Making small talk

3 Jul 2006

Dublin City University (DCU) is holding a public discussion on nanotechnology this week.

Scientists now have the means to manipulate materials at 100 nanometres, ie at thousandths of the width of a human hair. One nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre. To put it further in perspective, is the length your finger nails grow each second.

If you find this boggling, this Wednesday’s discussion could be for you. The talk is part of a research project and kicks off at 7pm. Entitled Nanotechnology — What’s the Big Deal, it will feature nanoscientists Prof Robert Forster and Dr Mike Hopkins.

Described by many as ‘the next big thing’, the promise of nanotechnology is such that the US government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars a year to research in this area. The Irish government is considering whether it should be making similar investments.

The background to the public discussion, project manager Brian Trench, head of the School of Communications at DCU, told, is that “DCU is conducting research on public attitudes to and awareness of nanotechnology as a new area of science technology that’s attracting interest in the international scientific community and the science funding communities and of which there are already some significant practitioners here in Ireland (Trinity College Dublin, Intel, Bell Labs)”.

He continued: “This is a relatively new area which has attracted a great deal of money and interest in the US in particular. Ireland has the option to decide that this too is an area of interest along with the other areas like biotechnology and information communication technologies and so on.”

The new science strategy published last week makes a few passing references to nanotechnology. Trench commented: “None of them represent any major commitment in this area but certainly show the Government and the state agencies are actively looking at this as an area of investment in research and development (R&D).” Prior to R&D investment decision being made, the event aims to discover what the current picture is regarding public awareness and public attitudes.

“We’re looking at what people know about it and what they care about it. If they know anything, are they hopeful or are they fearful? What benefits do they see? What applications are they interested?”

The event is open to anybody who is interested in finding what’s going on in science and who is interested in the future direction of science and the economy. It does not require prior knowledge of the area, added Trench. “We expect to get people who have some prior interest in science and technology issues, whether or not they are professionally involved or have an educational qualification in the area.”

The discussion takes place at 7pm this Wednesday (5 July) at DCU’s 1838 Club.

By Elaine Larkin