Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
Research projects

ELSA Research - NANO Ethics

One of SVT's research areas was nano ethics, or more precisely: ethical and societal aspects of nanotechnology.

Vegetables, organic food test strip and the title Nanoplat project

Main content

Nano-ethics was one of the four thematic areas for UiB's efforts within nanotechnology and SVT was responsible for teaching nano-ethics within UiB's programmes in nanoscience.

The term nanotechnology refers to a range of different technologies where essential components or processes occur on the nano-meter scale. A series of important components in nature, for example atoms, viruses and cell nuclei, are found precisely in this size range. Because nano refers to just a scale length, there are a number of very different projects, products and applications that go under the label nanoscience and nanotechnology. These diverse projects and applications can make visible new aspects of, or blow new life into, already existing debates about science and technology and how they interact with society. For example, some individuals experience some of the developing traits of nanoscience and nanotechnology as problematical, negative, ambiguous or uncomfortable, while others perhaps experience the degree and speed of change as uncomfortable or problematic. When we work with nano-ethics, we are involved in illuminating the positive, negative, ambiguous and unpredictable aspects of the development of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Post-doctor Fern Wickson and Research Assistant Kamilla Kjølberg worked full-time in this research area from 2007-2009. Research fellow Kamilla Kjølberg is affiliated with this project from 2006-2010. Other collaborators are Roger Strand (Project Leader), Ana Delgado, Kjetil Rommetveit and Matthias Kaiser.

The research area was organized into separate research projects, the two most important are:

  1. Interdisciplinary studies of the ethical and societal implications of nanotechnology.

1. Interdisciplinary Studies of Ethical and Societal Implications of Nanotechnology

This project was funded by the NFR, and ran from 2006 to 2009. It looked at the ethical and societal aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnology in a long term and broad-scoped perspective. Its mode of work consisted of combining ethical and philosophical analysis with “workshops” where dialogue took place between ethicists, philosophers, nano-researchers and participants from other disciplines (including social and clinical medicine and social science). With help from this methodological platform, we applied perspectives from ethics, theory of science (including post-normal science), and science, technology studies to map out broad-scoped societal and ethical issues, as well as research the challenges facing regulation and governance of nanoscience and nanotechnology, particularly in the face of different forms of scientific knowledge and uncertainty.

The principle objectives were:

A. To map and investigate ethical and societal issues that are emerging from the complex interplay between nature and culture in the development and use of nanotechnology.

  • Kjølberg, K. and Wickson, F. (2007) ‘Social and Ethical Interactions with Nano: Mapping the early literature’ Nanoethics 1:2, pp. 89-104.
  • Kjølberg, K. and Wickson, F. (2009). ‘Nano meets Macro: Social perspectives on nanoscale sciences and technologies’, (Pan Stanford Publishing, Singapore).
  • Wickson, F. and Kjølberg, K. (2009) ‘NanoVisions: An Experiment with NanoScientists’ in Visions of Nanotechnology (eds) Stefan Gammel and Arianna Ferrari (AKA Verlag: Berlin) pp. 165-183.

B. To develop an interdisciplinary understanding of scientific uncertainty and the quality of the knowledge that is the basis for regulation and management. Especially an understanding of the responsibility of different actors, the importance of risk and uncertainty analysis, non-scientific knowledge as a basis for decision-making and the participatory methods used to deal with uncertainty in decision-making and management.

  • Wickson, F. (2007) ‘Public engagement means listening as well as talking’ Nature 448/9, p. 644.
  • Gillund, F., Wickson, F. and Myhr, A., ‘The Goverence of Nanoparticles: Science, Risk, Uncertainty and Precaution' in Kjølberg and Wickson (2009) Nano meets Macro: Social perspectives on nanoscale sciences and technologies, (Pan Standford Publishing, Singapore).
  • Kjølberg, K. and Strand, R. ’European Strategies for Regulating Nanoparticles’, in van der Sluijs, J., Ravetz, J. and Kjølberg, K. (eds). ‘Innovative approaches for the governance of complex science and technology issues: Towards a post normal practice’, coming in 2009.

C. To research the existence and meaning of “spontaneous philosophy” and ideology for scientific, public and policy discourses.


  • Wickson, F. ‘Narratives of Nature & Nanotechnology’ (2008) Nature Nanotechnology 3(6), pp. 313-315.
  • Wickson, F., Grieger, K. and Baun, A. (to be published soon) ‘Nature and Nanotechnology: science, ideology and policy’, in Kenneth A. Gould & Robert J. Torres (eds.) Nanotechnology, Social Change and the Environment (Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham).


  • Kjølberg, K., Strand, R., Delgado, G.C. and Wickson, F. (2008) ‘Models of Governance for Converging Technologies’ Technology Assessment and Strategic Management 20(1), pp. 83-97.


  • Kjølberg, K. ‘Representations of nanotechnology in Norwegian newspapers - implications for public participation’, NanoEthics, coming in April 2009.
  • Kjølberg, K. ’Nanoteknologi i norsk offentlighet’, Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift, 3/2008, pp. 252-261.
  • Kjølberg, K. ’Vidunderlig ny nanoteknologi’, editorial in Morgenbladet, 19.09.2008.
  • Kjølberg, K. ‘Representations of nanotechnology in the public sphere’, in Kjølberg, K. and Wickson, F. (2009) Nano meets Macro:Social perspectives on nanoscale sciences and technologies, (Pan Standford Publishing, Singapore).

D. To explore the state of scientific knowledge in published examples of nano-science philosophy, as well as nano-scientists’ understanding of the ethical and societal implications of their work.

  • Wickson, F., Nepstad, R., Am, T. and Winkler, M. (2008) ‘Reflections on Philosophy of Nanoscience from Nanoscience Practitioners’ Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics (Etikk i Praksis) 2(2), pp. 73-92.

E. To develop a richer theoretical understanding by improving the communication and flow of theoretical insights across the “two cultures” of nanoscience / technology and humanities/social science-based research in nano.


The main idea behind this European (FP7 funded) project, which ran from 2008 to 2009, was to develop a platform for deliberative processes on Nano-science and Nano-technology (NS&T) in the European consumer market. The project concentrated on deliberative processes concerning human and environmental safety, ethical and moral dilemmas, and perceptions of risks and responsibilities as revealed through a focus on the market interfaces across the value chain of goods and services. That is, at the points of intersection between the sphere of production on the one hand and consumers on the other, where we believe research on the ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) of nanosciences and nanotechnology has to date been neglected. The project argued for the importance and relevance of this perspective within the development of deliberate democracy in Europe. The project was a support action, with the main goal to stimulate the deliberate dialogue in Europe and beyond, and give scientific support to the stakeholders responsible for this dialogue. Thus, the objectives were formulated in the following way:

  • Evaluate selected deliberative processes in Europe, both at the EU and national level. These evaluations will have both a general NS&T perspective, but will concentrate on the value chain of consumer goods and services.
  • Identify the needs and interests of relevant stakeholders along this value chain, especially focusing on producers, consumers, NGOs and the civil society.
  • Develop a deliberative and science based platform for a stakeholder dialogue in Europe and beyond in this area. The main elements of the platform are:
    • a) the content,
    • b) the participants,
    • c) the physical and technical solutions and arenas and
    • d) the responsibility for a permanent platform.
  • Formulate recommendations for research and political actions.

The work combined desk research, qualitative interviews and workshops to meet the challenges of these objectives, where the main task is to develop and sustain a deliberative platform.