Transdisciplinary course on nanotech open to law, other students
The science of the small is on the cusp of something big, says Professor Doug Sylvester, who's offering a nanotechnology course next semester that will be of interest to ASU students across many disciplines. Despite its name, nanotechnology and the Law, the two-credit course is geared toward graduate students in public policy, bioengineering, biomedicine, justice studies and political science, as well as in law. The course, which also is open to all students in ASU's Barrett, The Honors College, will be held from 1:30-3:25 p.m. Thursdays in Armstrong Hall at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. "It's not just about the law, it's about our lives," said Sylvester, a law professor and faculty fellow in the College's Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology. "For the first time in history, we know something is coming that carries great potential and possible grave danger. The technology will revolutionize much of how we live in the world. The question becomes, how, as a society, can we prepare ourselves to best promote the benefits and prevent the risks?" nanotechnology, a growing science with huge implications for health, safety, quality of life and the environment, is the science of the small. It has the ability to manipulate and utilize materials at the "nanoscale" level, where they display unique and beneficial characteristics. Already, nanotechnology is a $50 billion industry, with more than 500 nanotechnology products on the market, from stain-free pants and suntan lotion to slow-churned ice cream, on the market. Scientists are working quickly to develop other products, including building materials that are light-weight, strong and inexpensive, and produced with something called carbon nanotubes. "The mere manufacturing of these particles creates the possibility of environmental danger," Sylvester said. And therein lies the quandary, as with other emerging technologies of the past such as information technology and biotechnology: should society allow science to speed ahead, without identifying the precise risks and dealing with them, or put a halt to science while the consequences are determined? Sylvester believes there is a middle-ground that, with help from people in a wide variety of disciplines, can produce workable solutions. His course is designed to get students thinking and talking about a balance that protects health and safety, while not penalizing science. "I want to get into all the different ways society can respond to this technology, from law and ethics to social movements and collaborations," Sylvester said. He plans to bring in guest lecturers from other colleges, among them, David Guston, director of ASU's Center for nanotechnology in Society, and Cynthia Selin, a Center researcher, Mike Kozicki, director of the ASU Center for Applied Nanoionics and a professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, and Jason Robert, an assistant professor in the College of Life Sciences. "What makes this so exciting is there's a growing body of global research that's grappling with these issues, but it's still in the early stages," he said. "We can still have an influence, we're not too late, and that's exciting." To register for the course, go to http://www.asu.edu/interactive .