Nanotechnology will be an increasing part of the everyday lives of most people in the world. There is a general recognition that few people understand the implications of the technology, the technology itself or even the definition of the word. This lack of understanding stems from a lack of knowledge about science in general but more specifically difficulty in grasping the size scale and symbolism of nanotechnology. A potential key to informing the general public is establishing the ability to comprehend the scale of nanotechnology. Transitioning from the macro to the nanoscale seems to require an ability to comprehend scales of one-billion. Scaling is a skill not common in most individuals and tests of their ability to extrapolate size based upon scaling a common object demonstrates that most individuals cannot scale to the extent needed to make the transition to nanoscale. Symbolism is another important vehicle to providing the general public with a basis to understand the concepts of nanotechnology. With increasing age, individuals are able to draw representations of atomic scale objects, but these tend to be iconic and the different representations not easily translated. Ball and stick models are most recognized by the public, which provides an opportunity to present not only useful symbolism but also a reference point for the atomic scale.
Nanotechnology Public awareness Public understanding Survey Models Visualization Numbers Scale Symbols Societal implications
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
This work was supported by that National Science Foundation. The author thanks Anna Waldron for her help in conducting these studies and Natalie Broadwater for data analysis.
Laszlo P (2000) Playing with molecular models. Int J Phil Chem 6(1):85–97Google Scholar
Mills K, Fledderman C (2005) Getting the best from nanotechnology: approaching social and ethical implications openly and proactively. IEEE Tech Soc Magazine 24(4):18–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morrissey SR (2004) Harnessing nanotechnology. Chem Eng News 82(16):30–33Google Scholar
Parr D (2005) Will nanotechnology make the world a better place? Trends Biotechnol 23(8):395–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pasachoff JM (2003) What should students learn? Stellar magnitudes. Astro Educ Rev 2(2):162–165Google Scholar
Robinson WR (2000) Learning about atoms, molecules and chemical bonds: a case study of multiple-model use. J Chem Educ 77(9):1110–1111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roco MC (2003a) Broader Societal Issues of Nanotechnology. J Nanopart Res 5(3–4):181–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roco MC (2003b) Public affairs forum—national nanotechnology initiative to advance broad societal goals. MRS Bull 28(6):416Google Scholar
Roco MC, Bainbridge WS (2005) Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology: maximizing human benefit. J Nanopart Res 7(1):1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rodriguez MA, Niaz M (2004) A Reconstruction of structure of the atom and its implications for general physics textbooks: a history and philosophy of science perspective. J Sci Educ Tech 13(3):409–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scheufele DA, Lewenstein BV (2005) The public and nanotechnology: how citizens make sense of emerging technologies. J Nanopart Res 7:659–667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schulz WG (2004) Nanotechnology under the scope. Chem Eng News 82(10):23–24Google Scholar
Selin C (2007) Expectations and the emergence of nanotechnology. Sci Tech Human Values 32(2):196–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Service RF (2004) Nanotech forum aims to head off replay of past blunders. Science 306(5698):955CrossRefGoogle Scholar