Blogs are typically considered a haven for self-expression, alternative journalism and politics, but last month the Center for Nanotechnology in Society put the technology to use for its own academic ends.
Chris Newfield, an English professor at UCSB, started the blog, titled “Nanoscience and Nanosociety” as a means of informal communication between people associated with nanotechnology on campus. He said the Internet was a more convenient way for the center to share research than an academic publication, which may take between 18 and 24 months to publish findings.
He said blogs have the potential to be useful in other academic fields because they provide a way for researchers to hone ideas and findings before they are formally printed.
“Blogs are having a major impact on research, since they allow sharing of interim results, provisional findings, new but untested ideas, and many of the ingredients of creative thinking,” Newfield said.
Newfield also uses blog technology as a teaching tool for his English 193 Detective Fiction class this quarter. He said it is a good way for students to “actively learn” by conducting their own investigations and writing about them.
The 12 contributors to the Nanoscience and Nanosociety blog, located at centernanosociety.blogspot.com, are learning in much the same way. Contributors include graduate students studying nanotechnology, and Associate History Professor and Co-Director of the UCSB Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Patrick McCray.
McCray said the blog is successful, though it is in its early stages, and said the readership may increase because the content is interesting and pertinent.
“Blogs, of course, are only as useful and informative as the people writing for them and so far we have a good set of people sending in their thoughts and offering comments,” McCray said.
The blending of nanoscience, society and culture in the blog links directly to the center’s main concern, which is to study the social effects of nanotechnology.
According to the CNS-UCSB website, nanotechnology is the study of particles whose critical components are very small. Newfield said science on the nanoscale, which is approximately a billionth of a meter, is important because materials act differently at different sizes.
Because it involves research at such a small scale, Newfield said nanotechnology is not just limited to a certain department.
“Nanoscience is also important because it is a place where fields that usually don’t work together, like molecular biology and electrical engineering, converge to solve common problems,” Newfield said.
Nanotechnology affects society because it involves new technologies that could be used by the average citizen, according to the center’s website.
Newfield said the center is currently researching a number of topics, including the affects of certain nanoscale particles on the body and in the environment, anti-nano social movements and the global spread of nanotechnology.
“Nanosociety could be a great thing and one of our overall goals is to help it turn out as well as possible,” Newfield said. “We have our hands full, and the blog is one of the tools we’re using to move things along.”