Clean, Green and Unseen
From the 3-part series Nanotechnology: The Power of Small: Nanotechnology (2008)

Nanotechnology already offers new and improved consumer products, from sunscreen and eye shadow to car wax and food supplements. It seems certain to provide solutions for some of our worst environmental problems and lead the way to a more sustainable future. The solutions cover the spectrum from monitoring, reducing and cleaning up pollution to creating cleaner, cheaper energy sources, new solar power technologies, lighter and stronger construction materials for cars and other vehicles for improved fuel efficiencies, and processes to inactivate and/or remove a wide range of toxic substances from water and soil; all may be possible through advances in nanotechnology.

In this program the hypothetical scenario takes us to the town of Sunnyville. People there are thrilled with the jobs and developments promised by a new Solar Synergies plant for manufacturing highly efficient, nanotech solar cells. Plus, the technology could put a big dent in the nation’s fuel bills. However, there are no good data to predict the risk these nanomaterials pose to city residents or the environment. Should plant construction go forward? Who determines the risks—the company, the university that holds the patent, or the government? Do we need new regulations to govern production and use of these and other nanomaterials, or are the laws we have adequate? Moderator John Hockenberry leads the panelists through a series of dilemmas that challenge them to examine their own principles and wrestle with the ideas that others present.

Funders: U. S. Department of Energy; National Science Foundation