In September of this year Hart Research Associates conducted a national survey and held focus groups to determine levels of public awareness of nanotechnology and synthetic biology, both supported by and on behalf of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies of the Woodrow Wilson Research Center in DC. The results of the survey, "Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology and Public Opinion: A Report of Findings", was released on September 23, 2009. As our focus here is nanotechnology, we’ll leave the results relating to synthetic biology alone for now.
The survey found that 31% of those surveyed had heard either a little or nothing at all about nanotechnology. That 37% figure is a significant change from the 42% who had heard or read little or nothing about nanotechnology in 2006, when the survey was first performed. 31% had heard or read something a little more in depth, virtually unchanged from the results in 2006, when it stood at 30%.
A further breakdown of the 31% who had some knowledge of nanotechnology found the following:
42% of this group were males. Of this segment, 48% were under 50 years of age, 45% were college graduates, and 46% had household incomes above $75K. Collectively, this creates a portrait of those who have some knowledge of nanotech as male, relatively young, educated and affluent.
Of those who had either heard or read little or nothing, a different portrait emerges:
20% were female, 13% had high school educations or less, 17% had annual household incomes below $30K and 15% were African Americans.
As the survey shows, public awareness (or lack of awareness) of nantechnology has changed very little over time from 2006 until the present. This might be explained by public attention being diverted by such events as the 2006 and 2008 Congressional and Presidential elections respectively, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the near collapse of the economy, lack of in depth media coverage of nanotechnology, aside from when events such as the deaths in the People’s Republic of China occur, etc. Regrettably, the study doesnot explore the reasons for the lack of change from 2006 to 2008, devoting more space and time to sounding the depths of public reaction to and awareness of synthetic biology. This is something that future surveys may want to look into.