An Interview With Dr Nancy Healy Education Coordinator Of The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network Nnin

One of the major groups that is providing state-of-the-art nanotech-nology facilities and resources to schools and colleges is the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). The author had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Healy during a phone interview about her professional career as the Education Coordinator of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). Dr. Healy's office is located at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia.

The NNIN is a National Science Foundation funded program, which supports nanoscience researchers by providing state-of-the-art nanotech-nology facilities, support, and resources. The NNIN is a consortium of thirteen universities across the United States ( In addition to researcher support, the NNIN has a large and integrated education and outreach program.

What is your role as the Education Coordinator of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network?

The NNIN education programs focus on the development of a nano-ready workforce as well as development of a nano-literate public. Outreach efforts span elementary-level students through adults. The NNIN provides a variety of programs which include: summer camps for middle and high school students; on-site and off-site school visits which include laboratory tours, hands-on activities, demonstrations, and presentations; summer research experiences for undergraduates and K-12 teachers; workshops for K-12 teachers; K-12 instructional materials development; workshops/seminars for undergraduates; community college programs; symposia at national meetings; workshops for faculty, industry, and government personnel (lifelong learning); and a Web site for accessing information on our resources and programs.

Where did you grow up and what were your favorite subjects in high school?

I grew up in Greenville, Rhode Island, and my favorite subjects in high school were science and history. I wanted to be an archaeologist so I could combine the two subjects.

What college did you attend and what was your major?

I attended University of Rhode Island for my undergraduate degree in zoology and then I received a master's degree and Ph.D. degree in geology at the University of South Carolina.

How did you get interested in a career in nanotechnology education?

I don't think anyone working in nanotechnology education had a straight path in this career. I knew about nanotechnology when I was in South Carolina working for the state agency that oversaw all the colleges and universities. We had just approved the Nano Center at the University of South Carolina. So I learned about the field of nanotechnology. Around the same time, I found out that Georgia Tech wanted somebody to coordinate this new program in nanotechnology education and outreach (NNIN). They wanted someone with an interdisciplinary science background, which is what I had, and someone who had an understanding of teacher professional development in K-12 math and science. I applied and I received my new position in July 2004.

You were quoted in an article, "People generally don't know what nanotechnology really is. There's a risk that their perceptions will be based on popular culture portrayals of it rather than fact." What are some ways to help the general population to be able to separate nanotechnology fact from fiction?

I really think it is the responsibility of researchers, whether they are in the university, in government, or in industry to make sure that the public knows what is true and what is not true about any field, whether it is nanotechnology, biomedicine, or aeronautics. Researchers and scientists need to engage the public about what they are doing. One way of communicating this to the public is to have scientists address various clubs and organizations such as the rotary clubs. Having nanotechnol-ogy forums in schools and campuses is another way to educate the public. I think it is very important to work with the media, too. Scientists have the responsibility to make sure their science reported in the media is accurate and correct, and to correct any misconceptions in their work.

What are some of the benefits in nanotechnology? What are some of the ethical or societal issues?

One major benefit will be in the microelectronic and telecommunication fields. Our whole electronic world will be faster and smaller and will consume much less energy than we do now. Another benefit will be in the area of nanomedicine. This is a huge area. We will see some amazing things happening in biomedical applications, particularly in such areas

On social and ethical issues, I think one of the major concerns is about the production ofmateri-als using nanoparticles. The question is, "will the nanoparticles be the next asbestos problem?" There is research that says yes they are harmful, but I have spoken with other researchers who point out that some of these studies are not done well. So it is very important that good studies and good science be done in this area of concern. No one wants to breathe in bad stuff into our lungs, but everyday we intake particles from vehicle exhausts. So will the Buckyballs be any more harmful than the soot that comes out of the exhausts from vehicles? That is a study that needs to be done. The EPA and NSF are funding more and more research programs to look at the safety concerns of nanotechnology. I think that there is a big ethi-support, and resources. (Courtesy National Nan- cal issue of nanotechnology that otechnology Infrastructure Network) could occur between the haves and have-nots. In other words, will the industrialized nations get all this technology, and in doing so, bypass those countries that are poorer? This issue needs to be addressed by everyone in the industry and that includes the scientists, ethicists, and the lawyers.

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