Teaching Ethics and Nanotechnology

Ethics Education is an increasingly important component of the pre-professional training of scientists. Funding agencies (NSF, NIH) require training of graduate students in the responsible conduct of research, employers are increasingly expecting their workers to have basic training in ethics, and the public demands the highest standards of ethical conduct by scientists. Yet, few faculty have the requisite training to effectively teach about ethics in their classes, or even informally in mentoring students working in their labs.

This module has been developed to meet the need of introducing ethics education into the STEM curriculum:

  • For faculty, resources, case studies, and teaching activities are provided to facilitate instruction in ethics within established geo "core" courses or in a dedicated course on "Ethics and Nanoscience";
  • For students, resources are provided to help expand their understanding of ethical situations that may arise in their careers, and to give them the tools they need to appropriately address these issues.
  • To start: Take a look at this video on The Ethics of Nanotechnology--developed by the Microelectronics Research Center, University of Texas-Austin.

Responsible Conduct of Science

Much of the ethics training in the STEM disciplines is focused on the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). This training is now a requirement for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows supported by research grants from the National Science Foundation. The following is a collection of resources that support training in RCR. Responsible conduct of research focuses on the ethical "doing of science" and enompasses topics such as: plagiarism, falsification of data, treatment of data and data management, negligence, fraud, laboratory safety, authorship, peer review, publication, collaboration, intellectual property, conflicts of interest, reproduciblity, and reporting and whistleblowing. A collection of resources that address these topics is available at

Responsible Conduct of Research--initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Professionalism: Responsible Conduct of Scientists

Beyond Responsible Conduct of Research, attention to the Responsible Conduct of Scientists is every bit as important for the progress of Science--ensuring that EVERYONE has the right to a safe, inclusive welcoming, and productive work environment. Professionalism in the STEM disciplines refers to the behaviors and attitudes of scientists and engineers as they interact with colleagues in the work environment and with the public in serving a wide variety of societal needs. The following topics address numerous issues of professionalism that impact the ability of scientists to do their work and for Science to progress. Please use this module as a guide for self-assessment of your classes, lab, department or program. Are there issues that you should be aware of? The goal is to help identify instances of unprofessional conduct, to prevent these from becoming major issues, and to provide the support to encourage scientists to act to mitigate and resolve these issues.

How to Use this Module: We have assembled a large collection of references and related resources on topics that impact professional practice and workplace "climate". Use these resources to start the conversation: in your classes, in the coffee room, in departmental meetings and seminars. These issues cannot remain an "open secret" and demand to be explicitly addressed. Use the resources in this module to discuss with colleagues/students and for personal reflection. Are you doing all you can to ensure that your work environment ascribes to the highest standards of professionalism?

Be Prepared--And an Ounce of Prevention

Administrators, faculty, staff, students, managers and co-workers may encounter all manner of interpersonal conflicts that may affect the safety and productivity of the work environment. Know how to recognize the signs of potential trouble, intervene early to prevent a bad situation, know the rules, and have a plan in place about how you can respond to mitigate impacts. Here are some thoughts on how to prepare:

  • Be Prepared blog post on Earth and Mind and presentation (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 5.8MB Dec11 16) made to the 2017 AGU Heads and Chairs meeting session on Addressing Harassment and Improving Workplace Climate by David Mogk.

Topics Addressed in this Module:

This module on Professionalism was initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. Although examples may derive from the Geosciences, the principles presented are universal among the STEM disciplines. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Ethics and Self: Personal Dispositions

How do students learn right from wrong in their pre-professional training in the geosciences? Personal value systems are developed in the context of the values and expectations of the profession, but ultimately individuals are responsible for their own value systems and behaviors. Goals of training scientists in Ethics include 1) developing the ability of to recognize ethical dilemmas and their implications, and 2) providing a "toolkit" of strategies and practices to employ ethical decision-making to address these issues. This website includes reflections on self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors, how to address controversial issues, critical-thinking, personal values, and moral decision-making. A collection of resources that address these topics is available at:

Ethics and Self--initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Ethical Decision-Making and Assessment of Moral Reasoning

Ethical Reasoning Can Be Taught: Ethical reasoning is a way of thinking about issues of right and wrong. Processes of reasoning can be taught, and school is an appropriate place to teach them. the reason that, although parents and religious schools may teach ethics, they don ot always teach ethical reasoning. See the article by: Sternberg, Robert J. Teaching for Ethical Reasoning in Liberal Education. Liberal Education 96.3 (2010): 32-37.

And, like learning to play baseball or play the violin, it's important to practice early and often. This module presents a Seven-step guide to ethical decision-making (Davis, M. (1999) Ethics and the university, New York: Routledge, p. 166-167.

Strategies for ethical decision-making can be accessed at Ethical Decision-Making--encourage students to use and practice these strategies that can be used in a wide range of emergent ethical challenges they will face in their careers and personal lives.

For faculty: Class activities can routinely be built into any STEM class to present ethical issues and dilemmas for students to address. We provide additional resources on Methods of Assessment of Ethical Reasoning, Values, Moral Thinking.

Ethics and Impacts of Nanotechnology on Society

O brave new world! The nanotechnology revolution has opened the door of possibilities to technical wonders beyond our wildest imagination. But, this also open the door to many ethical issues regarding the responsible development of nanotechnology: how are new nano-products introduced to society; how are decisions made (and by whom) regarding the development and use of these technologies; how do nano-products impact the environment and by extension human health; what are the (often irreversible) consequences of developing and using nano-products? The law of "unintended consequences" should be considered across the interests to nanotechnology and nanoscience (see Tenner, 2001 below). Topics related to Ethics and Nanotechology include:

  • Health
  • Environmental
  • Safety in the lab
  • Privacy
  • Intellectual property
  • Terrorism
  • Defense/Military applications
  • Society (policy issues)
  • Economics
  • Justice
Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues are comprehensively addressed by Nano.gov, and provide resources and fact sheets from NIST, NIOSH, OSHA, EPA, USDA, USGS, NIEHS, and FDA.

Resources and recommended readings regarding Ethics and Nanotechnology can be accessed at:

  • The National Nanotechnology Initiative (Nano.gov) site on Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues
  • The National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure program has numerous nodes that address Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology
    • National Coordinated Infrastructure-Southwest. "The NCI-SW SEI program builds on the research and programs developed at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS), an NSF funded Center at Arizona State University that ran from 2005-2016. The goal of the SEI program is to make available the tools that were initiated at CNS to a wide range of researchers. The program does that through two major initiatives: SEI User Facility – Scholars at Arizona State University have been working for over a decade to develop a number of tools that can help scholars better study the social aspects of emerging technologies. We are making those tools – including things like scenario planning, laboratory engagements, collaborating with natural scientists and engineers, engaging with the public, and museum collaborations – available to other scholars through an SEI User Facility. Scholars interested in being introduced to these tools and finding ways to integrate them into their research are invited to visit ASU for a visit (of lengths from 1 day to several months) to learn from faculty and postdocs.

      Science Outside the Lab – Every summer NCI-SW sponsors a week long "Science Outside the Lab" program on nanotechnology. Science Outside the Lab brings a small cohort of graduate student scientists and engineers to Washington, D.C. to explore the relationships among science, innovation, and policy. The goal is to expose participants to as many different viewpoints as possible and help them understand how people and institutions influence and learn from science. Participants will meet and interact with congressional staffers, lobbyists, funding agency officers, regulators, journalists, academics, museum curators, and others to learn how and why nanotechnology and other emerging technologies are funded, regulated, shaped, critiqued, and publicized. Applications for the program are usually requested each winter.

Center for Nantoechnology in Society--Arizona State University; extensive resources for research education, outreach and much more. See their site on Nanoquestions: an FAQ for Nanotechnology

    • Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor: "The aim of the SEI work at SENIC is to increase attention to application of nanotechnology, while still attending to social and ethical implications. This work is based at Georgia Institute of Technology. There are two main SEI activities at SENIC: (1) nanoinformatics, which involves the development of nanotechnology publication and patent databases for use in informing and guiding SENIC, and (2) design and exercise development with attention to social and ethical activities important to nanotechnology that parallels the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) process. Nanoinformatics – Georgia Tech assembles and analyzes datasets based on Web of Science publication and PATSTAT patent information. These datasets have been obtained using a search strategy described in an article published in Scientometrics, 2013 Capturing new developments in an emerging technology: an updated search strategy for identifying nanotechnology research outputs. We use this information to inform SENIC participants about trends in nanotechnology so that they can stay abreast of future scientific and technological needs. We also use this information to help broaden participation in SENIC by targeting potential new users in the region.
    • Research Ethics Program University of California, San Diego: "The Research Ethics Program was founded in 1997 to promote research integrity and to provide training in responsible conduct of research for the UC San Diego campus. The Program provided a foundation for research on research integrity, resources for teachers of research ethics (Center for Ethics in Science and Technology). Although a focus on ethics in nanotechnology is new to UC San Diego, plans are underway to add this topic to the research ethics resources website, and at least one program is now being scheduled through the Ethics Center. Programs of the Ethics Center are captured by UCSD-TV, which reports that on average, subsequent views of each program are in excess of 125,000.
    • NNCI Texas Nanofabrication Facility--"LeeAnn" Kahlor, Ph.D., is the Director of Social and Ethical Implications (SEI) for the NNCI Texas Nanofabrication Facility at the University of Texas at Austin. Kahlor also is the Associate Director of the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at UT. Kahlor's team conducts qualitative and quantitative research on 1) scientists information seeking and sharing related to SEI, 2) perceived barriers to the integration of SEI into the workplace, and 3) how organizational roles may work against such integration. The team's goals are to publish initial findings, while concurrently developing and piloting an evidence-based SEI training module that can help integrate SEI into the workplace in meaningful ways".
    • Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network--David Berube leads the societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology (SEIN) team for the RTNN, a partnership between NC State University, Duke University, and UNC Chapel Hill. The RTNN SEIN team conducts research on "Team Science," writes a blog called [link https://www.rtnn.ncsu.edu/resources-for-society/nano-hype-blog 'Nano Hype'] and offers a variety of materials to help scientists, teachers, students, and the general public better understand the societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology.
  • Center for Nanotechnology in Society--University of California at Santa Barbara (NSF-supported). and Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology
  • The Nanoethics Group--Cal State San Luis Obispo; excellent resources including exploration of The Issues.
  • Ethics Instructional Resources--from the collections of nanoHub developed at Purdue University.

Journal Articles and Books of Interest to Ethics and Nanotechnology/science

(This is not an exhaustive compilation-- but a place to start for explorations of ethics and nanotechnology with students in your research lab and classrooms).


Journal Articles:

  • JOURNAL: 'NanoEthics' Studies of New and Emerging Technologies--Journal published by Springer, online volumes from 2007-2018.
  • Allhoff, F. (2009). On the autonomy and justification of nanoethics. In Nanotechnology & society (pp. 3-38). Springer, Dordrecht.
  • Arnaldi, S., Ferrari, A., Magaudda, P., and Marin, F., 2014, Responsibility in nanotechnology development, Springer.
  • Berne, R. W., 2005, Nanotalk: Conversations with scientists and engineers about ethics, meaning, and belief in the development of nanotechnology, CRC Press.
  • Bürgi, B. R., and Pradeep, T., 2006, Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology in developing countries: CURRENT SCIENCE-BANGALORE-, v. 90, no. 5, p. 645.
  • Chen, H., Roco, M. C., Son, J., Jiang, S., Larson, C. A., and Gao, Q., 2013, Global nanotechnology development from 1991 to 2012: patents, scientific publications, and effect of NSF funding: Journal of nanoparticle research, v. 15, no. 9, p. 1951.
  • Crow, M. M., and Sarewitz, D., 2001, Nanotechnology and societal transformation: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, p. 45.
  • David, K., and Thompson, P. B., 2011, What can nanotechnology learn from biotechnology?: social and ethical lessons for nanoscience from the debate over agrifood biotechnology and GMOs, Academic Press.
  • Dunphy Guzman, K. A., Taylor, M. R., and Banfield, J. F., 2006, Environmental risks of nanotechnology: National nanotechnology initiative funding, 2000− 2004, ACS Publications.
  • Ferrari, A. (2010). Developments in the debate on nanoethics: traditional approaches and the need for new kinds of analysis. NanoEthics, 4(1), 27-52.
  • Fisher, E., 2007, The convergence of nanotechnology, policy, and ethics: Advances in Computers, v. 71, p. 273-296.
  • Giese, B., Klaessig, F., Park, B., Kaegi, R., Steinfeldt, M., Wigger, H., Gleich, A., and Gottschalk, F., 2018, Risks, release and concentrations of engineered nanomaterial in the environment: Scientific reports, v. 8, no. 1, p. 1565.
  • Godwin, H. A., Chopra, K., Bradley, K. A., Cohen, Y., Harthorn, B. H., Hoek, E. M. V., Holden, P., Keller, A. A., Lenihan, H. S., Nisbet, R. M., and Nel, A. E., 2009, The University of California Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology†: Environmental Science & Technology, v. 43, no. 17, p. 6453-6457.
  • Hogle, Linda F., 2009, Science, Ethics, and the "Problems" of Governing Nanotechnologies: The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, v. 37, no. 4, p. 749-758.
  • Hoover, E., Brown, P., Averick, M., Kane, A., and Hurt, R., 2009, Teaching small and thinking large: Effects of including social and ethical implications in an interdisciplinary nanotechnology course: Journal of Nano Education, v. 1, no. 1, p. 86-95.
  • Keiper, A., Nanoethics as a discipline--The New Atlantis Journal of Technology and Society.
  • Laherto, A. (2010). An analysis of the educational significance of nanoscience and nanotechnology in scientific and technological literacy. Science Education International, 21(3), 160-175.
  • Lead, J. R., Aruguete, D. M., and Hochella Jr, M. F., 2010, Manufactured nanoparticles in the environment: Environmental Chemistry, v. 7, no. 1, p. 1-2.
  • McGinn, R. E. (2010). What's different, ethically, about nanotechnology?: foundational questions and answers. Nanoethics, 4(2), 115-128.
  • Mnyusiwalla, A., Daar, A. S., and Singer, P. A., 2003, 'Mind the gap': science and ethics in nanotechnology: Nanotechnology, v. 14, no. 3, p. R9.
  • National Science and Technology Council, C. o. T., Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, and Engineering, a. T., 2014, National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan p. 88.
  • Nordmann, A., and Rip, A., 2009, Mind the gap revisited: Nature nanotechnology, v. 4, no. 5, p. 273.
  • Oberdörster, G., Maynard, A., Donaldson, K., Castranova, V., Fitzpatrick, J., Ausman, K., Carter, J., Karn, B., Kreyling, W., and Lai, D., 2005, Principles for characterizing the potential human health effects from exposure to nanomaterials: elements of a screening strategy: Particle and fibre toxicology, v. 2, no. 1, p. 8.
  • Rasch, P. J., Tilmes, S., Turco, R. P., Robock, A., Oman, L., Chen, C.-C. J., Stenchikov, G. L., and Garcia, R. R., 2008, An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, v. 366, no. 1882, p. 4007-4037.
  • Renn, O., and Roco, M. C., 2006, Nanotechnology and the need for risk governance: Journal of Nanoparticle Research, v. 8, no. 2, p. 153-191.
  • Scheufele, D. A., and Brossard, D., 2008, Nanotechnology as a Moral Issue? Religion and Science in the US: NANOTECHNOLOGY, v. 21, no. 1.
  • Seaton, A., Tran, L., Aitken, R., and Donaldson, K., 2009, Nanoparticles, human health hazard and regulation: Journal of the Royal Society Interface, p. rsif20090252.
  • Sweeney, A. E., 2006, Social and ethical dimensions of nanoscale science and engineering research: Science and Engineering Ethics, v. 12, no. 3, p. 435-464.
  • Swierstra, T., and Rip, A., 2007, Nano-ethics as NEST-ethics: Patterns of Moral Argumentation About New and Emerging Science and Technology: NanoEthics, v. 1, no. 1, p. 3-20
  • Temple, J., 2018, Will the world ever be ready for solar geoengineering?(vol 96, pg 28, 2018): Chemical & Engineering News, v. 96, no. 14, p. 5-5.
  • Tenner, E., 2001, Nanotechnology and unintended consequences: Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, v. 50, no. 2, p. 311.
  • Van de Poel, I. (2008). How should we do nanoethics? A network approach for discerning ethical issues in nanotechnology. NanoEthics, 2(1), 25-38.
  • Weil, V., 2001, Ethical issues in nanotechnology: Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, v. 193.
  • Wiesner, M. R., Lowry, G. V., Alvarez, P., Dionysiou, D., and Biswas, P., 2006, Assessing the risks of manufactured nanomaterials, ACS Publications

Some Societal Issues Related to Nanoscience

  • Bainbridge, W. S., 2013, Converging technologies for improving human performance: Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science, Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Bainbridge, W. S., and Roco, M. C., 2006, Progress in convergence, Blackwell Pub. on behalf of the New York Academy of Sciences.
  • Chen, H., Roco, M. C., Son, J., Jiang, S., Larson, C. A., and Gao, Q., 2013, Global nanotechnology development from 1991 to 2012: patents, scientific publications, and effect of NSF funding: Journal of nanoparticle research, v. 15, no. 9, p. 1951.
  • Roco, C., and Bainbridge, W. S., 2002, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance NANOTECHNOLOGY, BIOTECHNOLOGY, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE.
  • Roco, M. C., 2003, Broader societal issues of nanotechnology: Journal of Nanoparticle Research, v. 5, no. 3-4, p. 181-189.
  • Roco, M. C., 2011, The long view of nanotechnology development: the National Nanotechnology Initiative at 10 years, Springer.
  • Roco, M. C., and Bainbridge, W. S., 2002, Converging technologies for improving human performance: Integrating from the nanoscale: Journal of nanoparticle research, v. 4, no. 4, p. 281-295.
  • Roco, M. C., and Bainbridge, W. S., 2005, Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology: Maximizing human benefit: Journal of Nanoparticle Research, v. 7, no. 1, p. 1-13.
  • Roco, M. C., Harthorn, B., Guston, D., and Shapira, P., 2011, Innovative and responsible governance of nanotechnology for societal development, Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020, Springer, p. 561-617.
Regulation: cosmetic, food, pesticides, regarding labeling for consumer products; nano additives to commercial products?

Responsibility for consumer safety: (cosmetics); put on label "nano" consumer can decide, whether or not evidence is there about if it is dangerous or not. burden of deccision making is on unaware consumer, not on the regulators themselves. Regulations are too out front of consumer ability to know. What is the responsibiility or reporting to the community. Can we even measure and describe the nanoparticles appropriately. Flip side: enforcement. No methods to measure, so can't report.