Undergraduate Summer Research Internships

  CNS Summer Intern Presenting CNS Summer Intern Poster CNS Summer Interns Working

The Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program at CNS-UCSB is an 8-week, paid internship program for undergraduate social science, humanities, science or engineering majors who are interested in gaining social science research experience to better understand the societal, legal, policy, and ethical considerations surrounding the introduction of new technologies.

Interns include current UCSB students and community college students from around California through a partnership with the CSEP INSET program at UCSB. Interns work with faculty and graduate student mentors in social science, humanities and science and engineering, and gain first-hand experience in the investigation of the societal issues relating to nanotechnology in a dynamic, collaborative research environment.


Summer 2012

The Summer 2011 Program ran from June 18-August 10, 2012, with four outstanding interns recruited through the INSET Program. Their projects:



Gianna Haro, Marine Biology, Santa Barbara City College

Roger Eardley-Pryor, Professor Patrick McCray, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara

I argue that environmental visions about nanotechnology from the mid-1980s to 2000s initially encouraged exclusive exploration on nanotechnology’s applications during the first years of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). Scientists’ and policy-makers’ almost exclusive early focus on developing applications delayed investigation into nanotechnology’s potential risks and environmental implications. I applied historical research methodologies, and my materials include the personal papers of leading scientists, scientific publications, and internal emails from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with other government documents.  Between the mid-1980s and 2000s, key figures such as Eric Drexler, Nobel-winning scientist Richard Smalley, and National Science Foundation administrator Mihail Roco all promoted visions of nanotechnology as an aid to making anthropogenic activity more environmentally sustainable. Their green nano-visions helped inspire creation of the NNI, in which initial research focused on realizing nanotechnology’s promises. Internal EPA emails during these crucial early years of the NNI reveal that even the government agency tasked with protecting environmental and human health mostly overlooked the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks of new nanomaterials in excitement over nanotechnology’s possible beneficial environmental applications. Today, despite numerous studies revealing the likely toxicity of some nanomaterials to humans, soils, plants, and other organisms, only three percent of the NNI budget is dedicated to EHS implications. Uncovering the early environmental visions of nanotechnology helps explain why American efforts to explore nanotechnology’s EHS issues were initially delayed and remain underfunded.




Kelly Landers, Statistical Science, Santa Barbara City College

Galen Stocking, Rich Appelbaum, International Studies and Sociology


Nanotechnology is recognized by a wide variety of government and market sources (most notably by the U.S. Government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative) as the next area for substantial innovation. Numerous countries are competing to be leaders, and it is important to know the state of different nanotechnology markets to determine which characteristics lead to success and failure. Because California had substantial influence during the information technology boom, it is important to see if it can build on the foundation laid by its success in that industry.  The goal of our project was to determine California’s nanotechnology capacity and identify its influence on the global nanotechnology economy through estimating both what the current workforce is and its human and knowledge capital potential in California’s market. Information about local firms and nano-specific training programs was collected through web and records research as well as phone and email interviews. Analysis of this data provided dat to help  identify California’s key nanotechnology sectors, determine regional groupings, conduct value-chain analysis, and provide insights into the future growth potential of its nanotechnology economy.



Summer 2011

The Summer 2011 Program ran from June 20-August 12, 2011, with three outstanding interns recruited through the INSET Program. Their projects:


Sergio CardenasChemistry Major, College of the Canyons

Mentors: Roger Eardley-Pryor, Professor Patrick McCray, Department of History

In the historical development of the nano-enterprise, scientists and lawmakers have considered the risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Enthusiasm for nanotechnology has been tempered by environmental, health, and safety concerns. Finding the right balance is crucial. A premature and outright moratorium of all nanotechnology could destroy this new industry’s potential for economic prosperity. However, an unregulated industry could severely threaten workers, consumers, and the environment.
In January 2009, the state of California sent a mandatory safety information request to carbon nanotube (CNT) manufacturers in anticipation of setting state-wide regulatory guidelines. My research uses historical analysis of recent scientific studies, government documentation, and public discourse to outline how California initiated this proactive stance and to answer why California selected CNTs instead of other nanoparticles in its first nano-specific manufacturer information request.
The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) cited two scientific studies in its rationale for choosing CNTs in its first nano-specific information call-in. One study described how the byproducts of manufacturing CNTs could be toxic, while the other stated how the fate of CNTs may threaten California’s drinking water.  However, most toxicological studies of CNTs emphasize its strong affinities to asbestos, which CalEPA avoided citing. Because public perceptions could drastically derail future research and economic development of nanotechnology in California, I argue that fears of potential public backlash likely led CalEPA to ignore CNT’s relationship to asbestos.  Currently, no nation or state has regulatory systems in place to properly handle the unique properties of nanotechnology.



Alexander P. Lyte, Economics, Santa Barbara City College

Mentors: Amanda Denes, Professor Barbara Herr Harthorn, Center for Nanotechnology in Society

How do members of the general public understand nanotechnology, and how do they demonstrate their expertise about its social implications? Using data collected in 2009 from public deliberations on the risks and benefits of nanotechnology, this research analyzes types of arguments used by participants to understand nanotechnology and communicate their perspective to those around them. Using inductive coding, I identified several categories of arguments, including personal and professional experiences with nanotechnology, appeals to various sentiments, analogies to other technologies or concepts, and hypothetical situations. The study measures the number of times each type of argument is deployed and how the arguments were used by each participant to support or oppose nanotechnology in general, its regulation, or its research. Some interesting findings involve sex differences in types of expertise deployed. For example, female participants in general shared twice as many personal and professional experiences than men, and men used hypothetical situations as justifications for their opinions more often than women.  This research contributes to the work being done at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society exploring public perceptions of nanotechnology.



William ReynoldsApplied Mathematics, Ventura College

Mentors: Cassandra Engeman, Jennifer Earl, Professor Barbara Herr Harthorn, Center for Nanotechnology in Society

With possible unknown health and safety risks and no regulation on handling practices, engineered nanomaterials are attracting new research to understand public risk perception and its role in the development of nanotechnology. Non-governmental organizations, or interest groups, serve as self-identified representatives of and advocates for the public. As such, they have the potential to affect public perception and the future governance of nanotechnology. My research asks: 1) what issues are these organizations concerned about? and 2) what actions have they taken in response to those issues? To that end, a matrix of organizations and summaries of data on those organizations has been created through Internet search tools and organizational references and then catalogued for future research. Preliminarily, a broad spectrum of eighty organizations has been found globally. These organizations as a whole are focused on the issues of public and environmental health and safety around nanotechnology with the goal of some kind of regulatory change. Currently, their actions are focused on the issuance of publications on nanotechnology and possible solutions to environmental and human health impacts. Future research will examine why these groups are concerned with nanotechnology and what possible impact they may have on governmental regulatory policy and industry practices of engineered nanomaterials.


Summer 2010

2010 Interns

The Summer 2010 Program ran from June 21 - August 13, 2010, with four outstanding interns.

Interns gave oral presentations on their research in the CNS Seminar on August 4, and presented research posters in the campus-wide Summer Intern Poster Colloquium on August 12.


Research Abstracts:


Brent Boone, Business Economics, UCSB

Mentors: Meredith Conroy, Professor Bruce Bimber, Political Science

In an historical perspective, nanoscience is a relatively new technological innovation.  Scientists have projected the potential of nanoscience to be limitless, and if this potential is ever realized it would undoubtedly be considered the next industrial revolution. However, survey research finds Americans to know relatively little about what nanoscience is or how much it may change society. Understanding nanotechnology and what makes it special is especially difficult for those without a modicum of science knowledge. For these reasons, perceptions of nanotechnologies, as opposed to simply knowledge or experience with it, will be crucial to public opinion, and therefore to the politics of funding and regulation. Perceptions of nanotechnologies will likely be shaped powerfully by news coverage, and in particular how media frame stories. Whether or not frames as vivid as “death tax,” “tax relief,” or “Frankenfood” will ever be associated with an application of nanotechnologies remains to be seen. A related and complementary line of work aims to examine whether frames affect an individual’s perception, and if the effect is more pronounced among certain populations. For this project we administer an online survey experiment to American citizens from all over the country, where 264 participants are exposed to a negative framing condition and 265 participants are exposed to a positive framing condition.  We find framing effects for nanotechnology to be pronounced even once we control for levels of education, and specific nanotechnology familiarity.


Simone Jackson, Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, Allan Hancock College

Mentors: Christine Shearer, Professor Barbara Herr Harthorn, Departments of Sociology, Feminist Studies, Anthropology

Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing industry in California, which houses 25 percent of US nanotech companies and receives 41 percent of US nanotech venture capital. It is believed that by 2015 this industry has the potential to create between 90,000 and 200,000 new jobs.  This growth, however, is contingent upon the continued government, corporate, and venture capital funding of nanotechnology, the transformation of research into nano and nano-enabled products and applications, and the general acceptance of nanotechnology by both industries and the public. Therefore, we seek to better understand the place of nano in California by creating a global value chain mapping nanotechnology firms in the state, and how they are interconnected and draw upon nano in their products and services. We identify companies through four online databases: Plunkett Research Ltd., the Nano Science and Technology Institute, Lux Research, 5th ed., and the Woodrow Wilson Center, and research various aspects of each company including geographical location, size, products and services offered, funding, and their place within the nano global value chain.  Detailed analysis of nanotechnology firms will lead to more accurate data for assessing the relationship of the firms to one another and, in future research, their relationship to research and government institutions, consumers, and state and federal regulations, laying the foundation for a more holistic and historic understanding of California nanotechnology industries.



Srijay Rajan, Chemistry, Moorpark College

Mentors: James Walsh, Professor Richard Appelbaum, Department of Sociology

Existing research has noted the impact of foreign-born scientists to high-growth, cutting edge fields such as bio- and information technology.  However, little has been done to extend this research into the emergent field of nanotechnology.  To this end, our research employs an original data-set to examine the nativity of scientists making significant contributions to nanotechnology research and innovation.  Scientists were considered to have made high-impact contributions to the field if they had either corresponding authorship or multiple authorships in the top 1% of nanotechnology related articles of the years 1999-2009 ranked by number of citations.  Using multiple sources, we were able to determine the country of origin of 65.6% of our population of 360 scientists.  Aggregate and yearly figures were benchmarked against the prevalence of the foreign-born in both the American scientific labor force and general population.  We find that overall, and for each year in our study, scientists making high-impact contributions to nanotechnology innovation were disproportionately foreign-born; this relationship is proved to be statistically significant in all but one year.  We also find that, percentage-wise, the amount of foreign-born contribution has steadily climbed every year, along with the number of highly-cited articles regarding nanotechnology.  Our results provide new data on a significant, but largely unstudied phenomenon and promise to contribute to studies on highly-skilled migration and its links to America’s economic competitiveness.


Nicholas Santos,Geography, UC Santa Barbara

Mentors: Summer Gray, Professor Patrick McCray, Department of History

One of the major efforts of federal nanotechnology policy in the U.S. has been to foster the creation of a national infrastructure of academic centers, programs, and networks. The National Nanotechnology Initiative is the most significant of these efforts and is the focus of this research. Over a decade later, the question remains, how extensive has this research infrastructure become, and what geographic and institutional dynamics and patterns have emerged? Utilizing Geographical Information System (GIS) software, this research maps the institutional history of federally funded nanotechnology in the U.S. starting in 2001 and observes a snapshot of present-day collaborative trends across these and other institutions.  More specifically, the maps show a spatial and temporal pattern in the proliferation of federal nanotechnology infrastructure that resembles the westward expansion of general population growth in the U.S. from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Also observed are clusters of academic, industrial and governmental collaborators with the most dense collaborative links connecting Southern California to the East Coast. Further work is underway to map institutional precursors instrumental in creating the tools used in nanotechnology today, starting in 1980 that foreground the patterns observed. Overall, this research provides a much-needed visualization of the historical development of federally funded nano institutions, and can easily be adapted to observe trends on a global scale.