Prototyping Nanotechnology: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Responsible Innovation

Cynthia Lea Selin, Prasad Boradkar

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this paper, we outline some of the educational principles and techniques we utilize in a program called InnovationSpace at Arizona State University. The primary goal is to teach students the ethical, social, technical and design issues surrounding nanotechnology-enhanced product innovation. InnovationSpace is an education and research laboratory at Arizona State University in which we teach students how to develop products that create market value while serving real societal needs and minimizing negative impacts on the environment. Since 2006, some of the undergraduate student teams have been investigating the potential of nanotechnology from a variety of disciplinary angles and developing product design solutions to solve such problems related to renewable energy, clean water, solid waste disposal and healthcare. The InnovationSpace curriculum treats design as an especially effective interlocutor for facilitating nano-enabled product innovation because it mediates between technological capabilities and societal needs. This article describes the process InnovationSpace students follow as they explore the potential of nanotechnology in creating new products as an example of processes that others might undertake when initially confronting nanotechnology. In this way, the dilemmas faced and lessons learned by the students mirror the larger venture most non-experts undergo when dealing with nanotechnology. We found that the broadness of the field, the sub-visual nature of the technology, and the ambiguous social, environmental and economic implications of nanotechnology created uncertainties and produced challenges for the students. Yet, these obstacles were overcome through the use of a curriculum of intense research, creative exploration and transdisciplinary team work that encouraged students to carefully examine specific contexts of use. The goal-oriented, immersive, fun, fast-paced and creative educational experience made these challenges surmountable. In this paper, we describe this structured inquiry, the challenges of learning about nanotechnology and how analyzing, visualizing, and materializing nanotechnology from transdisciplinary perspectives aided in responsible innovation. As a conclusion, we offer suggestions on how to draw from the discoveries of InnovationSpace and apply them in educational programs focused on nanotechnology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Nano Education
Issue number1-12
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Innovation
  • Scenarios
  • Nanotechnology
  • Societal Implications


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