When asked if they would purchase food enhanced with nanotechnology, 7 percent said yes, 62 percent said that they need more information about the health risks and benefits, and 29 percent said no. But they do need more information.
Moore also provided a hand-out for workshop attendees that contained some of the same data she presented. Batt began with a few comments about his scientific research on biodegradable plastics. His research team has developed a process that involves coupling a particular enzyme to a magnetic bead and growing large masses of bacterial polyester. The polymer masses stay in place in situ and are being used for cancer therapy and other therapeutic applications. But the focus of his talk was not his scientific research, rather his participation in development of Too Small to See: Zoom into Nanotechnology , a 5,square foot traveling museum exhibition supported by the NSF, and the magazine Nanooze.
When Batt and his colleagues began developing Too Small to See , rather than trying to get a sense of what the public knows about nanotechnology, which is essentially nothing, they formulated a set of questions designed to get a sense of what people know and how they think about size and scale. If someone saw a bug crawling, that would be the answer.
Or if they had crumbs all over them, that would be the answer. So again, the answers were sort of meaningless. The answers, Batt said, were interesting. Some people identified a visible organism, like a bug, as the smallest thing they could think of; others identified something cellular as the smallest thing they could think of; and then there were people who identified either something atomic or something subatomic, like a quark or proton, as the smallest thing they could think of.
The highest scores were among teenagers age 16—18; see Figure See text for more details. The finding that only a small percentage of people actually think about things on a nanoscale level, combined with the reality that the average visitor to a science museum spends less than one minute in front of any individual exhibit, became the basis for Too Small to See. The challenge was to distill all of the information that Batt and his team wanted to convey into something that could be communicated in less than a minute or, as Batt noted, 60,,, nanoseconds.
Batt said the fourth point—that unexpected things happen—is what makes nanotechnology so interesting. The exhibitors decided that they wanted to hammer these four concepts at every opportunity. The four concepts also serve as a basis for every issue of Nanooze. Before describing the Four Concepts in more detail, Batt discussed how difficult it is for people to understand the concept of scale. It is hard enough to imagine a billion of something, let alone one billionth of something. So figuring out 10 9 is hard, 10 9 even harder. Still, even that analogy would be difficult for most people to interpret while walking through a science exhibit.
In Too Small to See , everything is ,, one hundred million times larger than it actually is. So atoms, for example, are represented as objects that are ,, times larger than actual atoms are.
Why not a million? And if the scale had been made larger, then the atoms would have been very large. A human hair at ,,fold, for example, would be the width of a river. Even at ,,fold, people have a difficult time. About 25 percent of people with think scores of 3 and 60 percent of people with think scores of 4 answered correctly. In addition to their difficulty with scale, many people also have a difficult time with perspective.
For example, Batt showed an image of two spheres, one in the foreground and one in the background; although the spheres are the same size, the one in the background looks larger see Figure When designing Too Small to See , the exhibitors tried to avoid these problems with scale and perspective. Images depicting the types of scale and perspective problems that the creators of Too Small to See tried to avoid when developing their exhibition.
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In the image on the right, even though the spheres are the same size, many people think that the sphere more Batt described in more detail how the museum exhibit was built around the four concepts, based on interviews conducted at the New York State Fair:. When asked to draw an atom, molecule, and piece of DNA, some children drew iconic ball-and-stick depictions of molecules and DNA e.
Interviewees were asked to identify components of each of these models of a molecule: ball-and-stick on the left , space-filling in the middle , and domain on the right. An exhibit in Too Small to See that was designed to communicate the concept that molecules are in constant motion. Visitors can reach out and fold and stretch the molecule on the screen. Source: Reprinted with permission from Z. Simpson and Mine Control, more Batt showed a picture of the exhibit when it was at Epcot Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, where 5, to 10, people toured the exhibition daily.
He then showed some pictures of the various exhibits, including the following:. Batt and colleagues also built a smaller, bilingual version of the exhibit, Too Small to See-2 , which is available for tour. Batt then briefly described Nanooze , which started as a webzine in www. About 50, print copies of each issue are distributed across the United States.
Nanotechnology in Energy
The webzine gets about 10, hits a month. The webzine is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili; it has primary articles, a blog, games, and interviews, and people can send questions, with a return time of about 90 minutes. Batt also mentioned a partnership he and his group have with EarthSky www. In the first episode September 8, , Cornell University postdoctoral scientist Aaron Strickland talked about his daily life, not just in the lab but also at home.
In conclusion, Batt said that Too Small to See has been seen by about 5,, visitors; Nanooze in print is seen by about 50, children, and Nanooze online gets about 10, hits a month; and EarthSky podcasts are heard 14 million times daily.
Nanotechnologies: Concepts, Production and Applications
He mentioned that the U. A special issue of Nanooze will be produced to complement the podcasts. Consumers can become educated and tend to learn about new scientific entities or concepts very quickly when problems arise and something has them worried. For example, Halloran imagined that if people were polled two years ago about their knowledge of melamine, probably less than one percent of the population would have known what melamine was; today the majority of people probably know what melamine is. Halloran remarked that scientists involved with nanotechnology have been expressing a lot of enthusiasm about what they are doing with this new technology and where nanoscience is headed.
Unfortunately, however, we tend to hear only in passing that there are some safety issues. In fact, as Philbert stated, there is a huge gap in our scientific understanding of the safety of nanotechnology. For example, where exactly do nanoparticles go when they enter the human body?
But now, without the funding, the attitude among nanoscientists is that addressing safety is not their job. Halloran elaborated on a comment that Yada made during his overview presentation: that consumers fear the unknown.
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As a result of this fear of the unknown, one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market today is natural and organic food. Halloran said that this is not an unreasonable fear, for a couple of reasons. First, consumers tend to be conservative, or traditional, with foods.
In other words, in scientific parlance, people have coevolved with their food supplies and without the benefit of what we can do with our food today because of science. Second, consumers fear the unknown because of the way scientific innovations have been introduced over the past half-century. The river itself has been cleaned, but cleaning the river bottom would cost billions and billions of dollars. So PCBs remain. Halloran pointed to the current debate about bisphenol A BPA as another example of the problems still emerging from our use of synthetic chemicals, with many people questioning how federal regulatory agencies are handling some of the issues.
Rather, the issue is the safety and effectiveness of nanotechnology. The application of nanotechnology to the food supply needs to actually provide benefits to consumers and not be frivolous, and it needs to be safe. Either way, it must be safe. This concern about safety raises the issue of regulation. Consumers want to know who is protecting them. Halloran remarked that, obviously, scientists are not going to ensure the safety of the applications they are developing, unless they receive the funding to do so. Nor, Halloran said, does FDA send a very reassuring message for consumers.
Halloran also noted that the Consumers Union, which she represents, has called for a mandatory safety review for the use of nanoparticles in all cosmetic and food products. At this point, it falls on industry to ensure that products entering the market are safe, which raises another set of concerns. Experience has shown that industry has a difficult time regulating itself, even when it comes to its own long-term self-interest. There is such a premium on short-term gain that many products are pushed into the market without adequate self-assessment.
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Halloran argued that this is why FDA needs to be taking a more active role. Halloran referred to an earlier question in the previous session about companies that are developing products but for whom the cost of animal testing is prohibitive. So what are they doing? Are they moving forward with development anyway, without animal testing? Halloran referred to the issue of choice that Moore brought up during her presentation. Consumers Union recognized the importance of this issue after some Consumer Reports testing with big commercial brand sunscreens revealed that the active ingredient in all sunscreens is either a chemical recognized by the Environmental Working Group as having some safety concerns or a nano-form of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
A second round of testing with organic sunscreen products revealed that even though the customer service departments of these companies said that the products did not contain nanoparticles, in fact all of the products did. So there is no way at this point to avoid sunscreens with nanoparticles; the only other choice is to purchase a brand that contains a chemical recognized by the Environmental Working Group as being even more hazardous.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason nanoparticles are used in sunscreens is to make the lotions more transparent. Transparent sunscreens sell better than opaque ones, even though the benefit to consumers is not really that great. Halloran questioned whether consumers would really want transparent sunscreens if they really understood what was going on. Finally, Halloran referred to an earlier comment about vitamin fortification and asked whether it might be possible to get too much of a certain vitamin as a result of nanotechnology and, if so, how this could be prevented.
She identified the presence and use of nanoparticles in foods prepared in other countries and imported into the United States as another important but unresolved issue: Who is evaluating that? She noted the global nature of our food supply and that we are dealing with other countries that are just as technologically advanced as the United States but with weaker regulatory and safety infrastructures.