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Professor advocates public engagement in sciences

Carolyn Hutyra | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Public participation in the dialogue about scientific topics is crucial, regardless of complexity, according to Jameson M. Wetmore, associate professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS).

In a lecture held Monday titled “Facilitating Reflection on Nanotechnology and Society,” Wetmore said the goal of public engagement at the CNS is to build a broader societal capacity for anticipating the future of scientific regulation by helping the public recognize the ways values and technology interact.

“In the United States technologies are typically regulated only once bad things start happening,” Wetmore said. “The idea of anticipatory governance is to think about the social implications of technology even while it’s still in the lab.”

Wetmore, a Notre Dame graduate, is currently working to implement nanoscience technology in museums across the nation in hopes of more actively engaging the public with these important topics.

“Science museums are a key place where people go to learn about science,” Wetmore said. “[They] are actually one of the most trusted sources in this country for scientific research. They already have the credibility and the public coming to them.”

For Wetmore, science education in museums is cost-effective and user friendly.

“This is the idea of making science more informal so the public is willing to engage,” Wetmore said.

Wetmore said his approach to educating those outside the scientific community began with adapting high-level research and information to suit a broader audience.

“We started taking graduate student research, turning it into tabletop demonstrations, and presenting it on the science floor,” he said.

Wetmore said he sees museums as an interactive platform for dialogue, not just a venue for independent learning.

“What we’re proposing here is to actually make science museums a public space where the future of science and technology can be discussed, where the attitudes, the values and the interests of the lay public can be infused into this conversation that is already happening at many levels,” he said.