Ben Shepard
Ben Shepard

Duke News

Keep up with our core and affiliated faculty in the national and international news. Read their op-ed pieces, quotes and interviews, and cutting-edge research findings.

Wed, Mar 15

SciPol Adds Nanotechnology to its Science Policy Coverage

Nanotechnology Policy Updates on

Nanotechnology has piqued the interest of popular science enthusiasts, investors and scientists for more than a decade, perhaps because the new ability to manipulate matter at the atomic scale promises to revolutionize so many disparate fields of technological development.

Although nanotechnology is a relatively young field, its practical achievements include use in improved electric car batteries, increased crop yield production with slow-release fertilizer, and bolstering the ability of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Though experiments with nanoscale matter date back to the Roman Empire, nanotechnology first took center stage as a field of its own in 1996 when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the discovery of C60 fullerenes, or the Buckminsterfullerene (Bucky Balls).

Then again in 2016, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. Proponents of nanotechnology laud its emergence as the catalyst of the next industrial revolution. Economic contributions forecast an annual associated value of one trillion dollars (revenue from nano-enabled products grew worldwide from $339 billion in 2010 to more than $1 trillion in 2013).


The Current State of Nanotech Policy

The U.S. government first established the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) under the Clinton administration, to support world-class research, user facilities, and technology transfer from lab to commercial enterprise. As a result of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, NNI agencies are required to update an NNI Strategic Plan every three years.  The most recent version was published in 2016, which outlines goals for nanotechnology research, development, and commercialization enterprises.

As a result of authority provided in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Public Law 114-182), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on nanomaterial reporting for those who manufacture, process, or import such materials for commercial purposes. The new rule will allow EPA to gather risk-relevant information on nanoscale materials, which is essential for understanding and managing potential risks to health and the environment.

Company HE3DA President Jan Prochazka shows qualities of a new battery during the official start of a battery production line in Prague, on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. Read more at:

Nanomaterials Are Difficult to Categorize for Policymakers

Stakeholders are still grappling with how to legally define nanomaterials in a way that is broadly accurate and useful in terms of supporting categorization and management.

Indeed, there is not even broad consensus that a strict deductive definition would constitute the most useful approach to developing policies regarding innovation and protection of human and environmental health; however, the absence of a globally agreed upon definition poses challenges to agencies charged with regulating these novel materials.

Some have moved ahead with the idea that an inductive definition is the better way to advance the science to the point that it could support rational regulation. Meaning, you can point to an example and address it as a nanomaterial, but you may not be able to create a universal definition that applies across all instances of a nanoscale material.


What’s Next?

Thus far, initial forays into proposing policies to address nanomaterial management have arisen on a case by case basis in reaction to either specific products being registered with the EPA, or in reaction to revisions and updates to environmental protection laws.

National and international consortia of scientists and regulators are beginning work to standardize data formatting to enable the sharing and comparing of information. These efforts within the growing field of nanoinformatics are new, and are characterized by considerable uncertainty and variability since the methods and materials involved in nanotechnology are still under development.

Therefore, the near-term goals are to develop suggested standards, and processes for developing and communicating new standards, within the nanomaterial research communities. Longer term, the field of nanoinformatics will ideally mature to provide a well-defined consistent set of data requirements and supporting controlled vocabulary not unlike what developed to support the human genome project. Such a consistent system of integrated tracking and communication of peer-reviewed nanomaterial studies would be used to guide new research directions as well as enable cross-study analyses to guide regulation agencies in policy development.

Policy developments on the topic of data standardization will also be covered within the nanotechnology vertical, since consistently integrated datasets will serve as the driver of data submission requirements as well as interpretation of those data with respect to emerging policy.


About Nancy

Nancy BirknerNancy Birkner oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to this topic.  She is also a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) where she works to enable global sharing of nanomaterial data.

For her scientific interests, Nancy studies the fundamental nature of nanomaterials, which are materials that are thousands of times smaller than the eye can see. These materials behave (or react) much differently than larger-scale materials and may impact the health and safety of humans and the environment as well as produce disruptive technologies to benefit of society. Her Ph.D. in Chemistry produced three new major science discoveries using experimental nanomaterial thermodynamics under the supervision of Professor Alexandra Navrotsky, who is also fondly referred to as “The mother of thermodynamics”.  Nancy’s work is published in Science magazine as well as in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology LogoCEINT ( is examining the relationships between nanomaterial (natural and man-made) interactions with biological, ecological, and environmental systems. The Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology NanoInformatics Knowledge Commons (CEINT-NIKC), headquartered at Duke University, is developing the integrative methodologies, unique cyberinfrastructure, and associated analytical tools that will allow interrogation of nanomaterial research.

Visit for news, updates, and opportunities to engage in Nanotechnology policy developments.

Wed, Jan 18

New Bass Connections Project Explores Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices, and the Brain

Each year Bass Connections brings together faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to tackle complex societal challenges through a variety of interdisciplinary themes. Science & Society and Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, is excited to announce the acceptance of their 2017-2018 project proposal to study privacy, consumer EEG devices, and the brain.

Students use a consumer EEG device to conduct research

The new project is aimed at exploring the unique concerns surrounding the collection of data generated though wearable tech – like the EMOTIV Insight. It is already possible to track brain activity as it relates to basic emotional and physical states. As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect a bloom of neural activity data among the ever-increasing wealth already accumulating in our tech and data-driven society.

The project team will explore three specific questions:

  • Do consumers vary in their expectations of privacy and willingness to share brain information with government, corporations, employers, researchers and others?
  • Are there differences between consumer users and nonusers of consumer EEG devices with regard to their perceptions, behaviors and attitudes about brain privacy and EEG devices?
  • Do differences in perceptions and attitudes about brain privacy help to explain differences in use and behavior of consumer EEG devices?

Team members will collaborate with Science & Society’s SLAP Lab on a weekly basis and will be trained in the methodologies used in the research. The team is seeking two postdocs, three graduate/professional students, and four undergraduates. Applications will open on January 24 and run through February 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Learn more about the Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices, and the Brain Project and additional opportunities for students on the Bass Connections website or during the Bass Connections Fair on Tuesday, January 24 2:30-5:30.

Thu, Jan 12

SciPol Adds Robotics & AI to its Science Policy Coverage

SciPol LogoThe rapid advance of technology is bringing robots and artificial intelligence, or AI, closer to us every day, including in factories, hospitals, highways, schools, our offices, and our homes. But the technology is advancing so quickly that it’s outpacing our ability to fully grasp its impact, and for policymakers to resolve the difficult balance that reduces risk to the public without constraining the development of these potentially beneficial technologies.

2016 alone gave us multiple significant policy developments. In June the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released amendments to its regulations to address the operation of unmanned aircraft systems and pilot certification to preserve safety in the National Airspace System. In September, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released guidance to industry and regulators for safe design, state policy recommendations, and regulatory tools for highly automated vehicles.

In October, the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology released a report including recommendations to U.S. Federal agencies and other actors to inform future AI policy. We can expect the U.S. government will implement even more robotics and AI-specific regulations to preserve jobs and to address concerns of security, safety, and privacy within the next few years.

This is an exciting and dynamic area with rapidly evolving developments in policy and science. SciPol provides a single resource covering both, including policy updates and explanations of the relevant science on topics like drones, surgical robots, driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

About Michael

Dr. Michael ClamannMichael Clamann oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to robotics and AI. He is also a Senior Research Scientist in the Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) within Duke Robotics and an Associate Director at the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety.

For his scientific research, he works to better understand the complex interactions between robots and people and how they influence system effectiveness and safety. He presented technical remarks to the Department of Transportation on the current Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, and his research has appeared in major news outlets including NPR and the Atlantic.

He received a PhD and MIE in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a MS in Experimental Psychology from North Carolina State University. He has worked in industry as a Human Factors Engineer since 2002, supporting government and private clients in domains including aerospace, defense and telecommunications. He is also a Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP).

About HAL

Research in Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) focuses on the multifaceted interactions of human and computer decision-making in complex sociotechnical systems with embedded autonomy.

An experiment on how autonomous vehicle may interact with pedestriansGiven the explosion of autonomous technology in aviation, medicine, and even in everyday mundane environments like driving, the need for humans as supervisors of and collaborators in complex autonomous control systems has replaced the need for humans in direct manual control.

Instead of relying on humans for well-rehearsed skill execution and rule following that requires significant practice and memorization (and subject to problems such as fatigue and boredom), autonomous systems need humans for their more abstract levels of knowledge synthesis, judgment, and reasoning. Autonomous systems today, and even more so in the future, require coordination and teamwork for mutual support between humans and machines for both improved system safety and performance.

Visit for news, updates, and opportunities to engage in robotics and AI policy developments.

Wed, Oct 19

Duke hopes HoloLens will assist with tricky brain surgeries

When Microsoft envisioned the medical world embracing HoloLens in the future, it wasn’t kidding around. Duke University is testing the augmented reality headset as an assistive tool for difficult brain surgeries like extraventricular drain placement, which relieves potentially fatal pressure. Instead of relying on CT scans and markers to insert a catheter into the skull during the draining procedure, Duke’s doctors would use HoloLens to overlay a reconstructed CT scan on the patient’s head. The virtual approach should not only be more accurate than conventional markers (the target is frequently too small or shifts around), but faster and simpler.

Read more from Engadget.

Mon, Oct 17

Diarrhea, pneumonia kill children but parents shun life-saving facilities

An ambitious $23-million (Rs 153.5 crore), award-winning five-year-old programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to arrest childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia in Bihar–a state with India’s sixth highest mortality rate of children under five–has had little impact on disease prevalence or treatment, according to an evaluation by researchers from Duke and Stanford universities in the USA and the University College of London.

Read more from First Post here. 

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