Nanotechnology and the public: Effectively communicating nanoscale science and engineering concepts.
Castellini, O. M.
Journal of Nanoparticle Research
Vol. 9, Num. 2
How should researchers address the public on concepts and applications associated with nanotechnology? Catellini et al. investigated the public's general knowledge of nanotechnology so as to identify where and how to start a dialog with the public. They describe their approach as follows: "In order to define the public s baseline knowledge of nanotechnology,a seven-question survey was developed. This small questionnaire tested the public s knowledge of size scale, atoms, and nanotechnology as well as their attitudes towards nanotechnology.The questionnaire was administered at two Wisconsin public schools, a children s science museum and a large shopping center. In total, 495 people ranging from 7 to 91 years-of-age with varying levels of education participated in the study." (184)
Results showed that many (at all age levels) had difficulty with basic size-order concepts needed to understand nanotechnology. Further, "41% of respondents reported that they had heard of nanotechnology. Of those, only 42%were able to correctly define it. Correct definitions included mentioning a type of technology and small size. When asked where they had heard of nanotechnology, the most prevalent responses were mass media outlets including television, magazines and newspapers." (185) Most respondents had a neutral response to the "promise/perils" of nanotechnology.
Based on these results, Castellini et. al offer commentary and advice for scientists communicating with the public. First, the "primary challenges for engaging with audiences about technology topics in general are...understan[d]ing what prior knowledge and misconceptions a specific audience brings." (187) Specifically, "it is crucial to appreciate that people understand basic underlying facts about atoms and size but are often unable to conceptualize broader concepts. Effective communication requires...re-teaching these basic concepts about atoms and size scale before jumping into the details of research."
(187) They conclude, "[i]n our experience, such an approach can lead to a more positive attitude about the new technology topic being covered." (187)