Nanotechnology/Nano and Society/Sample Syllabus

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(Below is a sample syllabus based on a course at Penn State University. Please feel free to remix and share.)


Everything on our Nanotransformations wiki is considered content for this course. If you see a link on this wikibook page, please click on it. Readings for a class date should be completed before the class, so please come prepared to discuss them. Wiki Activities indicate required wiki assignments, in addition to which you are expected to post a minimum three times weekly to your blog. Required wiki activities are included in this total. Unless otherwise indicated, all wiki activities for the week should be completed by midnight on Sunday of each week.

Week One[edit]

August 25 - Introduction to the Design, Care and Feeding of Ontological Technologies - Doyle, Devon

Key Concept: Thinking on the Ontological Scale

Examples of Ontological Technologies: Writing; Atomic bomb; Computer; Internet

In class: An intro to our wiki and class tools

Readings for next time: Recent Visions of Nanotech from Foresight -

Bill Joy, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us. Here's the same thing on one page.

Bill Joy talk on the future

Optional deep context: Albert Einstein's letter to FDR

Wiki Activities: Create a blog space for yourself and choose an anonymous wiki name to herald your thrice weekly wiki posts.

Questions: (1)What does Hall mean by "autogeny"? Please give an example, quoting from context. (2)What is the answer to the question in Joy's title? Please post your answers to your blog which should be here: Open Source Blogs in Nanotechnology & Society

August 27 - Introduction to the Design, Care and Feeding of Nanosystems - Review wiki answers Devon, Doyle Discuss: Question: What does Hall mean by "autogeny"?

Concept: Technological Momentum

"What is striking is how this effort continued so naturally after the initial impetus was removed. In a meeting shortly after V-E Day with some physicists who felt that perhaps the effort should stop, Oppenheimer argued to continue. His stated reason seems a bit strange: not because of the fear of large casualties from an invasion of Japan, but because the United Nations, which was soon to be formed, should have foreknowledge of atomic weapons. A more likely reason the project continued is the momentum that had built up - the first atomic test, Trinity, was nearly at hand."

Evolving Autogeny: Theories of collective intelligence and open source: Growing the Nanotech future, together The nano-enabled world is here

Key Concept: Open Source Introduction to Wikibook for Nanotechnology:

Wiki Activities: Question: What role might dissensus play in collective intelligence and collective design of plausibly ontological technologies?

Week Two[edit]

September 1 - Scale Matters! (Devon, Doyle) Key concepts: Scalar difference, quantitative and qualitative difference. See phase transitions for Much Deeper Context

Designing nanosystems means thinking on a different physical scalar level. This can make things difficult for us to conceive and imagine, yet these physics of scalar difference can perhaps help us think on the ontological scale. In this week we will focus on an introduction to nanotechnology here at the local scale of Penn State, and with the help of some visionary arts, we will begin to visualize the qualitative as well as quantitative shifts involved in scalar difference. Here are some resources for helping you think in scalar terms, and to offer our collective work on a global scale:

>>>China announces the first reported nano-fatalities

Concept: Qualitative and Quantitative Difference

Eames, "Powers of Ten" Visualizing Scale -

Free audio book for thinking about scalar dimensions Flatland Note: 404 error, link broken

better link: Flatland

Interesting videos related to Flatland: Carl Sagan's View Ten Dimensions Video

Systems Notation: a very compressed way of representing nested systems, helping to make clear that scalar principles exist, as in {representations{representations that include scalar principles{representations that usefully include scalar principles}}}

SI Prefixes:

The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard de Chardin A selection from an evolutionary epic for thinking about scale.

Wiki Activities:

Assignment: Choose at least two of the resources above and discuss how they manage the problem of quantitative and qualitative differences. Organize a group of processes into a scalar hierarchy and discuss one way that creating this scalar hierarchy changes your view of them. Better: Propose a better way of thinking about scale for designers of nanosytems!

Due September 7th.

Assignment: Incorporate a serious counter argument into your already existing post in response to Joy and Hall. Due September 3

September 3 - Words Matter! Nanotechnology as a discourse (Doyle)

Burroughs, Electronic Revolution

Wikibook definitions:

Wiki Activities Question: What is the impact of writing on human ontology, according to Burroughs?

The Case of an Ontological Technology: Writing - Merlin Donald, The Myth of the Isolated Mind]

Question: How might nanotechnology alter what Donald calls "external symbolic storage"? The Infoquake.;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0006.204

An evolutionary moment?

Week Three[edit]

September 8 - Some Review

Wiki Activitiy Read and comment on the Huxley article posted above.

September 10 - (Doyle in California) Nanotechnology Overview - tools, techniques, and other aspects of nanofabrication

Wiki Activitiy

Read and respond to this blog post on your wiki.

Also, read through the terminology section of our wikibook chapter, found here: Definitions for Nanotechnology

Based on the presentations and your readings thus far, make at least one change to an already existing definition and add a new term and define it. This will require that you make another wiki account for the wikibook site, which is separate from our normal class wiki. I suggest using the same login/password for our wiki, unless you can keep the two straight without effort. You can register at the top of this page.

Week Four[edit]

September 15 - Design Matters: nano-enabled products and systems (Devon) Doyle In California The rapid growth in nano-enabled design - Devon

Here is the page that was covered in class, with all of the nano links. Also:

Solar Cell efficiencies

Wiki Activity Assignment: Examine the apparent and non-apparent tradeoffs of three nano-enabled products and post it to your wiki space.

September 17 - The design process. nano-research driven design - Devon

DiscussPeer Calibrated Grading

Wiki Activity Assignment: Identify what is known and not known of the track of the same three products from research to consumer use.

>>>Begin reading Accelerando, free ebook download. See also Accelerando Technical Companion

Burroughs, Donald Redux: Welcome to the Exocortex

Implications for collective open source design, Research Driven Design

Week Five[edit]

*Wiki Activity for the next two weeks* Write a short essay summarizing each of the four presentations, ranking them by your interest in them, and how you selected which one(s) you most preferred to work with. This will lead to team formation and the main class project, where you will Choose a researcher to work with to prepare an assessment of the social, environmental, human and technical impacts of their work. Obviously, this will be ongoing, EtherDais recommends writing about each presentation before you witness the next.

September 22 Nano research at Penn State: Yue Bing ZHENG

Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Feynman

Wiki Activity: What constraints contribute to Feynmann's "inability to 'see exactly what would happen" in the wake of nano techniques?

"What could we do with layered structures with just the right layers? What would the properties of materials be if we could really arrange the atoms the way we want them? They would be very interesting to investigate theoretically. I can't see exactly what would happen, but I can hardly doubt that when we have some control of the arrangement of things on a small scale we will get an enormously greater range of possible properties that substances can have, and of different things that we can do."

September 24 Nano research at Penn State: Jinjie Shi

Wiki Activity:

Week Six[edit]

September 29 Nano research at Penn State: Chito Kendrick

Commercialization Matters

Wiki Activity: Discuss

Propose a product that would utilize nanodiamonds to offer major added value. Remember: public good, decentralization, and other non traditional "profits" can be as important in open source nanotechnological ethical design as monetary reward or market share. For more on the "gift economy" of open source, check out Eric Raymond's Homesteading the Noosphere and Christopher Kelty's Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software

October 1 Nano research at Penn State: Xiaole Mao

|Introduction to the Terminology, Quantities and Units of Nanotechnology. Become familiar with international standard terminology. (bad link?)

Wiki Activity:

Week Seven[edit]

October 6 Discuss presentations

Some resources for Deep Context on Nanotechnology"

History Matters (Doyle)

Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life? Schrodinger and the invention of the 'code-script'; the role of interdisciplinary inquiry Singularity Matters

Stross, Chapter 1, Accelerando

William S. Burroughs, The Adding Machine, "Immortality", pp. 127-137 (insert pdf) Profile of Raymond Kurzweil

Drexler, Engines of Creation (1986) Prepare to discuss Part 1.

Wiki Activity Explore Drexler's claim: "With our present technology, we are still forced to handle atoms in unruly herds."

October 8

Visiting Speaker

Week Eight[edit]

October 13 Social Design Ethics (Devon, Doyle)

individual ethics: right person, right action right outcomes, right values (care) social ethics: who is at the table? what is on the table? decision making under high uncertainty: Design for X where X is unknown and perhaps unknowable(what does this mean?) case studies: is there really a silver lining? nanotech and public policy; legislation and the highly visible lobbies to promote and to constrain nanotechnology

Assignment: Short paper - analysis of the ethical, legal and environmental implications of nanotechnology in Accelerando

October 15

Visiting Speaker

Week Nine[edit]

October 20 - Updates from group projects. Discuss Accelerando

October 22 - Discuss Accelerando

Week Ten[edit]


October 27

October 29

Week Eleven[edit]

November 3

Dr. Adair will be speaking on his research in class. Don't miss it!

November 5

Week Twelve[edit]

November 10

November 12

Week Thirteen[edit]

November 17 How do we 'see' nano? A brief introduction to characterization techniques.

November 19

Week Fourteen[edit]

November 24

November 26 - No Class, Thanksgiving

Week Fifteen[edit]

December 1

December 3

Week Sixteen[edit]

December 8

December 10

December 17 - Papers, Projects Due