Can citizen science empower disenfranchised communities?

January 27, 2016

Early in 2015, a group calling itself the Nappy Science Gang hit the parenting scene in the U.K. It was made up of moms and dads who used cloth nappies – or diapers – with their kids, and wanted to know the best ways to keep them clean and safe. The ...

Technology innovation and life in the 21st century: Views from Civil Society

January 22, 2016

In 2009, I commissioned ten guest articles on technology innovation from people working for, associated with or generally reflecting the views of Civil Society groups. Over six years on, these essays still present insightful and often challenging views on technology innovation, and are well worth a revisit. The aim was to expose readers to perspectives on technology ...

What will it take to master the fourth industrial revolution?

January 15, 2016

In April 2000, Bill Joy famously wrote in Wired Magazine: Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. At the time, Joy was an accomplished technologist and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems. Yet he argued passionately that society was in ...

What if we approached risk like entrepreneurs approach innovation?

January 12, 2016

If you’ve been following this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you’ll know with absolute certainty that the future is cool, shiny and stuffed to the brim with “must-have” gadgets. Reading the ebullient reports, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than overflowing optimism for how technology will transform our lives. And ...

Five steampunk technology trends to watch for in 2016

January 4, 2016

It’s that time of year again when technology pundits peer into their crystal balls, and predict the hottest tech trends of the coming twelve months. Let’s be honest though, these lists can get a little stale. So I thought I’d break ranks this year by imagining what a top ...

If Elon Musk is a Luddite, count me in!

December 23, 2015

On December 21, the company SpaceX made history by successfully launching a rocket and returning it to a safe landing on Earth. It’s also the day that SpaceX founder Elon Musk was nominated for a Luddite Award. It’s an odd juxtaposition, to say the least. Share this:Click to share on Twitter ...

Hoverboards and health: how good for you is this year’s hottest trend?

December 22, 2015

Walking across campus to my office each morning this semester, I’ve found it hard to ignore the growing number of students using hoverboards to get around. These two-wheel self-balancing boards (they don’t really hover, Back-to-the-Future-style) are one of the hottest gadgets this holiday season. As sedentary lifestyles continue to be ...

Cancer: Countering the “bad luck” hypothesis

December 16, 2015

A new study has just been published in the journal Nature that calls the so-called “bad luck hypothesis”of cancer formation into question, and concludes that cancer risk is heavily influenced by external factors. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new ...

Are vegetarian diets really more harmful to the environment?

December 15, 2015

Carnegie Mellon University had an eye-catching headline on its news feed this morning: Eat More Bacon. It was based on a new study that suggests fruit and veg have a higher environmental impact per calorie than meat. However, the analysis failst to take account of the nutritional needs ...

What’s the real risk from consumer drones this holiday season?

December 14, 2015

This holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is estimating that over one million small “Unmanned Aerial Systems” (sUAS’s) – drones, to the rest of us – will be sold to consumers. But as hordes of novice pilots take to the air, just how safe are these small bundles of ...

Making sense of gene drives and gene editing

December 1, 2015

Gene editing and gene drives are rapidly emerging as the disruptive technologies du jour.  But what are they, what can they do, and why should you care? Just last week, research was published that took us a step closer to being able to re-engineer whole species by driving specific genes through successive ...

Are you breathing carbon nanotubes, and should you be worried?

October 23, 2015

For over two decades, carbon nanotubes have been attracting attention.  First, they were seen as a super-strong, super-conductive new form of carbon that could potentially revolutionize everything from space travel to drug delivery.  Later, concerns were raised that these long, thin, fiber-like materials might cause or exacerbate lung diseases if ...

Why do people read science blogs?

September 30, 2015

Why do people read science blogs? Surprisingly, we don’t have a good answer to this.  There’s a vibrant online community of people blogging about science, and talking about blogging about science, and blogging about blogging and talking about science.  But we don’t know that much about the people that science blogs and bloggers set out ...

New report on sustainable hydraulic fracking

September 23, 2015

Back in 2011 – while I was Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center – I was part of a larger team exploring the possibility of conducting a full-blown assessment of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) possibilities and pitfalls in Michigan.  We were interested in applying the Integrated Assessment methodology developed ...

Microbeads: The science behind the risk

September 18, 2015

There’s a new viewpoint article in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology that calls for a ban on the use of microbeads, based on available evidence, and that has been causing something of a stir. The authors argue that the number of microbeads being washed into the environment from personal care ...

For tech innovation to succeed, we need parallel innovation in how we think about risk

September 7, 2015

In October 2014, Google announced it was working on an innovative nanotechnology-based approach to avoiding and managing disease. The idea was to create a pill that would deliver magnetic, functionalized nanoparticles from the gut to the bloodstream. Once there, they would circulate — presumably for days, or longer — picking ...

Small Acts of Kindness – Thank You Postcard Underground!

August 5, 2015

In this age of public outrage and social media shaming, small acts of private kindness sometimes don’t seem to count for that much.  Yet even though they may not have the social cachet of jumping on the hashtag du jour, to the individual who receives them, they can still mean a ...

Can public engagement stunt academic careers?

July 11, 2015

As an academic, I take public engagement seriously.  I see it as a responsibility that comes with the societally-sanctioned license to study the things that I’m passionate about.  And I consider it a privilege to interact with others who can inform what I do as well as potentially benefitting from it. ...

Characterizing nanoparticles in the 1880’s

July 5, 2015

On May 29th, there were 52,000 nanoparticles per cubic centimeter of air measured at the top of the Eiffel Tower. This may not seem the most compelling opening to an article, until you realize that the measurement was made in 1889 – over 100 years before nanotechnology and nanoparticles began ...

Politics don’t always play a role in attitudes toward science issues

July 1, 2015

Comments provided for GENeS on the launch of the Pew Research Center attitudes survey on Americans, Politics and Science Issues (July 1 2015) Political leanings are frequently associated with attitudes toward science and technology in the U.S.  Yet as the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center on Americans, Politics ...