More about IRG 1 - Origins, Institutions, and Communities

The objective of IRG-1 (Origins, Institutions, and Communities) is to produce is a comprehensive and holistic narrative of nanotech’s trajectory. This history traces the 50+ year arc of nanotechnology’s history from its origins in the materials science community in the 1950s and 1960s. It then follows through new instrumental developments at places like Bell Labs and IBM in the 1970s to major discoveries in the 1980s like the invention of the buckyball and the STM and, eventually, the creation of a vast transnational infrastructure for doing interdisciplinary research in the 21st century. This comprehensive view includes the study of nanotech as done in both the physical and life sciences, as well as nanotechnology in a global context, with a special focus on the Pacific Rim. Our goal is to make this history accessible, valuable and relevant to historians, scientists, engineers, and policy makers.

Our research this past year continued its focus on three interrelated themes: origins, institutions, and communities. We see these as the resources from which scientists, businesspeople, and policy makers fashioned today’s nano-enterprise. Broadly defined, these resources included not only scientific and technical knowledge, but also scientific communities and institutions, visionary scientists, organizational practices in universities, corporations, and government agencies, and broader context such as international security threats and industrial competition. We have investigated a broad range of questions within these three themes including: How have the research policies for micro/nanoelectronics in the U.S. compare with those of other Pacific Rim nations? What is the historical context for interdisciplinary research in U.S. research institutions and to what degree is it manifested? How do visionary technologists have an impact on the public perception and policy aspects of emerging technologies?

This research applies a mix of archival research, oral history interviews, and ethnographic observation to assess the origins of the nanotechnology enterprise. This research will ideally help generate policy recommendations for nanotechnology institutions and policy makers on ways to foster interdisciplinarity and stakeholder diversity; to bring policy content into laboratory practice; to apply industrial policy lessons learned from nanotechnology and other large-scale technology initiatives (space, nuclear, genetics); and to form communities to evaluate, act on, and guide policy-relevant research.