Vélez 1 Distinct to any other technological device created by science, the scale of the nanometer unifies the physical

and biological sciences, including the field of engineering. This new scale allows us to speak about controlling and manipulating physical properties of matter at the smallest metric scale possible; a blend of techniques employed to manipulate matter to the atomic and molecular scale. Nanotech is being employed currently in many home and scientific appliances. Expectations for the future are even greater in medicine, computing, electronics, mechanical engineering, healthcare, and energy conservation. The role of nanotechnology in society is not well known yet, but the magnitude of this science will be noticed. 1 Many research job opportunities are being offered to undergraduate and graduate college students. The extraordinary growth and proliferation of this new interdisciplinary science is reflected in the number of scientific journals and articles published every month. This knowledge will revolutionize every type of industry and manufacture, pharmaceutics, lifestyles, constructions, even wars. But are society members safe from nanotechnology’s second-hand effects? Are there any negative outcomes at all? Is nature itself at risk? Is the twentieth-century human being capable of owning and using correctly this kind of technology? Nanotech is a very promising field, ranging from medical applications to solutions of atmospheric dilemmas; nevertheless, most people do not know about it, and as with every other scientific creation, microtechnology2 has a dualistic3 peculiarity. Basic information about

nanotechnology has been examined and summarized with the intention of giving the reader a comprehensive outline and understanding of the subject in order to realize nanotechnology’s ethical and social impacts.

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Many of the uses, risks, issues, and its importance will be discussed further on Referring also to Nanotechnology 3 By dualistic it is meant that Nanotechnology has a positive and negative side; as in religious beliefs, dualism is the view that two opposing forces exist in life, such as light and dark, male or female, good and evil.

Vélez 2 There are some organizations debating science’s code of conduct and ethical principles. With the intention of creating a trustful, safer, and honorable science, the United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared during the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights Conference: Professionalism, honesty, integrity and transparency in decision-making should be promoted, in particular declarations of all conflicts of interest and appropriate sharing of knowledge […] Independent, multidisciplinary and pluralist ethics committees should be established […] Human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms are to be fully respected […] (October 2005). The organization attempts to improve the principles of what is known as bioethics with the intention of guaranteeing human and environmental safety4. Laws and regulations that will affect every nation will be approved with the purpose of defending international human rights. As stated, great improvements in science and engineering are approaching; but more honorable decisions and societal risks, such as ecological contamination and increasing health problems, may lie ahead. The history of science proves, without a doubt, that in order to achieve “near-perfect” inventions, trial-and-error plays an important role. One great example is global warming. Cars are massively produced to transport people faster since the early nineteen hundred’s, but each car’s carbon dioxide emissions to the environment are the primary cause of today’s climate changes (among others). Scientists and engineers are working together to reduce these emissions by creating different car prototypes that will not emit these gases. Nanotechnology offers great solutions to many ecological issues,5 but speculations are also made about its potential to contaminate at the same time. Tony Feder, researcher of the journal Physics

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Animals, plants, the biosphere, and everything that surrounds human beings will be considered as environment For example, the creation of nanoparticles that detect and neutralize polluting agents in water and food

Vélez 3 Today, discovered that “nano−sized particles from air pollution have been shown to inflict more damage on cells than do larger particles” (Feder 2004, p.30). As citizens of a developing nation we should be concerned of how the government is regulating and investing on these investigations. Moreover, scientists must be aware of the ecological impact that their inventions may cause. For the reader to be able to fully understand nanotechnology’s concepts and risks, it is of the utmost importance to understand the concept “nano”. According to Cynthia Selin from Arizona State University: “Nano is derived from the Greek word for dwarf,” it is a measure of length. One meter equals one billion nanometers6 (1meter= 1,000,000,000nm or 1x10-9nm); this shows how small it actually is (the size of a bacteria is huge compared to one nanometer). For the reader to have a clearer image, divide the diameter of a human hair 50,000 times. On the article “Expectations and the Emergence of Nanotechnology”, Selin declares that: “Intriguingly, much of what is labeled nanotechnology is not on the nanoscale but rather is focused on the micron level. Even stranger still, the term nanotechnology has come to symbolize ‘smaller’ rather than a measuring scale…” (Selin 2007, 200). Basically, the researcher clarifies that even though the term nanotechnology has the prefix nano- it does not implies that the technology has to be nanometric (tremendously small); it is commonly used to refer to small sized technology. The investigator mentions NASA’s (National and Aeronautics and Space Administration) deployment of three ten kilogram spaceships that were intended to investigate how satellites were coordinating with each other in space. Because the spaceships only weighted ten kilograms or twenty-two pounds, scientists called them nanosatellites. Another example that immediately comes to mind is the iPod Nano. Have you ever wondered why is it called iPod Nano? It is

The following lengths equal one meter one billion nanometers (nm); one million micrometers (µm); one thousand millimeters (mm); one hundred centimeters (cm); ten decimeters (dm). One kilometer (km) equals one thousand meters.

Vélez 4 clearly not because it is in the nanometric scale, given that it would be impossible to see with the human eye. It is called iPod Nano mostly for the reason that it incorporates technology so small that was once impossible to imagine. Now we are able to record more than a thousand songs in a device that according to www.wikipedia.com/iPodnano measures 1.6 inches wide, 3.5 inches long, and 0.27 inches thick. According to Martin S. Silbeberg, author of the book Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change, chemical and physical properties of matter change at nanoscale. This characteristic is known as the quantum effect. At nanoscopic scale, electric conductivity, color, resistance, elasticity, reactivity, and other properties act differently than at macroscopic scale (simple human-eye vision). For example: gold is yellow at macroscopic scale, but it looks red at nanoscopic scale; graphite, which is used for writing in pencils, is made up only of carbon atoms that are very fragile and break with ease causing the rupture of the pencil’s writing point, but when these atoms are manipulated with microtechnology we can create materials stronger and lighter than iron itself. Scientists call these materials nanotubes (Silbeberg 478). These two examples show how nanotechnology fuses engineering and science, giving it an interdisciplinary approach. If scientists are able to influence atoms at this level, they will have the ability of controlling matter, they would be like God. Various important innovations of this technology are: nanoassemblers, nanoreplicators, nanocomputers, nanotubes, nanoparticles, and nanocapsules.7 Doctor Eric Drexler, author of Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology and an expert in this field, reveals that in order to gather and accommodate molecules that will be altered and modified, scientists depend on nanoassemblers. On the other hand, nanoparticles are fabricated to combine with the


For more information on these innovations, the reader may read Drexler’s article Engines of creation: The coming era of nanotechnology or simply access www.wikipedia.com for an easy to understand explanation of each

Vélez 5 element or molecule in sight, giving it new and enhanced properties. This is important because the material becomes stronger, more lightweight, shinier, or is simply modified to obtain a new and improved object; in other words, it is like changing bronze to gold. The nanocapsules are tiny containers of chemicals that are released when needed; for instance, an antibiotic can be released when it comes into contact with a specific type of cell tissue. In order to achieve the creation of these technologies, extremely precise instruments are required to place individual atoms into positions necessary to build a structure or cause a desired reaction. 8 Some other uses of nanotech are for sun protection creams, cosmetics, food additives, textiles, microchips, sensors, and diagnosis appliances used for healthcare reasons. Ralph Merkle, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, researcher, and speaker of molecular nanotech says during his interview with the organization Ubiquity: “Nanotechnology will let us build computers that are incredibly powerful. We'll have more power in the volume of a sugar cube than exists in the entire world today.” Merkle is evidently exaggerating; however, he implies that technology in the future will come small sized only. We can see this clearly in today’s society. Everything (laptops, iPods, cars, cellphones, watches, calculators, machines, engines, and many other devices) is being produced as tiny as possible. It also means that surveillance and spying equipment will appear in smaller sizes. Bombs and mass destruction weapons will be small sized and another arms race may begin. Biological attacks may be performed by means of nanocapsules that may be released in the atmosphere. Terrorists may get a grasp of a very powerful and destructive technology. So, is it really worth it? In my research I have noticed that there are far more studies made about nanotechnology’s benefits than studies made about its counter-effects. By ‘‘studies’’ I mean hard-


For example: Scanning Tunneling Microscope, Scanning Probes, and Atomic Force Microscopes. For more information search www.wikipedia.com for an easy to understand explanation of each

Vélez 6 evidence facts, empiric and scientific observations that have been peer-reviewed by professionals in the field, not assumptions or untested hypotheses that pass from person to person. It is an unfortunate truth, but we may understand that this is not unusual since it is a somewhat new science. Few studies have been made about its ecological and health impact, but practically none about its precise political, military, and economical effects. Have the governments anything to do with this “shortage” of information? Are they hiding something? “Protein engineering9 is a technology of molecular machines and it comes from an area that already raises some of the issues that nanotechnology will raise” (Eric Drexler). Interestingly, Drexler mentions a detail that may become somehow a problem in the future: molecules being fabricated by other self-controlled molecules, which in turn resemble in some way employees in a factory. A complete freedom of reasoning and computing is given to these ‘‘nanobots’’ that, even though it may sound like science fiction, may someday replace human beings. These machines will be able to do everything by themselves. Factories may function without the direct authority and vigilance of human personnel. It may sound unreal, but the employee will no longer be human. Is it really worth it? Now, let’s consider some aspects and advances of nanotechnology. To begin with, new sensors for medical devices (X-Rays, Electrocardiograms, MRI) and the manufacture of new chemical and pharmaceutical products will emerge; better solar energy cells will be created to increase the production of an alternate source of energy; stronger, more flexible, and lightweight materials for military, aeronautics, and automobiles will be made; additives will give food a fresher appearance; audiovisual technologies will enable the fabrication of lightweight, bendable, and superior quality television screens (plasma TV’s); new medical devices called “Lab-on-a-


Protein engineering is the application of science, mathematics, and economics to the process of developing useful or valuable proteins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_engineering)

Vélez 7 chip” will literally be introduced into the human body to diagnose any health problem in the system; sun protection creams that have nanoparticles will absorb UV rays; stronger and inexpensive house and bridge structures can be constructed with nanotubes; sunglasses and lenses will be completely resistant and impossible to scratch; and fundamentally, many diverse and common home devices such as printers, CD players, iPods, computers, laptops, radios, cellphones, and other electrical devices will be created by means of nanotechnology. In general, numerous other ‘’gadgets’’ and materials will be manufactured with microtechnology. Additionally, nanomedicine is a field of study that is being developed thanks to nanotechnology. It is the application of nanotechnology in the medical field.

By means of

nanomed, researchers are able to destroy cancer cells with nanotubes, deliver antibiotics more efficiently, use laser and nanotechnology during surgeries to close any incision, and the most amazing but also feared innovation11 would be, according to the electrical engineer Bill Joy, the use of an “army” of nanorobots that are introduced into the body to repair or detect damages and infections (Joy 1). They would be small enough to pass through capillary passages. The investigator, social worker, ecologist, and conference speaker Silvia Ribeiro stated: “Researchers at Oxford University and Montreal University showed that the Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide used as nanoparticles in most sun protection cream produce ‘free radicals’12 in skin cells, damaging the DNA” (Ribeiro 2005). Notice how ironic and opposing science is. How far are nanoscientists willing to push the limits of nanotechnology? Is it really worth it?


Information taken out from different sections of the journal Nanotechnology, access it through www.iop.org/journals/nano 11 Many people fear nanorobotics because these robots may get out of human control and attack humans instead of helping us 12 “Free Radicals are molecular or atomic species with one or more unpaired electrons, which naturally makes it very reactive with any compound that surrounds it” (Martin Silbeberg); having a high reactivity makes free radicals the main cause of skin cancer in humans, since they tend to react with chemicals in the cells making them unstable and causing mutations in its DNA

Vélez 8 For instance, the movie The Terminator 2 is a great example of what may happen if technology is not used properly and a great example too of how scientists can make ethical decisions in their workplace.13 The characters Sarah Connor and John Connor (mother and son) join forces with Terminator. Their mission is to destroy two technologically advanced microchips that will be used in the near future to create robots that replace human soldiers during wars. Miles Dyson, one of the top-ranked scientists working for the “evil” company in the movie, is the perfect example of what a principled and praiseworthy scientist should be. Notice how dedicated Dyson is for his work, working extra hours at night and at home too. But when the three heroes tell him about the chaos that this technology will bring forth to humans in the near future, he makes the heroic decision of calling off his investigations. There is much more to the movie than what is told in the research paper, it is recommended that the reader watches the motion picture. Now, compare Miles Dyson with today’s top “nanoscientists.” Some investigators care about nanotech’s positive and negative effect, but others, as always, are only interested in the monetary benefit and the public recognition they will receive. People can learn important lessons from movies; they are not only for entertainment. When dealing with science, we cannot only be driven by the urge to discover, but we must consider the safety of both humans and natural world first. Obviously, if the person knows the negative second-hand effects a discovery may have on health and environment, it is hard to decide whether the research should be published or not, but making the right decision is what really defines a true scientist from a madman. Another point we need to consider is the availability of nanotechnology to the world. Is it going to be only for the wealthy? Who can afford, for instance, a nanomedical procedure? The

Speaking of movies, The Matrix (a collection of three movies) is, on the other hand, the perfect example of how nanorobots and nanocomputers may conquer and abolish mankind, since we are giving them the power to think, move, act, replicate, and control themselves. It is a very interesting trilogy.

Vélez 9 Erosion, Technology, and Concentration Group (ETC) claims that funds for research will almost triple by the year 2010, bringing the total around ten billion dollars. The group also declares during a conference that: “Nanomedicine may have its greatest impact in the realm of ‘human performance enhancement’ (HyPE). Nanomedicine in combination with other new technologies will make it theoretically possible to alter the structure, function and capabilities of human bodies and brains… and could change, quite literally, the definition of what it means to be healthy or human” (September 2006). We can predict from these statements that nanotech will only be available to certain sectors of the world, as always, Occidental and NorthernIndustrialized nations. More people around the world will be alienated by this technology. Only the wealthy may gain access to its benefits. Is it worth it? I believe that one problem of a capitalist nation is that it gives more importance to society’s economical and technological development in order to become the best, instead of focusing on moral and ethical education. A balance should be created between scientific progress and moral education, as the Classical Greeks and Phoenicians14 used to do. We can only hope that the ‘‘nanotechnological era’’ is a well intended breakthrough in which the scientists are ethically reasonable, and an era in which mankind and the natural world will not be harmed. Millions of years have passed since mankind’s first invention, giving more than enough time to rethink and reconsider as part of the ‘‘scientific formula’’ that society and nature’s wellbeing is more important than any technological discovery and more essential than science itself. We can only hope that this wonderful technology does not fall in the wrong hands. “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species” (Bill Joy 2000). Are they worth it?


Both ancient civilizations were pioneers and masters in many fields of science and engineering, but they had greater devotion towards the artistic, spiritual, and moral aspects of life

Vélez 10 Works Cited Drexler, Eric. Engines of Creation: the Coming Era of Nanotechnology. New York: Anchor Books, 1986. 19 Apr. 2007 <http://www.e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Table_of_Contents.html>. Feder, Toni. "Scholars Probe Nanotechnology's Promise and Its Potential Problems." Physics Today. June 2004. 19 Apr. 2007 <http://www.aip.org/pt/vol-57/iss-6/p30.html>. FY 2007 Budget Request to Congress. National Science Foundation. Arlington, Virginia: National Science Foundation, 2006. 1-481. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2007/pdf/fy2007.pdf>. Gaspar‌, Rogério. "Regulatory Issues Surrounding Nanomedicines: Setting the Scene for the Next Generation of Nanopharmaceuticals." Nanomedicine. 2 (2007): 143-147. 17 Apr. 2007 <http://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/abs/10.2217/17435889.2.2.143>. Irving, Bob. "Nanotechnology: the Next Wave of Commercial Development for Health and Medical Devices – an Australian Story." Nanomedicine. 2 (2007): 255-260. 17/Apr./2007 <http://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/abs/10.2217/17435889.2.2.25>. Joy, Bill. "Why the Future Doesn'T Need Us." Wired 8 (4) Apr. 2000. <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html>. (Accessed April 20, 2007) Kalaugher, Liz. "Nanotubes Destroy Cancer Cells." Nanotechnology. 16 (2005). McGraw Hill, 2006. 277-279. Matsuura, Koïchiro. Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. General Conference of UNESCO, Oct.-Nov. 2005, UNESCO. 02 May 2007 <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001461/146180E.pdf>.

Vélez 11 "Nanotechnology: Designs for the Future." Ubiquity. 11 July 2000. 20 Apr. 2007 <http://www.acm.org/ubiquity/interviews/r_merkle_1.html>. Ribeiro, Silvia. "Los Problemas De La NanotecnologíA." RELUITA. 27 Sept. 2005. Secretaría Regional Latinoamericana, Uruguay. 19 Apr. 2007 <http://www.rel-uita.org/agricultura/ambiente/problemas_nanotecnologia.htm>. Selin, Cynthia. "Expectations and the Emergence of Nanotechnology." Science, Techology, and Human Values. 32 (2007): 196-220. Silbeberg, Martin. Chemistry: the Molecular Nature of Matter and Change. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006 Welland, Mark. "New Developments for Nanotechnology." Nanotechnology. 13 (2002). Wikipedia. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.wikipedia.com>.

Research done by: Jonathan Vélez Universidad de Puerto Rico