Sign up for our e-mail list for updates and socially responsible job listings.

Student Pugwash USA
1015 18th St. NW
Suite 704
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202 429-8900
Fax: 202 429-8905

Alumni, stay in touch - Send us your info


Nanotechnology – The Next Revolution

Ethical Questions


If nanotechnology is developed as it is foreseen by many optimistic researchers, it would revolutionize many industries, such as computing, military, security and medicine. Although many problems the world is facing now could be solved by nanotechnology, the potential harm from abusing nanotechnology is astonishing. For example, diseases like cancer could be treated much better but also new weapons (including biological and chemical) could be developed using the same technology.
Who should have the right to research, sell, and use the new technology? Should governments regulate nanotechnology research in order to prevent any misuse? How could they achieve that goal? What are the drawbacks of government regulations? Would an international treaty between all major nanotechnology researching nations help?


Hypothetical Scenario:
You are a senior advisor of the President of the United States on the field of emerging technologies which includes the large topic of nanotechnology. Five years ago, the US Government increased research funding for Molecular Nanotechnology (MNT) to $ 200 billion per year, in contrast to the actual current funding of around $ 800 million per year.

In a recently published article in the magazine MNT TODAY, the leading US researcher on nanotechnology, Gray G. Nano, has announced that in three years the technology will be so far advanced that the first simple assemblers could be built making many products easier, faster and cheaper to build. One of the major consequences of this technological advancement would be that millions of manufacturing and engineering jobs would become needless – the unemployment rate would increase dramatically.
What advice would you give President X?


Hypothetical Scenario: After working for 20 years on molecular nanotechnology, you have become a leading scientist in medical nanotechnology. You get a job offer from MtC Corp., a huge multinational chemical medicine company, who wants to develop a new method of recognizing diseases and producing medicine by using molecular nanotechnology. As there is no other scientist with your expertise in this field, they want to pay you a salary of $ 1,000,000 to join their research team.

You know that if the project is successful nearly all diseases could be cured and many people who suffer could get help. The company would probably become the world leader in medical products.
Would you accept their offer?

You later learn that the company is located on the Cayman Islands and does not have to obey most of the national and international rules. Without any government regulation, it could also use the scientific outcome to develop new biological and chemical weapons in order to sell them to different states, although they deny pursuing this goal.

Would you accept their offer under these circumstances?