Societal Dynamics of Nanoscale Science and Technology:
Media Representations of Nanotechnology

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This database reports on the public representation of nanoscale science and technology (NST) in North American written popular media from 1986-2000.

Brenton Faber, Justin MacKinnon, Margaret Petroccione, Adrienne Povero, and Romana Semouchtchak, Clarkson University.
Technical interface by Justin Leider at Clarkson and Geoff Sauer at Iowa State University.

Recent Publications


Forthcoming article: Media portraits of nanotech

Forthcoming article: Written media representations of nanoscale science & technology 1986-2000

Conference paper on media representations of nanoscale science & technology:
Popularizing Nanoscience

New: Web Presentation of Popularizing Nanoscience

Poster presentation by Peter Bird and Adrienne Povero, 2005 Association of Teachers of Technical Communication and Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Peter Bird:
Societal Dynamics of Nanoscale Science and Technology

We are investigating how nanoscale science and technology are represented in written media from 1986-2006. Nanoscale science is an emergent field in scientific communities. Referring to work at the scale of one-billionth of a meter (a human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers in diameter), nanoscience is a cross-disciplinary field involving molecular-level research in biology, chemistry, electronics, and physics. Potential applications for nanoscale research (nanotechnology) include disease treatment, computer memory, drug delivery methods, materials for industrial and textile applications, and methods for detecting and neutralizing pollutants. Actual applications include computer memory technology and polymer coatings for automobile, textile, and cosmetics manufacturing.

As nanotechnology emerges into contexts of broad public use, public rhetorics have simultaneously begun to construct and situate this research and technology. As one component of these public rhetorics, newspapers and news magazines constitute a key device for informing interested people about science. This study is a descriptive reporting of how nanoscale science and technology have been represented in one key media, national newspapers and news magazines. In same way that written media reports have "framed" issues in biotechnology, scientific hazards, environmental risks, and global warming, written news media have also been responsible for disseminating information and constructing representations of nanotechnology. Between January 1 1998 and January 1 2003, articles in the ABI Inform/Proquest database that mentioned the term "nanotechnology" increased by 403%. This increase in attention paid to nanotechnology can be compared to mentions of the term "thermodynamics" which declined by 8%, the word "canine" which increased by 14%, and the technical term "scalars" which increased by 16%. Even though the total number of articles in the database may have increased, the proportion of articles and attention paid to nanotechnology is considerable. Yet, despite this increase in written media reports about nanotechnology, little research has tracked, categorized, or sought to understand how nanoscale science and technology is represented in written media.

Our purpose is not to validate the scientific truth or falsity of science reporting on nanotechnology but to report back to natural scientists, social scientists, and the science reporting community the specific ways nanoscience has been constructed in leading print media. With this information, social scientists would be positioned to better define their own nanoscience research agenda. In addition, this information could benefit those seeking normative and ethical judgments in this emerging field by providing a detailed record of contemporary interpretations, issues, and representations. From this established base, future studies can then compare our findings with on-line, television, film, radio, and other media representations of nanoscale work. In addition, our work will provide a 30 year baseline for future longitudinal studies and for comparative work with other geographies (e.g., global media).

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0423400. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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