Washington, February 16 : While both scientists and the general public believe in the potential benefits of nanotechnology, they also think that it may leave adverse health and environmental impacts if not governed carefully, according to a survey conducted by Arizona State University researchers.
Elizabeth Corley, an Assistant Professor at the university's School of Public Affairs, said that scientists appeared to be more concerned about the new technology's use in some areas than the general public.
While presenting the survey results at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting on Friday, Corley revealed that the findings were based on a national telephone survey of American households, and a sampling of 363 leading U.S. nanotechnology scientists and engineers.
The study suggested that scientists who have the most insight into the nanotechnology were unsure what health and environmental problems might be posed by the technology.
Twenty per cent of the scientists responding to the survey indicated a concern that new forms of nanotechnology pollution might emerge, while only 15 per cent of the public thought that might be a problem.
More than 30 per cent of scientists expressed concern that human health might be at risk from the technology, while just 20 per cent of the public held such fears.
The public appeared more concerned about a potential loss of privacy from tiny new surveillance devices, and the loss of more US jobs. However, such fears were less of a concern for scientists.
However, both groups seemed to agree in broad terms on the rewards versus the risks of nanotech.
"Not surprisingly, scientists are more likely than the public to find nanotechnology research useful and morally acceptable. Yet, scientists and the public have similar perceptions (around 17 percent) of the overall risks of nanotechnology and the need for government regulations of nanotechnology (around 40 percent)," Corley said.
"Our new analysis shows that despite scientists' perceptions of high levels of benefit from nanotechnology research, they tend to agree with the public that they should pay attention to government regulations and unknown risks," she added.
The survey also revealed that university scientists were thought to be most qualified persons to communicate the potential risks and benefits of the technology to the public, as people were less likely to trust nanotech industry scientists or regulators.
"This is a policy relevant finding," Corley added, "because, on average, university nanotech scientists have been hesitant to engage the public in this sort of discourse."