In the last decade nanotechnology made myriad inroads into mainstream society through products such as coatings on cell phones, antimicrobial socks, static-free pants, self-cleaning toilets, food packaging, solar paint, lighter and stronger baseball bats, lighter and damage- tolerant wind turbine blades, and fuel cells. More efficient methods of producing nanomaterials have been developed, and production volume has increased. These efforts are reducing the cost of nanomaterials. As the cost of nanomaterials decreases, more products using nanomaterials are being developed. Due to this explosive growth in nanotechnology, a dramatically increasing number of engineers and technologists will be involved in the manufacturing of nanomaterials and in the design, development, and manufacturing of products/ devices/systems that use nanomaterials.
With this new role, tomorrow‘s engineers and technologists will also need to assume responsibility for establishing safe practices for working with nanomaterials and for safeguarding the environment. In the absence of specialized training in issues related to health, safety, and environmental impacts of nanotechnology, the tendency will be either to focus only on optimizing performance and cost while incorporating nanomaterials without regard to health and safety concerns, or to be overly cautious and avoid using nanotechnology. Furthermore, since nanomaterials are a new class of materials, there exists a degree of uncertainty about long-term effects on health and the environment, making these decisions less clear-cut. Therefore, in order to realize the full potential of revolutionary nanotechnologies and at the same time minimize undesirable consequences, engineers and technologists need to be educated in how to judge health and safety risks, how to weigh ethical considerations, and how to make informed decisions. However, the majority of NSF-NUE funded projects have focused on teaching students about the development of products, devices, systems; and/or nanomaterials. Few projects focus on societal dimensions of nanotechnology.
This project proposes to develop, implement; and assess two modular courses dealing with nanotechnology safety. These courses include societal, ethical, environmental, health; and safety issues related to nanotechnology for undergraduates in engineering and engineering technology. The courses will be developed with the guidance of the Nanotechnology Advisory Council (NAC) made up of nanotechnology leaders from academia and industry. The NAC will assist in improving the quality of the contents in each course. The project will also have strong support from the NSF Nano-Link Center at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) and the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) at Duke University. This is a collaborative project between Texas State University, a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and the University of Texas at Tyler (UT Tyler), whose student population is 60 percent women. The proposed work will be conducted by a highly interdisciplinary team of faculty who will bring to the project their expertise from mechanical and manufacturing engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial education and technology, physics, biology, and philosophy and ethics.