Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 10, Issue 7, pp 1141–1148

Numbers, scale and symbols: the public understanding of nanotechnology


  • Carl A. Batt
    • Department of Food ScienceCornell University
    • Waldron Educational Consulting
  • Natalie Broadwater
    • Department of Food ScienceCornell University

DOI: 10.1007/s11051-007-9344-1

Cite this article as:
Batt, C.A., Waldron, A.M. & Broadwater, N. J Nanopart Res (2008) 10: 1141. doi:10.1007/s11051-007-9344-1


Nanotechnology will be an increasing part of the everyday lives of most people in the world. There is a general recognition that few people understand the implications of the technology, the technology itself or even the definition of the word. This lack of understanding stems from a lack of knowledge about science in general but more specifically difficulty in grasping the size scale and symbolism of nanotechnology. A potential key to informing the general public is establishing the ability to comprehend the scale of nanotechnology. Transitioning from the macro to the nanoscale seems to require an ability to comprehend scales of one-billion. Scaling is a skill not common in most individuals and tests of their ability to extrapolate size based upon scaling a common object demonstrates that most individuals cannot scale to the extent needed to make the transition to nanoscale. Symbolism is another important vehicle to providing the general public with a basis to understand the concepts of nanotechnology. With increasing age, individuals are able to draw representations of atomic scale objects, but these tend to be iconic and the different representations not easily translated. Ball and stick models are most recognized by the public, which provides an opportunity to present not only useful symbolism but also a reference point for the atomic scale.


NanotechnologyPublic awarenessPublic understandingSurveyModelsVisualizationNumbersScaleSymbolsSocietal implications

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008