"Exploring the Nanoworld" is a valuable resource for educators and students who want to learn and teach about nanotechnology. It's a project of the Interdisciplinary Education Group at the University of Wisconsin's Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.
Among their offerings are several teaching modules and activities. For example, on the subject of "medical nanobots," they suggest this approach:
Medical nanobots will have the capability to do the following:
- Fight disease
- Repair organs
- Collect data, i.e. white and/or red blood cell count, blood sugar levels
Offer the following scenario:
A new company has recently developed several types of medical nanobots. Within the next few years, a local hospital plans to begin using these nanobots in medical treatment. Before they do, the hospital administration has gathered together representatives from a number of different areas to help answer some important questions --
- Should the medical nanobots be used at all?
- Who will pay for the nanobots (e.g., insurance companies, government, private corporations, individuals, or other)?
- Should their use be limited (e.g., otherwise terminal patients, and injuries/diseases vs. congenital problems vs. old age)?
- Who gets to control the information that nanobots can gather?
- Should they be available everywhere or only in certain controlled areas? Who will pay for the controlled areas?
- Who will pay for the special safeguards that nanobots may require? Who is responsible if such safeguards should fail?
- Who is responsible for harm resulting from nanobots?
- Should use be mandated in certain cases (contagious diseases, for instance)?
- Do health care workers need permission from patients before nanobots can be used?
- Should nanobots be allowed to modify genetic patterns?
We believe students will be well-served if teachers will encourage them to ask and answer these and similar questions.
Finally, there is this closing statement from the Interdisciplinary Education Group with which we agree:
We hope that students will see more clearly that new technologies do not simply spontaneously come into existence, but are the result of social forces as much as physical ones. The choices that people make are important -- including the choices that the students make. Remind them that new technologies usually have both positive and negative aspects and individually we should all evaluate the technology.