An expert on nanotechonology makes a stop in Madison. Dr. Andrew Maynard is a nanotech expert from the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington D.C. He says there are benefits and risks associated with nantechnology. “We’re doing things differently, we’re manipulating matter in new ways so it behaves in different ways, and of course there’s a question about whether that creates new risks,” Maynard says. “That’s where the nub of the legitimate concern is: are we doing things which could cause harm in new ways, and how are we going to manage that?”

Maynard, in Madison for a briefing to the Assembly Committee on Public Health, says there are two issues surrounding nanotech. “One is how nanotechnology is going to revitalize local economies, create jobs, create wealth. But it’s also the question of how you’re going avoid harm to constituents and harm to the environment. And I think state authorities have got responsibilities in both of those areas.”

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Maynard, asked for a definition of nanotechnology which an average person might be able to understand, refers to one given by Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley, who called nanotechnology “the art and the science of building stuff that does stuff at a nanometer scale.” Maynard says that definition “captures that idea of doing things differently at a very fine scale, so we can do new things.”

“Many people talk about nanotechnology as being an enabling technology, so it allows you to do other things,” says Maynard. “Perhaps most importantly, it gives you a new set of tools, to address some of the big challenges we face as a society, including global climate change, including how we develop new sources of energy and use energy more efficiently.” 

Maynard says there’s little comparison between nanotech and the still contentious issue of genetically modified foods. “Genetically modified foods . . . was about doing things differently,” he says. “But that was also about companies making decisions without people being a part of that decision making process. Nanotechnology is much wider than genetic engineering . . . but it’s also a very different process in terms of how the technology is being developed, in how decisions are being made.”

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