Public engagement in Nanotechnology

The research in nanotechnologies has contributed significantly to the expansion of scientific knowledge in recent years. This technological development has produced in various research fields such as medicine, ICT, materials science, energy production and manufacturing.

Despite the impact of nanotechnology is significant, the changes are not so evident in the eyes of the public and difficult to understand because of their complexity and the poor visibility they have in the public debate.

The development of nanotechnologies in the processing of products and services is one of the most important addresses of research in this area: it assigns to these activities, the ability to increase the competitiveness and sustainable development in various industrial sectors.

While we recognize the potential positive effects of these technological advances, there are also some critical aspects in relation to the possible impact of the development of nanotechnologies on health and the environment. For example, in the field of biomedicine at the moment we don’t know exactly the potential toxicity of some products, and many organizations have reported the possibility of risks.

These concerns relate to some recent debates on the controversial science, for example on the issue of GMOs, which suggested the need for greater dialogue between scientists and society.

A dialogue should be initiated at an early stage rather than after the innovations have been introduced, if institutions want to build a climate of confidence between the parties concerned.

These are real challenges for the development of nanotechnologies and their rapid growth requires new policies that encourage the participation of citizens in debate about their governance.

The TIME for NANO Project, funded by the European Commission within the 7th Framework Programme, aims at engaging the general public, with a special attention to young people, on benefits and risks related to nanoscale research, engineering and technology, through specific informal education products, namely the nano-kit and the organisation of a web contest each year that will be the basis for the realisation of events and debates for the public and collecting opinions and feedbacks from the participants.

The products will use an inquiry-based learning approach, specifically developed in science centres/museums, where people understand by doing.

The nano-kit could contain e.g. small exhibits, nano-objects and materials, scripts for experiments and role/team game cards. It is a tool for stimulating the participation of youngsters in the nano-olympics and for engaging in debate scientists, stakeholders and the public in general.

The web platform will be a resource centre and an attractor for the whole community of N&N communicators, through its contents (continuous addition of new information etc), its innovative tools (web contest) and the artistic approach, the online feedback collection.

A great added value of the project is that of “growing” a community of people engaged in N&N communication, through the realisation of training courses in each of the participating Science Centres (at national level) and by Ecsite (at European level) intended to reach a number of at least 450 multipliers (experts working in outreach and education efforts), carefully chosen among three main groups: explainers in science centres and PhD students in science communication; teachers from primary and high schools.

The public participation to the web-contest is ensured by the organisation of many events in science centres of 9 Countries each year: launch event, nano days, final event with award prizes, intended as occasions for informing/educating, on one hand, and for engaging youngsters, collecting perceptions and opinions, on the other.

The consortium include 13 partners and is coordinated by Fondazione Idis Città della Scienza (Italy).

The other partners are: Observa (Italy), Ecsite (Belgium), BridA (Slovenia), Ciência Viva (Portugal), CCSTI La Casemate (France), TSCF (Turkey), Technopolis (Belgium), Politechnika Warszawska (Poland), Heureka (Finland), Ecsite UK (United Kingdom), Deutsches Museum (Germany), CUEN (Italy).

Observa’s role in the project will be to monitor the activities and preparing assessment tools for the collection of information concerning the process of implementation and results of initiatives.

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