How Media's Representation of 'Nanotechnology" Is Shaping Public's Opinion

[A photograph for newspaper use is available at]

Newswise — In recent years the term "nanotechnology" has appeared with dramatically increased frequency in newspapers and news magazines. From January 1, 1998, to January 1, 2003, use of the term in print media increased by more that 400 percent.

"With potential nanotechnology applications across a broad spectrum ranging from disease treatment to computer memory, to environmental pollution control, public awareness of the field is clearly growing fast," says Brenton Faber, associate professor of Communication & Media at Clarkson University. "But little research has tracked, categorized or sought to understand how nanoscale science and technology is represented in written media."

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Faber and a team of research assistants are now analyzing how nanoscience and nanotechnology are being defined, presented and perceived. This information is important, he explains, because the media plays a major role in "framing" issues, such as a new technology's "promise" or "threat," in the public mind. And those public perceptions lead to political agendas and government policies.

"By understanding this media presentation," Faber points out, "scientists will be better able to define their own nanoscience agenda." He notes, for example, a spike in attention following publication of Michael Crichton's novel Swarm, which depicts potential horror from self-replicating, out-of-control nanobots.

The media study is related to an NSF-sponsored interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum project in nanomaterials science and engineering in which Faber is collaborating with Clarkson University Chemical Engineering professors Ian Suni and Donald Rasmussen. They are producing three modules that will be available worldwide via hypermedia software in 2006.

Faber's research interests include not only the areas of discourse analysis related to social and technological change and workplace communication, but he is also interested in communication and organizational change. In 2002 he published Community Action & Organizational Change: Image, narrative and identity.

Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York, is an independent university with a reputation for developing innovative leaders in engineering, business and the arts and sciences. Its academically rigorous, collaborative culture involves 2,700 undergraduates and 400 graduate students in hands-on team projects, multidisciplinary research, and real-world challenges. Many faculty members achieve international recognition for their scholarship and research, and teaching is a priority at every level. For more information, visit

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