used for centuries, but how do these materials effectively combat the likes of cancer and bacteria without contaminating the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.