For about a decade, nanotechnology has become established as a subject of scientific research, as an initiative of research policy, and as a topic in the media. Remarkably, however, the term covers neither a specific technique in a narrower sense nor an identifiable group of techniques. On the contrary, "nanotechnology" addresses a rather wide range of different scientific and technical approaches, in terms of the subject, of possible application areas, and of envisaged time horizons for deployment. That is why communication about nanotechnologies is so complex.
The present works of the ITAS project group "Technology assessment on nanotechnology" are focused on the two subject areas 'technology foresight' and 'nanotechnology and society'. In the frame of technology foresight, developments and trends of selected nanotechniques (especially nanomaterials and nanotechniques for biological and medical applications) are identified in a methodically sound and transparent way as well as visions of nanotechnology. Further, the mutual relationship between real developments and visions is investigated. In some cases this may comprise an analysis of the actions of specific actors or groups of stakeholders in the innovation process. The analysis of the public perception of and the communication about nanotechnology is the focus of the second subject area.
Organizationally, the project brings together the research of ITAS as scheduled in the framework of the "program oriented funding" of the Helmholtz Association (Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft deutscher Forschungszentren, HGF) and research in the context of project cooperations with other partners. These projects are usually co-financed by thirdparties. The BMBF project NanoCare is a case in point. Here, ITAS is in charge of the completion and analysis of focus group debates about the present knowledge and the information needs with regard to synthetic nanoparticles. Another project of this kind is the EU project CONTECS.
Furthermore, the group deals with all aspects of technology assessment and ethical questions related to nanotechnologies (among others vision assessment, nanotechnology as part of 'converging technologies'), and with the perception of nanotechnologies in different societal spheres. At present, an expert Delphi study is conducted about the expectations regarding future developments of nanotechnologies, of selected implementation visions, and of the related relevant time horizons.