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Nano Carta: School Pupils Debate the Ethics of Nano

The Nano Carta
The Nano Carta.
Image Credit: Institute of Nanotechnology.

A second UK schools debate, part of a series of public engagement activities being held across Europe, takes place in Bristol on Tuesday 20th March. This follows on from the highly successful “Nanotechonology to detect the freshness of packaged food” debate that took place at Smithycroft Secondary School in Glasgow on Wednesday 14th.

The event brought together a high-profile panel of expert speakers, including Professor Lee Cronin, University of Glasgow, who spoke eloquently on the wide uses and potential benefits of nano, including the use of nano in robotics; Dr David Thompson, University of Strathclyde, who highlighted applications of nano in detecting DNA; Brendan Casey of Kelvin Nanotechnology, who spoke about design and fabrication as well as biomimetics; and Donald Bruce from Edinethics, who raised the ethical issues surrounding vested interests and underlying motivations, and questioned whether smart packaging that informs consumers when food has ‘gone off’ may in fact encourage an increase in food waste. He also raised the issue of safe disposal of such packaging. Meanwhile, Matt Hodgeman, DHT of Smithycroft Secondary School, pointed to the effects of nanoparticles on the environment, for example in the use of nanosilver in textiles such as underwear.

Pupils had the opportunity to address related matters, such as “Who benefits and who funds nanotechnology? Is it always necessary? And, “Is it safe?” They also discovered the individual motivation underlying each panelist’s decision to become a nanoscientist.

As reported by the University of Bristol, ( Tuesday’s debate will feature pupils in Years 10 and 11 at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School, Bristol together with a group of Bristol University PhD students from the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials [BCFN] who have been teaching pupils about the theory and practical challenges of researching nanotechnology, with examples from their own PhD research.

Dr Annela Seddon, Teaching and Research Fellow in the BCFN and Lecturer in the School of Physics, said: "Our postgraduates have already been engaging in lively and thoughtful debate with Year 10 students about the benefits and ethical implications of nanotechnology through a moderated Facebook group.

"Tuesday's event will bring everyone's thoughts together and enable us to write what we're calling a 'Nano Carta' – a document prepared by students to act as an ethical code for nanotechnology.

"The whole project has been a fantastic opportunity for both staff and pupils at St Mary Redcliffe and everyone from the BCFN. We all very much hope that it has been thought-provoking and will inspire a new generation of students to study science and engineering."

As with the Glasgow school debate, experts will be present and on this occasion will join with the pupils to look at the benefits and ethical implications of using nanoscience to diagnose diseases. The outcomes of the event will help form an ethical code for nanotechnology looking at privacy issues, acceptance, human health, access, liability, regulation and control.

These public engagement events are part of the EC funded Nanochannels project. The project itself is a collaboration between schools all over Europe in partnership with The Institute of Nanotechnology (UK), The Guardian, EuropeanSchoolnet, and El Mundo, alongside other educational networks, socio-scientific research institutes and media channels throughout the EU. The Nanochannels' goal is to design and undertake a programme of communication on nanotechnology through a variety of media channels and outreach events, including the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and live debates. The result will be a set of policy recommendations to the European Commission concerning governance and best practice for communication of nanotechnology issues.

Source: Institute of Nanotechnology/University of Bristol /...

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