I just got my nanotechnology world view expanded by an order of magnitude…or three. After 20+ years in field, I didn’t think much of anything could surprise me. Yet, a simple webinar -- where I expected to give more insight than I got -- has me thinking bigger than ever about the future of nanotechnology.  

The impetus? A webinar by the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, sharing plans for and soliciting views about a redesign for the National Nanotechnology Initiative website, www.nano.gov. Don’t roll your eyes. This wasn’t about color palettes or typefaces. The crux of the discussion was fundamental: who wants to know what about nanotechnology?

The explosive answer: everyone wants to know more of everything. Scientists and congressmen. Third graders and PhD candidates. Environmental health specialists and their employees on the assembly line. News reporters and job seekers. Start-up funders and ordinary consumers.

And that’s the aha-moment. The quest for knowledge across so many audiences shows that nanotechnology is in the rushing, roaring mainstream of our thinking. And I believe that’s the beginning of feedback loop in which answers come from everywhere and all kinds of people -- a crowd-sourcing process, as innovation gurus call it.

Today, we’re creating a community where researchers can hear consumer voices. Funders and manufacturers can view markets more clearly. EHS professionals can see the big picture on concerns and educators can find a road map for classrooms.  

Oh, we’re not there yet. But let me share five fundamental shifts I took away from the nano.gov webinar that suggest we’re well on our way.