A free public forum, “Nano-Meeter,” will inform attendees about cutting edge nanotechnology and nanoscale materials in a campus presentation this Thursday, courtesy of a number of scientific campus organizations.

UCSB’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Materials Research Lab and the California NanoSystems Institute are co-sponsoring the event, to be held from 7 to 8 p.m. on March 11 at the University Club of Santa Barbara. All Santa Barbara community members are invited to join, regardless of scientific background or inclination. Professor Brad Chmelka, who will be leading the Nano-Meeter discussion, is currently conducting nanotechnology research and teaching chemical engineering.

Julie Dillemuth, Education Director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, said Nano-Meeter events are designed to stimulate dialog about nanotechnology between the public, scientists and engineers.

“Based on the success of our past events, we’ve found that people in our local area are interested in having a chance to talk to scientists, engineers and social scientists about cutting edge research happening on campus and new, emerging technologies, and discussing how these technologies might impact various aspects of our lives,” Dillemuth said.

Sociology and global studies professor Richard Appelbaum, who serves as Co-Principal Investigator at the CNS, said nanotechnology involves working at the very small scale of 1-100 nanometers — a nanometer being equal to a billionth of a meter.

“At this scale, when materials are manipulated using new technologies, they exhibit novel properties: great strength, efficient filtration, ultra-fast — and carbon, meaning biologically-based — computing, et cetera,” Appelbaum said.

To put the scale in perspective, Dillemuth said, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide. Dillemuth added that forces act differently at this minute scale of atoms and molecules.

“For example, we experience gravity as a pretty significant force, but at the nanoscale, gravity is not as strong as other forces,” Dillemuth said. “The surface area of a nanoparticle is huge compared to its volume, so this changes the way it reacts with other materials compared to bulk-scale counterparts.”

Appelbaum said nanotechnology has many potential benefits in a broad expanse of fields, including medicine, transportation and computing.

“[One potential benefit of nanotechnology is] targeted drug delivery, achieved by constructing nanoscale particles that migrate and bond with specific types of cancer cells, which are then selectively destroyed, thereby offering a non-invasive cure for cancer without the toxic side effects of radiation and chemotherapy,” Appelbaum said.

Dillemuth said nanotechnology studies can contribute to research on water, the environment and energy, to name a few.

“Nanomaterials are also currently found in over 800 consumer products, ranging from sunscreen and cosmetics to sports equipment and food preparation items,” Dillemuth said.

While Dillemuth also noted potentially harmful risks associated with this research, such as the negative effects on the lungs from inhaling nanoparticles, Appelbaum said many of the perceived risks tend to be overstated.

“Potential risks involve materials that can enter the body — because of their small scale — and create harm,” Appelbaum said. “These are potential, since not a great deal is known yet about specific risks. Risks also tend to be overrated, since once nanomaterials are assembled into usable products, the risks diminish.”

Chmelka was unavailable for comment at press time.