Posted by: Craig | 25 February, 2008

Nanotechnology morality…

An interesting article I found recently stated that 70% of americans believe that nanotechnology is immoral :

“In a sample of 1,015 adult Americans, only 29.5 percent of respondents agreed that nanotechnology was morally acceptable.

In European surveys that posed identical questions about nanotechnology to people in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, significantly higher percentages of people accepted the moral validity of the technology. In the United Kingdom, 54.1 percent found nanotechnology to be morally acceptable. In Germany, 62.7 percent had no moral qualms about nanotechnology, and in France 72.1 percent of survey respondents saw no problems with the technology.”

This shocked me as firstly I had never even considered that a branch of materials science could be considered immoral, I have worked in this field for the last year and it is predominantly about engineering new nanoscale polymers/materials and discovering and understanding the reasons behind their properties so that potential applications can be considered from solar cells to potential ways of killing cancerous cells. The article states nanotechnology as :

“Nanotechnology is a branch of science and engineering devoted to the design and production of materials, structures, devices and circuits at the smallest achievable scale, typically in the realm of individual atoms and molecules.”

At first I would put this view of it being immoral down to ignorance of what it really is and people associating it with things such as stem cell research and maybe the romantic ideas of nanobots from science fiction but the article claims :

They still oppose it,” he says. “They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn’t about informing these people. They are informed.

and :

“In short, researchers are viewed as “playing God” when they create materials that do not occur in nature, especially where nanotechnology and biotechnology intertwine, says Scheufele.”

Which is an intersting statement as I understand the potenially morally grey areas when it comes to medical science but nanotechnology is still very much materials science and is only hovering around the edges of medical applications at the moment. So the question is, is it wrong to create new materials on theatomic level?

Well my thoughts go down the route where if we start to say that it is wrong to create new materials on the atomic level by making custom molecules to create improved materials with desired properties then shouldn’t we start asking ourselves whether it is wrong to mix things on the molecular level to create non naturally occuring materials, something we have done for many years. You could take this so far as to then question whether the production of steel is moral as that is us combining elements to produce an improved material that does not naturally occur, and steel holds so much of our society together today. A step further would be to say that as pure iron does not occur naturally that it is immoral to refine it out of iron oxide as iron is just a different combination of atoms to iron oxide in the same way as a carbon nanotube is a different combination of atoms to other organic materials.

Any way here is the link and I shall leave you to ponder this along with myself.



  1. Thanks for the share on that, Craig. An interesting thought on nanotechnology. It’s something I’ve followed with interest over my degree & still find fascinating.

    I’m in agreement with you re: picking & choosing which levels of customising materials you decide are wrong.

    Nanotechnology in Startrek was always fascinating though! I do wonder whether if we’ll reach the stage the Borg were portrayed at being within the next 10 years.

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