Internet: The Great Leveller in Addressing Nanotechnology Knowledge Gap                                                                       by Aarti Kapoor

The World Wide Web has for many years now been the Great Leveller when it comes to accessing knowledge and information. 

So it is not surprising to know that a recent study, as reported in a press release from the Arizona State University (ASU), found that the Internet is one of the most effective tools in closing the existing knowledge gap in nanotechnology among Americans.

But how did this nanotechnology knowledge gap emerge in the first place? Apparently, according to the study, conducted by researchers from the ASU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, formal education (or rather, the lack thereof) plays a role in this.  

In essence, the researchers found widening gaps in nanotech knowledge since 2004 between the least educated and most educated Americans. More specifically, Americans with at least a college degree have shown an increase in their understanding of the new technology, while knowledge about nanotechnology has declined over time for those with education levels of less than a high school diploma. 

The study was conducted by Elizabeth Corley (Lincoln Professor of Public Policy, Ethics and Emerging Technologies in Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs) and Dietram Scheufele (John E. Ross Professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison). 

People who are already “information-rich” are benefiting from traditional outreach efforts, such as museums. Unfortunately, those who need outreach the most — those with little or no formal education — are being left behind.

If this trend continues, the nanotechnology knowledge gap might become even wider than before among Americans. So what has gone wrong in public outreach efforts? Has the scientific community not done a good job of educating this segment of the public? Are journalists responsible for not adequately covering nanotechnology in the mainstream media?

These are questions with no easy answers. But we need to start somewhere, and the internet, being the Great Leveller, might just be able to whittle down this nanotechnology knowledge gap. 

As Scheufele points out in the press release: “Online and social media are some of the most promising tools for making sure we reach all members of the public with information about science and technology … tools like Digg, Twitter, or Facebook will only become more important down the road.” 

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