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October 4, 2007

Poll Gauges Public Knowledge of Nanotechnology

Lynn L. Bergeson

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has released the findings of a national survey that indicates Americans’ awareness of nanotechnology remains low.  The fact that only 6 percent of Americans say they have “heard a lot” about nanotechnology is surprising, given that approximately $50 billion worth of nano-goods were on the market in 2006 — a number that is growing quickly. Specific survey questions examined opinions on the safety of our food system, as well as the use of nanotechnology in food packaging and products.

Of particular interest to nanotechnology stakeholders are the following two findings from the poll. First, just over half of the public are unwilling to make any judgment about the anticipated risks and benefits of nanotechnology, while 25 percent of Americans think risks and benefits will be about equal. Of the remainder, 18 percent say benefits will outweigh risks and 6 percent think risks will exceed benefits. Second, once provided with a brief description of the potential benefits and potential risks of nanotechnology, those who completely lack awareness of it are significantly more likely to shift to the opinion that the risks will outweigh benefits. Among the 42 percent of adults who had heard nothing at all about nanotechnology, the proportion who said risks will outweigh benefits increased 27 points, from 4 percent to 31 percent, after being read a statement about potential risks and benefits.