Nano Dreams and Nanoworlds:Fantastic Voyage as a Fantastic Origin Story
Fantastic Voyage, a 1966 Hollywood science fiction film based on a screenplay written by Harry Kleiner, is often associated with contemporary nanotechnology imaginings. In this article, I draw on ethnographic research conducted within a new nanoengineering department and undergraduate major to show how this film is deployed to produce a particular disciplinary and professional identity for nanoengineering. By juxtaposing my analysis of how the film is framed in the department with a close reading of the film itself, I show how both inclusions and exclusions constitute the “nano dream,” a boundary-drawing practice that constructs the nanoengineer as an intrinsically ethical identity. I further assess how the constitutive exclusions of a cultural object taken up within an epistemic community can potentially serve as the starting points for intervention—in this case, a critical pedagogy that posits a “critical nanoengineering” practice.
Fantastic Voyage, a 1966 Hollywood science fiction film written by Harry Kleiner1 and starring Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch, is often associated with contemporary nanotechnology imaginings.2 While [End Page 263] the depicted voyage is into the microscalar confines of the human body, the fantastic voyage often promised by nano enthusiasts traverses both space and time: into the “nanoworld” (1–100 nanometers); the macroworlds of medicine, energy, information technologies, environmental cleanup, and war; and the deep past and distant future. This film is invoked not only in popular communications about nano, but also within scientific communities. In this article, I will show how the film is used in a nanoengineering department to establish a distinct disciplinary history and professional identity for nanoengineering, an emerging category of technoscientific practice being established in part through an undergraduate degree program. This history and identity grounds itself in an imaginary of “nanoworlds” and “nano dreams.” It both distinguishes between and merges Nature and Man as it ties common nanotechnologies on the market today—antibacterial socks, nanosilver-lined baby bottles, zinc oxide sunscreens, and chocolate—to the “nanotechnologies” of the past such as the fourth-century Lycurgus Cup of Alexandria and the stained glass of medieval cathedrals. At the same time, this history and identity connects today’s nanotechnologies to the promises of future revolutions in biomedicine, energy, information technology, and new materials. As it aspires to the complete and precise control and manipulation of matter on the atomic scale, it articulates “nano” as at once ordinary and extraordinary and defines it in the universal terms of innovation for the benefit of society.
Yet analyses of scientific practice, education, and disciplinary and identity formation that take culture seriously can do more than examine how cultural objects are produced or appropriated in epistemic [End Page 264] communities. They can also be assessed for opportunities to engender critical practice. By juxtaposing an ethnographically informed analysis of how the film is taken up in this pedagogical space with a close reading of the film itself, I attend not only to how Fantastic Voyage becomes enrolled in fashioning a particular narrative for a nascent field, but also to what gets excluded from this narrative. Drawing on the concept of constitutive exclusions, I ask how the film could be more extensively used to enact a critical pedagogy for nanoengineering that would attend to power and to the cultural norms and values that inform knowledge production.3 Importantly, in the context of technoscientific production, critical pedagogy demands an ongoing and reflexive engagement with the societal dimensions of that production.4 Rosalyn Berne and Joachim Schummer demonstrate that science fiction in particular can be used in the engineering classroom to teach moral responsibility and engineering ethics.5 I argue that both the department’s inclusions and its exclusions of particular aspects of the film from its representation are constitutive of the history and identity it is trying to create, and that such exclusions can serve as starting points for imagining how nanoengineering might be otherwise. Additionally, I propose one model of transdisciplinary dialogue that coheres around a cultural object to further mutual interest in science and justice. This model entails starting with a cultural object already embraced by this epistemic community, articulating specific recommendations for using this object to introduce students to the societal dimensions of their work, and framing these recommendations in terms of values espoused by the actors in my site using language that travels.
My analysis is based on ethnographic field work I have done for four years in one of the first nanoengineering departments and undergraduate majors in the world, established in a public university in California.6 This department was established in 2007, subsuming the [End Page 265] existing chemical engineering major within it. In the fall of 2010, it offered its first undergraduate nanoengineering class as part of its new undergraduate major. The material for this article is primarily based on repeated observation of two introductory required nanoengineering courses and analysis of the corresponding lecture slides, interpretive analysis of the film, and interviews with the chair, faculty, and students.7 Nanoengineering is typically defined as the control and manipulation of matter that takes advantage of the unique properties and behaviors that emerge between 1 and 100 nanometers. While the department uses the term “nanoengineering,” its originally proposed title of “Nanoscience & Engineering” reflects the fact that many of its faculty identify as both engineers and scientists; while focused on the concrete goals of building specific applications, the unique properties and behaviors emergent at this scale necessitate engagement in fundamental research.8 In this sense, the department validates the claim of Kathryn de Ridder-Vignone and Michael Lynch that “nano” is “a clear example of ‘technoscience.’”9,10 While nano has grown significantly in the United States in both private and public spaces, particularly since the establishment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) under President Clinton in 2000, there is not universal agreement that nanoscience or nanoengineering is or should be a distinct disciplinary field. In this space I am able to observe how faculty and students are crafting a distinct disciplinary and professional identity, and Fantastic Voyage is a key element in this formation. Though invocations of the film in popular [End Page 266] writing tend to present nanoengineering as an already consolidated field, within this space it is invoked to do the ongoing work of consolidation.
Theoretically, my work is grounded in science and technology studies (STS) approaches to scientific disciplinary formation, epistemic communities, and science fiction.11 It is inspired by feminist science studies and cultural studies contributions that have been especially adept at examining the inseparability of science and culture,12 feminist theory that draws attention to the constitutive nature of exclusions,13 and feminist science studies interventions in pedagogy that attempt to think science and justice together.14 While it is common in STS to look at science as culture, it is less common to take cultural production and appropriation seriously, particularly when it occurs within epistemic communities (as opposed to that which is perceived as disseminating science to the public).15 Moreover, [End Page 267] while some have called for greater STS engagement in pedagogical spaces,16 this is an underdeveloped area that offers opportunity for theoretical insight as well as pragmatic intervention. In this article, I will contribute to theoretical understandings about how cultural production and appropriation are constitutive of scientific practice, pedagogy, and identity. I will additionally contribute methodological approaches for engaging culture in epistemic spaces in ways that both analyze it and take it up as an opportunity for intervention.
Fantastic Voyage and the Institutionalization of Nanoengineering
Common descriptions of Fantastic Voyage depict a film showing miniaturized technologies (humans in a submarine shrunk down to the microscale) that enter the human body for life-saving medical purposes. Indeed, this common description is what is primarily invoked in my site. While I will provide a more in-depth analysis of the film in my discussion of constitutive exclusions and critical pedagogy, here I want to contextualize my ethnographic analysis with a brief plot summary. A Cold War film, Fantastic Voyage tells the story of a US military mission to save the life of a Russian defector who holds top secret knowledge about miniaturization technologies. Upon his arrival in the United States, an assassination attempt leaves the defector unconscious with a dangerous blood clot in his brain. The US military mission entails bringing together a team of military and medical personnel who are miniaturized in a submarine and sent inside the defector’s bloodstream. Their mission is to locate and clear the blood clot in order to save his life, with the purpose of ultimately obtaining his technical knowledge, which would allow the US to shrink an entire army down to the size of a bottle cap, send it behind enemy lines, and control its resumption to normal size. The team encounters multiple challenges that stem from social, political, technological, and environmental factors, and the personnel barely escape from the Russian’s body with their lives. The film ends without any indication that the mission has been a success. [End Page 268]
Fantastic Voyage is invoked in this nanoengineering department to establish a disciplinary history and identity for a new kind of scientist-engineer-entrepreneur: the nanoengineer. The founders of this department describe a kindred connection to the film. To some extent, it catalyzed their creation of the department. According to the chair, when he and two other faculty members discovered that they had all been incredibly moved and professionally inspired by the film as young people, they decided that they needed to create a new disciplinary space to enable the kind of innovation that would be necessary to realize the film’s vision.17 In fact, one of their first hires was someone whom they all perceived was already doing such research. Yet while the film serves as history, inspiration, and promise for the nanoengineers, it would not necessarily be understood by them as constitutive of their field or identity. This is in part because they understand the field as always already existing in nature, only recently made available to human ingenuity through the vision of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman and subsequent technological instrumentation.
From this perspective, it would be impossible to say that a cultural object like a film could help to produce the field. Indeed, it is telling that while the film is invoked explicitly and implicitly in multiple lectures by multiple faculty and is described and compared to current research, students are encouraged to watch it on their own rather than having it shown in class. This different perspective regarding the role of the film as representational and inspirational but not constitutive speaks to disciplinary differences between nanoengineers and myself as an ethnographer coming from communication, STS, and cultural studies. Yet their placement of the film as part of their disciplinary and departmental history makes agreement on its import, if not the precise nature of its import, possible. I will return to this in my discussion of critical pedagogy, but first I will show how the film as it is taken up by this epistemic community concretizes a disciplinary history for nanoengineering, connects prophetic imagination to popular imagination, defines a particular temporal dynamic of innovation for the field, and constructs a moral economy centered around an intrinsically ethical nanoengineer. I will show first how its placement in a historical timeline as it is introduced to students begins to establish disciplinary history and to connect prophetic and popular imagination, though my evidence [End Page 269] will also begin to elucidate the kind of exclusions that I attend to as I analyze what is included.
There are different timelines for nanotechnology in circulation, each organized in a linear trajectory around nanoscale research and development, which attempt to consolidate a range of practices and to present nanoengineering and nanotechnology as inevitable. In one nanotechnology textbook used in the curriculum in my site, “Nature” is designated as “the first nanotechnologist” and nano is said to go back “billions of years if nature is included.”18 Some timelines also go into the future. For example, The Foresight Institute, a nanotechnology advocacy think tank, describes first through fourth generations of nanotechnology, explaining that the first generation is out on the market in the form of common consumer products, the second is in the lab, the third is in simulation, and the fourth will be realized when complete control of the material world at the atomic scale is achieved.19 A poster prominently displayed in my research site displays a trajectory for nanotechnology that begins with the atomic bomb and ends in 2050 with space travel and artificial intelligence.20 In doing so, it suggests that these future events are inevitable, as concrete as the historical events on the same timeline. And in the timeline published on the website of the NNI, nanotechnology begins in the fourth century with the Lycurgus Cup, a piece of Alexandrian glass that changes color depending on the angle of light due to the presence of nanoscale silver and gold particles. In the modern era, the NNI timeline includes the coining of the term “molecular engineering” in 1956, Richard Feynman’s speech “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” in 1959 (hereafter “Plenty of Room”),21 Gordon Moore’s articulation of “Moore’s Law” in 1966, and Norio Taniguchi’s coining of the term “nanotechnology” in 1974.22 These [End Page 270] examples suggest both a widespread perception among nano enthusiasts that a timeline is necessary to stabilize nanoengineering, and that no particular timeline has yet obtained exclusive authority. The timeline presented by the nanoengineering department in an introductory required nanoengineering course (Nano 1) largely parallels the NNI account, but it begins with the 1959 speech by Feynman, followed by the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. Situated between Feynman’s speech and Moore’s Law, the film is established as an important element in the history of nanoengineering.
Nano 1 is taught by the chair of the department with the stated objective of introducing nanoengineering majors to the field and degree program and generating enthusiasm for nanoengineering. The department’s formal proposal for an undergraduate major states: “With the large number of basic science requirements, we must provide a mechanism to motivate the students and retain their interest.”23 It additionally describes four objectives for the class:
1. To stimulate the interest in nanotechnology in relation to contemporary issues and latest technology developments.
2. To instill the importance of academic honesty and professional ethics.
3. To clarify the nanoengineering curriculum in places where regular orientations and academic advisors may not have been adequate.
4. To introduce students to the use of library resources.24
Establishing a disciplinary or professional identity for nanoengineering is not an explicitly stated objective. Yet through the practices of stimulating interest, motivating students, and covering the stated course topics such as “what nanoengineering is all about,” “examples of nanotechnology topics, and career opportunities,” and “the nanoengineering faculty and their research interests,” such an identity is produced.25 I will return to a discussion regarding the course objective of professional ethics, which is only implicitly addressed in this class through references to clinical trials for biotechnology applications.
The chair opens the class with a purpose: “I want to … give you [End Page 271] a little bit of the history of the field,” then situates the field’s origins in Feynman’s 1959 talk “Plenty of Room.” Describing the talk as “… an amazing vision of the future,” he says, “I want to show you what the vision was, and where we are currently with some of those things.” His introduction grounds all subsequent events of the field in the vision of a highly respected father figure.26 In a nanotechnology textbook used in the curriculum in a later class, Feynman is referred to as the “prescient physicist” who delivered his “prophetic” talk in 1959,27 and similar rhetoric about Feynman pervades the department and curriculum. Students are encouraged to listen to the TEDx talk “Feynman’s Vision: The Next 50 Years,” hosted by the California Institute of Technology, in order to “understand the vision of the field.” In it, IBM physicist Don Eigler presents reflections of Feynman that have an almost hagiographic tone.28,29 [End Page 272]
The chair alternates between quoting from Feynman’s imaginings of future technological capabilities and subsequent historical moments in the development of the field, including present activities in the nanoengineering department. This dialogical movement creates a particular order to the emergence of nanoengineering, enacting a logic that pairs idealization with materialization. That is, it suggests that the act of articulating an ideal vision is at least in part constitutive of what comes to be. I will return to this momentarily in my discussion of the nano dream, but here I want to emphasize that situating the film—one of these historical moments on the timeline—within Feynman’s utterances works to demonstrate a progressive concretization of vision into reality (from word, to film, to instrumentation, to field). This dialogical movement additionally connects Feynman’s vision to the popular imagining of nanoengineering depicted in a Hollywood motion picture and to the professional vision of the nanoengineer.
Just prior to mentioning the film, the chair says: “This is 1959, … so, fifty years ago, [there was] a vision that this would transform our work. And it already has started to do that … What [Feynman is] talking about is manipulating control of materials on this very small scale, what we have coined as ‘nanoengineering,’ and this is sort of our view as to where that field is going.” Note that what he highlights from Feynman’s description is “manipulating control of materials on this very small scale,” a recurring theme in nanoengineering’s material and discursive practices and a central theme in Fantastic Voyage. Indeed, this phrase serves to define the field as “what we have coined as ‘nanoengineering.’”
Then, he briefly describes the film:
In 1966 Hollywood kind of had its first go at what we sort of view as sort of [a] microtechnology field. This was the movie Fantastic Voyage. … When I was [End Page 273] young, Fantastic Voyage was the state of the art, the most futuristic movie that had been created. It seems trivial and simple minded now, but at the time it was amazing. … It’s a story about scientists who shrink a submarine full of scientists, they inject it into a person’s body, it goes to kill a … hemorrhage, or to seal, heal a hemorrhage in his brain that saves the scientist, who was a very famous scientist, and all the traumas of trying to introduce something into the bloodstream, and having white blood cells attack and so forth, but it was a very visionary view of the field.
Hollywood’s vision in the film is described as “futuristic” and “amazing,” establishing the magnitude of realizing such a vision and demonstrating that such visions are not merely incremental. The description also suggests that the only people involved are scientists—scientists shrink a sub full of scientists to save the life of a scientist—and implies that the reason for doing so is that the ailing scientist is famous.30 By describing the plot as revolving around scientists saving someone’s life, the mission is framed as ethical (good), universal, and apolitical. That is, by narrating the goal of the mission as saving a man’s life and as including only scientists (figures that have an aura of political neutrality), the professor implicitly suggests that the film is about science and medicine rather than weapons and war, and that it has no particular time and place. To be clear, I’m making a claim about the productive work of this framing, not about his intentions. Indeed, framing the story as a medical story if the goal is to connect it to current nanomedicine research seems like a straightforward choice but, as I will show, it has consequences. The verbal slip-up—when the professor initially uses the word “kill” and then corrects himself with “heal”—is the kind of error that can happen when talking extemporaneously, but I note it due to the ambiguity regarding healing and killing in the film, which I’ll revisit in my analysis of constitutive exclusions.
After another connection between “Plenty of Room” and later research, the professor says:
So, moving forward. 1996 … [the] nanomedicine field took on a different view, so Hollywood became a little nicer to us, we didn’t have to be shrunk down, we developed this way to build these miniature robot machines that [End Page 274] we put into the bloodstream. And … we are closer to this vision than you might imagine. We have one of our faculty members who builds nanomotors, nanobots, that create self-locomotion, and have learned how to pick up blood particles [deliver them in?] a fluid system, deposit them elsewhere, so what we see here as 1966 Hollywood is already being done, now, not in the bloodstream yet, but in blood and in urine and in other bodily fluids, so the jump from where we’re at to the vision a few years back, it’s not all science fiction. Okay? Unfortunately, nano is often portrayed as science fiction. If you haven’t read Prey, it’s a great book. It happens to be based on a lot of actual science, but it is a great book.31
In the beginning of this quote, the phrase “Hollywood became a little nicer to us, we didn’t have to be shrunk down” suggests that the collapse of the human and the technological in Fantastic Voyage, represented by humans in a submarine who together become the technological apparatus inserted into a human body, is merely an aspect of 1966 Hollywood being “trivial” and “simple minded.” The reality of nanomedicine is framed as more sophisticated: “… we didn’t have to be shrunk down, we developed … miniature robot machines. …” That is, while the film shows human and nonhuman elements inextricably intertwined, the chair reinforces their inherent separability, distancing the scientific and engineering practices of nanoengineering from the film’s representation of human beings as microtechnologies. While a part of the film is rejected, another part is taken up to illustrate that the vision of controlling and manipulating matter at a small scale is being realized in the current work by a professor in the department—”… who builds nanomotors, nanobots, that create self-locomotion, and have learned how to pick up blood particles.” The film serves as a link between Feynman’s vision and current research in the department: “… what we see here as 1966 Hollywood is already being done, now.” This reference back to the film in conjunction with contemporary nanomedicine research in the department emphasizes that a transformation has occurred, from a vision to its realization, blurring what constitutes science fiction and what constitutes reality.32 Nano is not science fiction, but the science fiction novel Prey has “a lot of actual science.” The prophetic vision of Feynman becomes science fiction first in the film but as it materializes into reality through the labor of the nanoengineer, it becomes nano. That is, innovation materializes in [End Page 275] a linear progression from fiction into fact, from vision into reality, such that fantastic visions can be materialized within the timeframe of a nanoengineer’s lifetime. This isn’t to suggest that the chair or other faculty present this as an easy or magical process; research is presented as labor intensive and challenging. Rather, it speaks to the possibilities of creating something new.33 And I highlight it in part because my approach to intervention, which I will elaborate later, relies on finding common ground between scientists, engineers, and people in the social sciences and humanities. Here, the inclusion of fiction and vision speaks to the multifaceted processes of knowing and making that are both material and discursive, and therefore indexes a way in to multidisciplinary dialogue.
In Nano 101, a full-credit course students take in their second year, another professor invokes Fantastic Voyage to define the “nano dream” as the guiding principle of this dynamic between vision and reality. The nano dream is both a vision of a future nanotechnology that will benefit society and the concept that guides one’s present research and career trajectory. Like the department chair, this professor starts with “Plenty of Room” and then narrates a similar version of the film’s plot. Accompanying his description are slides showing images from the movie and the caption, “By 1966, Hollywood has caught on and Introduced the World to Nanomedicine.” Again, by situating the film after Feynman, the professor implicitly suggests that Hollywood is taking up Feynman’s vision in its portrayal of a miniaturized medical technology, and he connects prophetic vision to popular imagination. The slide also suggests that the idea of nanomedicine existed in the 1960s, which makes sense in the context of establishing a disciplinary history that begins in 1959.34 He then shows that by the 1980s, there is a move “From ‘Nanodreams’ to [End Page 276] Reality,” and in the context of reality he discusses nanomedicine. On the slide for nanomedicine, there are two pictures: an image of the submarine Proteus from Fantastic Voyage, and a drawing of a nanocarrier, again juxtaposing the “vision” and the “reality.” Thus an implied theory of this lineage is presented: first, the field as a material possibility and phenomenon is naturally occurring; it is articulated by Richard Feynman in 1959; a Hollywood science fiction film connects Feynman’s vision to popular imagination, inspiring young people to go into science and engineering in order to realize the vision; gradually, new developments in instrumentation begin to make nanoscale research and development humanly possible; and now, the field is being established at places like this public university where this professor is in fact realizing the vision of Fantastic Voyage in his nanomedicine research.35 According to this narrative, popular imagination embodied in a cultural object becomes the personal, professional, and institutional imagination, and serves as a critical element in the materialization of nano—the field, the practitioner, and the technologies.
In a later lecture, the professor again connects the film to the nano dream when he promises to “… talk about the Fantastic Voyage, about the dream.” And he says, “So we started with the Fantastic Voyage, this was the goal in 1966 to take a vehicle, to shrink it, to swim in the blood, can do the binding to a cancer cell, can do the imaging, can [deliver?] a therapeutic payload, can navigate in the blood, and can do the cancer therapy.” Notice in this quote that there is a slippage from a description of the goal in 1966 into the description of what the professor “can do” right now, which is itself merged with the promise of nanobot targeted drug delivery mechanisms that will fundamentally alter the treatment of cancer; the nano dream collapses past, present, and future. The professor also reframes the Fantastic Voyage vision as a story about shrinking a vehicle rather than shrinking humans inside a vehicle, discarding the non/human apparatus represented in the film just as the department chair did. Finally, the professor’s main lecture on nanomedicine references the film, including a link to it so that students can watch it on their own. The final lecture slide concludes with an image of the film and the words, “Follow your nano dreams!” Recall that the nano dream itself is defined as a future beneficial nanotechnology that the nanoengineer endeavors to develop. This central message [End Page 277] communicates to students that they too should call upon popular and personal imagination to pursue the research and development of nanotechnologies that will benefit society and serve as the ideal toward which they direct their life and work.
As I will expand upon momentarily, the refrain “follow your nano dreams” is important in the construction of how the moral economy of nanoengineering is constructed. Nanoengineering becomes delimited as an inherently ethical domain of practice, and the nanoengineer comes to understand her identity as being intrinsically good. That is, by translating “nano dream” into “benefitting society”—and here translation signifies semiotic translation as well as the material and economic translation of research into marketable products—nanoengineering comes to represent a disciplinary and professional identity that originates in Nature and that is guided and defined by its mission to benefit society. However, this imperative for the nanoengineering student to follow her nano dream belies a tension between the individualist idea that the student should craft and then realize her own dream, and the reality of nanoengineering-related knowledge production, which occurs in academic or industrial labs, where the academic researchers are often working with industrial partners. Whose dream actually gets materialized? The aspirational figure that informs this imperative is that of the entrepreneur: the promise is that each student has the potential to follow her own nano dream, including obtaining her own patent and creating her own company. This is made explicit on multiple occasions. For example, in Nano 1 when the chair describes the faculty in the department, he emphasizes their entrepreneurial nature:
Our group also has started somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen companies from the faculty itself, spinoffs. I’ve started a company that actually I’m not even involved with anymore, they commercially are selling products and generating revenue. … I’m actually involved in starting up another one right now. …
[He then describes how many companies different faculty members have started, including eight started by one professor.]
So … we are a department really committed to translational research. … we have a very, very strong focus on being able to take what we do and turn it into a real industry. … we’re very unique, down-to-earth, trying to get technology and science done in parallel.
In describing how faculty start companies and spin-offs, the chair communicates that becoming an engineer-entrepreneur and realizing one’s nano dream are both possible and desirable.
In these lectures, we see the film invoked not only as a static element [End Page 278] in the history of this new field—a point on the timeline—but as a material and discursive practice doing work in the production of a nano identity. The professors construct a symmetrical relationship between Feynman introducing nano to scientists, and Hollywood introducing nano to the public; these are functionally equivalent in discursive power. “Plenty of Room” and Fantastic Voyage are positioned as communicating amazing visions that have become realized in the labs of this new nanoengineering department, narrativizing a dream-to-reality progression. But in order to demonstrate how the nano dream works as an apparatus of disciplinary production, it is necessary to show how it is a boundary-drawing practice. So far, in showing how it is invoked in the department, I’ve highlighted how particular aspects of the film are included in constructing the nano dream. That is, the film-cum-dream is fantastic, technophilic, beneficial, apolitical, and realizable. It represents progress through human ingenuity, it entails control of the material world, and it alternatively creates and collapses past, present, and future. Its portrayal of the inseparability of the human and the technological is made irrelevant through humor, pejoratives (“simple-minded” and “trivial”), and exclusions. Through an analysis of what is included in the department’s framing of the film, the ideals of nanoengineering and the nanoengineer begin to emerge: nanoengineering as a fantastic and visionary field that aims to control the material world on the small scale, and the nanoengineer as a scientist laboring to materialize her dreams of progress for the benefit of humanity.
Yet the nano dream emerges not only from what is included in this narrative of disciplinary history, but also from what is excluded. Taking the department at its word that Fantastic Voyage is a significant element of its disciplinary and departmental history, I do a short but close reading of the film to examine how exclusions are constitutive of the multi-scalar materializations of nano in the form of nanotechnologies, nanoengineer, nanoengineering department, and nano/world. Additionally, I show how they can be potential starting points for interventions aimed at positing a critical nanoengineering practice.
Constitutive Exclusions and Critical Pedagogy
A discussion of Fantastic Voyage in an introductory nanoengineering class presents an opportunity to teach what Karen Barad calls “agential literacy.”36 If scientific literacy is understood as knowledge about scientific facts and methods, agential literacy is about “knowing how to [End Page 279] intra-act responsibly within the world.”37 Agential literacy requires observing the connections between scientific practices and other social practices, recognizing that objectivity and agency are bound up with responsibility and accountability, and understanding that material-discursive practices do not merely reflect an observationindependent world, but enact and materialize that world.38 As science fiction, the film is particularly equipped to help students engage moral questions because, as Berne and Schummer point out, science fiction tends to already move beyond the confines of “present material reality” and thus engagement with it can be open-ended and creative.39
Indeed, there is more overlap between the goals of agential literacy and the perspectives of nanoengineers than might at first seem apparent, and intervention can build on these overlaps. For example, nanoengineers would agree that scientific practice is bound up with social practices and that it requires particular responsibility and accountability. They understand—probably better than most—the relationships between scientific research, the politics of funding, the opportunities and constraints afforded by the market, and the temporal challenges of translating their research into products (especially true in the biomedicine domain). They believe in and practice academic integrity, and they discuss with students the imperative to engineer well, including following all quality assurance protocols to prevent technological failures. And while in many ways they understand themselves to be learning about an objective world that is “out there,” their nano dream discourse suggests that they do indeed see themselves as participating in the materialization of the world. Therefore, taking this opportunity with Fantastic Voyage shouldn’t require bringing in a humanities scholar to do a close reading of the film, nor should it take much time from achieving other course objectives. [End Page 280] Given that current science and engineering faculty may not be enculturated to engage a film in this way, however, co-teaching or inviting a humanities colleague to guest lecture could be useful.
In what follows, as I read the film to assess how exclusions in the department’s framing help constitute the nano dream, I will discuss strategies that utilize key exclusions to open up discussion among undergraduate students about the mis/appropriation of research and responsibility; control, failure, risk and uncertainty; the construction of boundaries between human and nonhuman, man and machine, and micro- and macroscales; and race, gender, and politics in science and technology. These strategies are designed to enact a critical pedagogy, one that attends to power and that incorporates risk, uncertainty, and ethics into the nano dream rather than regarding it as intrinsically ethical. Agential literacy does not require nanoengineers to also be experts in policy, ethics, and the societal dimensions of technologies, but it does demand a critical engagement that asks questions about who and what might or might not benefit from particular technoscientific materializations. From this perspective, ethics cannot be circumscribed by good intentions or academic integrity; it is more like a craft of responsibilization that is inextricable from the craft of technoscientific engineering. Therefore, nanoengineers need to be taught how to do this craft well as a part of achieving their own goals. Neither does agential literacy espouse a neoliberal version of individual responsibility. Despite the word “pedagogy,” this is not just about teaching students, or about privileging individual as opposed to institutional responsibility and ethics. Rather, I suggest that working within an engineering school to incorporate critical pedagogy has the potential to rework institutional engagement with the societal dimensions of technoscientific research and development. To achieve a pedagogical shift requires institutional commitment that has the potential to resignify the nano dream, and therefore to refigure the nanoengineer, nanoengineering, and the nanoworld. The basic shift in perspective that underlies reworking these exclusions into opportunities for intervention consists of moving away from privileging who and what are included in defining and receiving benefit, toward who and what are excluded, and with what consequences. This is a paradigmatic shift.
“Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces”: Nano Dreams and Nano Nightmares
From the first moments of Fantastic Voyage, it is clear that this is a story about a military mission. Soviet scientist and diplomat Jan Benes is shown arriving on an airstrip in the United States at night [End Page 281] amid a heavy military presence, which establishes that this is no ordinary scientific visit or diplomatic mission. En route from the tarmac in a caravan of military vehicles, he is the target of an assassination attempt that leaves him in critical condition, unconscious with a blood clot in his brain. In the next scene, Grant (played by Stephen Boyd), a “Communications Expert” and ex-frogman who is brought in to head up security, is picked up in the middle of the night and taken to a massive underground military facility called the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces, or CMDF. The facility contains large gray corridors, is liberally adorned with CMDF insignia, and is bustling with uniformed men and women. Grant is taken via golf cart directly to General Carter, who then takes him to the Observation Room. They look down upon Benes, who is lying on an operating table.
“What the devil happened?” Grant asks.
“The Other Side got to him.”
“How bad off is he?”
“Before or after what he wanted to tell you?”
“Before he could breathe a word,” Carter says. “He’s the only scientist who knows the answer to what we’re after. That’s why we have to operate.”
Several things are established here: first, this is a story of the Cold War, and therefore a story of “our side” and the “other side.” Second, Benes is a Soviet scientist who intended to defect, to tell “our side” something important that only he knows. Third, the fact that he has suffered an injury before disclosing this knowledge is “why we have to operate.” They will operate to save his life, not for humanitarian reasons but because they want his knowledge. The CMDF is presumably top secret; Grant, though a military man, has never heard of it, and he arrives at the facility only after the car transporting him is left on a platform that descends into the earth, a secret elevator to this underground facility. When he asks Carter what this place is, the general answers: “We can shrink an Army—with all its equipment—and put it in a bottle cap. That’s why we call it Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces.” The name of this facility conjoins miniaturization with militarization.
Grant whistles silently, and says, “If the Other Side ever gets hold of that …”
Carter replies: “They have. … But we’ve both got the same problem—lack of control. We can only keep things miniaturized for exactly sixty minutes.
After that, everything starts growing back to its original size.”
“I assume Benes knows how to control it.” [End Page 282]
“That’s right. He wanted us to have the secret, and not them. Which is why they tried to kill him.”
The “other side” tried to kill the scientist, and “our side” is trying to save him, for one reason: “Benes knows how to control it.” Lack of control is the central problem, and absolute control over the miniaturization of matter constitutes the most valuable knowledge. This reveals another important way in which this film resonates with nanoengineers. It is not merely that a small submarine navigating the bloodstream to save a man’s life bears a resemblance to nanobot drug carriers that might eventually eradicate tumor cells. It is also about the ideal of being able to control matter at ever smaller scales. Recall that this was one aspect of Feynman’s speech that the department chair highlighted to define nanoengineering, and that the Foresight Institute claims that fourth-generation nanotechnologies will arrive when we have achieved complete and absolute control over matter at the atomic scale. While many nanoengineers may not ascribe to the latter’s views about what constitutes “control,” the visual and verbal invocations of “control” throughout both the curriculum and the department do not generally unpack this term to indicate that it should be understood in a more limited way. The department’s mission states that “Nanoengineering concerns itself with controlling matter on the molecular scale and manipulating processes that occur on the scale of nanometers.”40 This overarching theme melds with discussions of “precision engineering,” “shaping molecules,” and “designing” materials, and is articulated with invocations of Feynman’s talk and images such as Don Eigler’s IBM logo.41 Together, the discourses of control in the department fit in with the themes of control in Fantastic Voyage, suggesting that control does indeed refer to precise manipulations of matter at ever smaller scales.
In the film, obtaining control over the material world is worth risking the lives of the crew in the submarine who have been shrunken down and injected into Benes’s body. Dr. Michaels, the Chief of the Medical Section and one of the crew members, protests, “With all the unknown factors in the body, I still say risking five lives for one is something we should reconsider.” Yet the medical doctor has mistaken the issue, framing it as a question of what should or should not be risked to save a man’s life. As I’ve emphasized, saving a man’s life is also how the nanoengineering department frames the mission [End Page 283] in the film. But in the story, Dr. Michaels’s concern is brushed aside. General Carter interrupts him: “We understand your concern, but we’ve made our decision, Doctor.” This exchange between doctor and general highlights that the decision is expressly made by military command, not by medical experts, and it has already been established that the purpose is to obtain Benes’s knowledge for military ends. Reinforcing that this is a military mission, Grant says rhetorically, “How much can a man give to his country?” This phrasing reminds the viewer that the potential sacrifice of the crew is not for the sake of a human life, but for the state. They are potentially giving up their own lives to further the military interests of the United States.42 The fact that this is a military mission is also emphasized visually. From the first moments of the film with the heavy military presence; to the imagery inside the CMDF, with CMDF insignia on all the walls, uniforms, and equipment; to the gridding and mapping of Benes’s body as though it were a war zone, and the use of a submarine to enter his body, the film visually emphasizes that this is a story about a novel kind of military mission.43 The mission to save Benes’s life is indeed a mission to acquire the knowledge needed to control miniaturization for military purposes. That is, the mission to save a life on the human scale is a mission to wage war better on a global geopolitical scale. And, on a microscale, saving a life is potentially achieved through waging war at the cellular level; the crew are operating within an antagonistic environment where they intend to destroy the blood clot through use of a powerful laser that visually resembles a large machine gun.44 [End Page 284]
Indeed, through the laser the film seems to reflect on the ways that some technologies can be used for good or ill—they are not inherently good. For example, when Grant first sees the laser, the technical assistant Cora (played by Raquel Welch) is in the process of testing it. It burns a hole into a piece of metal. Grant comments that such an instrument could be used to kill rather than to cure. Cora replies that this is not true as long as it is in the hands of Dr. Duval, the lead neurosurgeon. But later, in fact, this laser is used to destroy the submarine—with the traitorous Dr. Michaels inside—while it is still in Benes’s body. This ambiguity calls to mind the verbal slip-up uttered by the professor when he said the crew entered the body to “kill” a hemorrhage, and then corrected himself to say that they were intending rather to “heal” the hemorrhage. And while the film may suggest that the technologies are neutral, their goodness or evil only determined by how they are employed by humans, it also troubles a notion of neutrality by portraying the entire technological assemblage as containing multiple politics and varying moral valences represented by the different crew members.
By including the narrative about a team of scientists saving the life of an important scientist and excluding the narrative of the military mission, the professors implicitly draw a boundary around what constitutes the nano dream and what is external, between what counts as relevant and what is just Hollywood. I have no reason to assume that this is an intentional goal or a planned exclusion; rather, from the perspective of a nanoengineer the plot elements of the 1966 film may seem self-evidently irrelevant. Yet the nano dream, and through it nanoengineering and the nanoengineer, are in any case produced through both what is included and what is excluded, so that it is here rendered ethical, universal, and apolitical, belonging neither to “this side” nor “that side,” healing but not killing. While I am not aware of any weapons-related nanoengineering work occurring in the department, the Office of Naval Research and DARPA fund many of the ongoing projects. But even the military-enabled projects are understood as producing benefit or potentially saving lives. For example, optical biosensors and drug delivery mechanisms can potentially be worked into military apparel to monitor the health of a service member and administer life-saving medicines. Other kinds of [End Page 285] nano-enabled sensors could better detect IEDs or the presence of chemical weapons. Such projects highlight the fact that the ethics of engaging with the military are not easily delineated, and there are many who would not see the exclusion of this military narrative as a matter of depoliticizing or ethicizing nanoengineering. For example, one nanoengineering student who frequently demonstrates thoughtful engagement with questions of ethics and responsibility in interviews attributes her ethical code to her military training. When asked about potentially developing weapons following graduation, she indicated that she hopes that any weapons she creates would never have to be used, but that her ethics—grounded in a responsibility to defend—support her work on both defensive/protective and “aggressive” tools.45 Still, by excluding the military narrative, at best the moral and ethical questions raised by military weaponry, war, and the militarization of scientific research are sidelined as irrelevant to the unproblematic good that nanoengineering is pursuing. This exclusion produces a goal- and object-oriented dream-to-reality materialization of nanotechnologies that is unfettered by complication or controversy, modeling an uncritical engineering ethos that refrains from engaging the messiness of technoscientific production. While STS scholars and others have long said that technologies are not inevitabilities, that we must open up these black boxes to reveal the messy contingencies that lead to their particular materializations, this exclusion of the military narrative models the nano dream as already black boxed; the end is the beginning.
Enacting a critical pedagogy entails opening up the nano dream, and opening up the nano dream entails including the military narrative. The scenes I have described above that establish the military narrative and the import of Benes’s knowledge for weaponization should be included not only for moral or political reasons; they can also be invoked pedagogically to introduce students to key aspects of technoscientific production that will help them to be more successful engineers. Specifically, these scenes point to the multiple uses and misuses of scientific research. Discussing them does not diminish nanoengineering; it strengthens it. The professor can acknowledge the film’s role as inspiration for faculty working in nanomedicine and draw parallels between the miniaturized submarine in the film and nanobots capable of delivering drugs to tumor cells, while also acknowledging that in this film miniaturization technology is explicitly going to be used in a military context. Just asking students what they think of this can be a moment that opens up critical reflection. [End Page 286]
Another key topic that could be engaged through these scenes is funding; the faculty could use them to discuss the military’s role in research and development, and what this means in terms of funding the projects students would eventually like to work on. Students could be informed as to what percentage of the department’s funding comes from military sources, and the implications this has on the kinds of work they can or cannot do. How does federal funding (or the lack of it) impact nanoengineering research in the university and a nanoengineer’s freedom to follow her dream? What about freedom and funding in industry? What can an individual nanoengineer do if she thinks that aspects of her research could be used in immoral, unethical, or risky ways? What can an institution do? Where does responsibility lay?
Lastly, in addition to nano dreams, students could be asked to consider their nano nightmares. By including the military scenes in order to enact a critical pedagogy, professors can introduce students to the notion that nano dreaming entails considering nano nightmares, that one student’s nanodream may be another’s nightmare, and that research and technologies can be both appropriated and misappropriated in ways that exceed the nano dream. Additionally, responsible engineering entails an ongoing assessment to identify and respond appropriately to the various uses of one’s research and technology. This is not because engineers can be held responsible for every way the world takes up their work, but because their relative social and technical power in materializing nano dreams entails a responsibility to continually interrogate the possibilities they are making available.46
The “Control Room”: Excluding Failure, Risk, and Uncertainty
Control of the material world is a major theme in Fantastic Voyage, as it is in the emerging field of nanoengineering. The military mission to save Benes’s life in order to gain his knowledge of control constitutes an aspirational goal. Yet visually the theme of control [End Page 287] plays out otherwise. The presumption of control is manifest from the beginning through the metaphor of physical control devices—mechanical dials, switches, buttons—and through the sterile, empty Observation Room where Benes’s body lies inert. But lack of control prevails in the action of the story in the form of human and technological breakdown in the face of material agency. For example, in the “Control Room” overlooking the operating theater where Benes lies unconscious, and which represents the “objective view” according to the screenplay, various technicians flip switches and move dials. Large anatomical images and x-rays of the heart are displayed, along with an equally large EKG chart that shows the electronic representation of Benes’s beating heart. According to the screenplay, the chart “is in constant operation via remote control.”47 The miniaturization platform, or “Zero Module,” is operated by the “Miniaturization Control Panel.” Inside the submarine, the captain indicates to Grant that the “controls are highly sophisticated. There’s a button for everything.” However, once miniaturization occurs, the various buttons do not in fact allow the crew to control the situation. Control, therefore, is merely an illusion, and on many levels.
First, we see a failure of human self-control. Dr. Michaels has a traumatic flashback to his wartime experiences, panics as the submarine is submerged into water, and nearly opens the hatch to escape. His panic is described in the screenplay as “irrational terror.”48 Fellow crew members manage to restrain and calm him, but this incident is the first indication that control is illusory. Second, we see the unpredictability of the environment—in this case, a human body—when the sub is unexpectedly swept into a current of the bloodstream and thrown off course. Then, there is a failure of technology; the captain fiddles with his controls, and cries out: “She won’t respond!” Strong vibrations buffet the passengers. The sub enters a massive whirlpool, and the centrifugal force whips Grant and Cora against its sides. The sub gets sucked through the whirlpool and through a fissure, which leaves them farther off course. Going forward would entail going through the heart, which could kill them and doom the patient, but they are not able to go back the way they came. General Carter, unwilling to call off the mission, proposes that they stop the heart for sixty seconds, theoretically not so long that they can’t revive Benes, but just long enough for the sub to pass through it unharmed. And although they do get through the heart, the challenges keep coming. Next, the submarine loses air pressure, necessitating that Grant put [End Page 288] on his wetsuit and exit the sub in an effort to get air from Benes’s lungs into it. Then, Grant is nearly lost inside the lungs when he faces hurricane-like winds. Additionally, when they pass through the inner ear canal and a nurse in the operating room drops a pair of scissors, the vibrations fling them around, and Cora nearly dies. Finally, Dr. Michaels turns out to be a double agent working for the “other side.” He destroys the laser that was intended to clear the blood clot and attempts to take over the sub. The others barely survive the immune system’s attack as they swim to escape Benes’s body through his tear duct. The film ends upon their escape from the body, never actually addressing whether they managed to clear the clot, save Benes’s life, or obtain his knowledge. Though the existence of the Control Room suggests that this operation will be completely controlled, in fact a failure of control manifests throughout the entire non/human mission. These failures stem from psychological, technological, environmental, social, and political sources.
Implying that the Fantastic Voyage mission is successful is to include a narrative of material control that excludes the multiple failures of control actually displayed. Yet the nano dream is constructed as impervious to such failures, because as a dream it need not concern itself with failure. Perhaps what makes this aspiration of total control seemingly a commonsense one is in part a failure to imagine success. As a goal that can never be achieved, its worthiness is tied in to abstract notions of progress and the diminishing of human suffering. But asking students to imagine what the world would look like if nanoengineers actually achieved absolute control and manipulation on an atomic scale could be a way to open up the black box of the nano dream. The ways in which control is figured in the film as the ultimate goal and justification, while also remaining unachievable, can be a starting point for interrogating what, specifically, nanoengineers want to control, what they mean by “control,” and the possible consequences of such control. Who and what will have this control and who and what will be subject to it? Asking students to come up with moments in the film in which control is or is not achieved problematizes the simple aspiration of complete and precise control. What might it mean to obtain control over matter at the nanoscale, and how have attempts to control matter in the past produced benefit, risk, and detriment? Highlighting the failures in the film can show that they are inevitable and multiple, and attending to how the realization of a nano dream might fail for technological, political, social, economic, and environmental reasons can help nanoengineers to be more successful by preparing them to anticipate different kinds of failure. Responsible engineering also entails an [End Page 289] ongoing assessment of how success and failure play out unevenly. For whom and what would the materialization of this dream connote success, and for whom and what would it connote failure? Risk and uncertainty may be inevitable with all research and development, but developing a critical engagement with the field of risks and uncertainties at every stage of research and development can potentially help nanoengineers to minimize the dangers and to recognize the limits of the nano dream.
“Our Side” and “the Other Side”: Figuring Boundaries
The film portrays technology as a complex human-nonhuman material-discursive artifact containing multiple politics. Recall that five human beings enter a nuclear-powered submarine, the submarine is then shrunk down and placed into a hypodermic needle in a saline solution, and then inserted into the bloodstream of a human body. The technology deployed in this military mission consists of the military chief medical officer, the ex-frogman security personnel, the naval captain, the neurosurgeon and his female assistant, the protective suits they wear, the wireless communications system they use, the laser, and the nuclear-powered submarine. The nanoengineering department frames this assemblage as the “nanotechnology” of this mission. As such, the miniaturized submarine visibly contains within it human and nonhuman elements, and makes ambiguous this distinction. As a human-nonhuman hybrid, as a material-discursive object and practice, as a thing that is at once inside and outside, this little submarine’s “fantastic voyage” disrupts a classical realist view of technology as inert and apolitical materiality. There are moments when the film’s screenplay seems to allude to a self-awareness of the messiness it has introduced in this regard. For example, when the submarine and crew are initially shrunk but not yet inserted into the hypodermic needle, people come to inspect the shrunken sub from the outside. The people look enormous from the perspective of the crew. The screenplay reads: “Grant and the others react to the first sight of the oncoming human beings in relation to their own reduced size: a button is immense, a shoe—although far down from their position on the Zero Module—is long as a city street, the heads gargantuan atop skyscraper-tall bodies.”49 Until this point, the screenplay has referenced male and female officers, generals, colonels, technicians, and specialists, but in this moment the crew sees “human beings,” as if to suggest that their own status as “human beings” has been destabilized. Students could be asked to [End Page 290] map out who and what might constitute the nanotechnologies they aspire to create as a way to introduce them to the idea that drawing boundaries between the human and nonhuman and between the material and discursive are political acts and that technologies are always socio-politico-technical artifacts that exist within networks of relationships. Understanding these sociotechnical networks can help them successfully navigate their complexity.50
The entangled human-submarine entity in the film enacts agency and is political in myriad ways. Its mission subordinates medical goals to military ones. It operates on behalf of “our side” in the war against the “other side.” As a non/human and material-discursive entity, this submarine contains “irrational terror” and a hierarchy of authority, ambivalence about the relationship between God and science (there are tense exchanges between the surgeon and the doctor about the small “universe” they are witnessing), gender politics (in the relations between Cora and the rest of the all-male crew), and controls that fail to control. It also manifests the “other side” in the traitorous actions of Dr. Michaels, ever disrupting the easy dichotomization of this and that, us and them. Highlighting these binaries can be starting points for introducing students to the idea of attending to inclusions and exclusions as a matter of responsibility. There are always inclusions and exclusions; a nano dream will always be a boundary-drawing practice. But attending to when, how, and with what consequences boundaries are drawn critically engages technoscientific production.
Fantastic Voyage also confounds easy narratives of scale. The film begins with: “Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there’s no limit to either.”51 But a closer analysis suggests that scale is itself produced through the material and discursive practices of knowing the material world. It is not merely a property of a static spatial container within which the body is situated.52 The film certainly portrays miniaturization and is invoked for that portrayal. Yet it shows scale not as static and singular but as dynamic and multiple. Saving Benes’s life entails making humans in a submarine small and making Benes’s body a universe. Man is figured not just as the center between micro and macro, or between inner and outer space, but as variably scaled: [End Page 291] as microscale, figured by the team that is miniaturized inside Benes’s body; as human scale in the body of Benes in the operating room of the CMDF; and as macroscale in the body of Benes as experienced by the team that is miniaturized inside his body. And these scales are not static, but are changing as the team shrinks and expands. In this sense, while the film may visually privilege the human scale for the audience, it also shows scale to be perspectival, dynamic, and emergent.53 Moreover, the act of clearing a clot in Benes’s brain itself produces local, national, and global scales. That is, as an act in the body of a man in an operating room at the CMDF, it produces the local; as an act of obtaining knowledge within a military mission to produce new weapons of war, it produces the national; and as an act performed on a Soviet scientist by a US military team in order to shrink an army to position behind Soviet lines as part of the Cold War, it produces the global. While students are introduced to the nanoscale as a distinct and unique spatial domain, the representations of scale in this film could be used to interrogate the ways in which scale emerges as an effect of particular practices rather than as a static property of things. Specific nanotechnologies could serve as the starting point for asking students to identify how scale is produced through nanotechnology, and what the relationships are between the nanoworld and the macroworld. Additionally, the technical aspects that make the nanoscale unique could be drawn out in contrast to the film’s erasure of the differences in matter across scale.54
“Zero Module”: Race, Gender, and Social Location
What is included in the faculty’s narrative of the film is a story that has no location, no time or place or other indication that the fantastic voyage is one that is white, male, Western, and located within a Cold War moment. The inclusion of a generic story of scientists constitutes the nano dream as universal even as the exclusion of [End Page 292] the specific story reproduces the boundary that—however unintentionally—preserves the nano dream as a white, masculinist, Western, military-industrial dream. The characters in the film are all white, and traditional gender views are on display from its first moments.55 When the military car first picks up Grant to take him to the CMDF, he appears to be still getting dressed, and he has lipstick on his cheek. The first shot of Grant establishes his virility, with the lipstick indexing woman, home, and sex. He is taken from the lipstick place to the gray, sterile, bustling military environment of the CMDF, where he will become part of this important military mission. Upon arrival, as he is shuttled around in a cart, he pays special attention to the female personnel, whose uniforms indicate that they are not military. Through his gaze and their attire, the presence of women in the CMDF is reaffirmed as auxiliary; they are there to serve the men. Though there is one women crew member, this is explicitly controversial. When Grant asks the general about Cora, Dr. Duval’s technician, he asks if she is okay “in addition to the looks department.” The general replies that she is “loyal.” Later, there is a fierce disagreement among the crew about whether she may actually join. Duval gets his way, but not before others go on record voicing that this is no place for a woman and that they do not want her there. Once the voyage is underway, Cora becomes the object of Grant’s protection. In one titillating scene, she is stretched out against the sinews of bloody tissue near the lungs as she is buffeted by gales of air. Wearing a tight white body suit, she has her arms pinned behind her, her legs are splayed apart, and her breasts heave in distress as Grant works to rescue her.
Including discussions about race and gender would produce a more robust nano dreaming that strengthens the nanoengineering department. One might point to this disagreement in the film among the male members of the crew about whether it is acceptable for Cora, as a woman, to come along on the mission—and acknowledge that while the film illustrates the gender politics of its day, engineering is still a male-dominated discipline.56 This could present an [End Page 293] opportunity to talk about the ways in which the department is trying to make engineering inclusive of women and minorities—including federally funded outreach initiatives—and to ask for input from students. Likewise, faculty could use the lack of racial diversity in the film to openly discuss the continuing failures of science and engineering disciplines to be racially inclusive and to open up dialogue about how the department can ensure that its education program and the field itself make efforts not only to accommodate diversity but to actively pursue it. Locating the film within Western and military ideologies can be done not just to gesture to the fact that the film was “back then” but to discuss the ways in which cultural values, time, and place are always part of determining what science gets done, what knowledges are considered valuable, and what goals are deemed worth pursuing. Nano dreaming will always be inflected by the values of individual and institutional structures that are situated in time and place and that reflect race, gender, sexuality, and class.57 The “zero” of “Zero Module” connotes nothing and nowhere; it is both nought and naught. And it suggests a kind of beginning, the ur-moment of a linear timeline of progress: next is one. But Zero Module is not nowhere; it is somewhere very specific. Students could be asked to consider how their own location—including place, time, gender, race, class, sexuality—might inform their own nano dreams.
I have claimed that framing Fantastic Voyage as a vision of nanotechnology that is currently being realized in the department produces the nano dream as a boundary-drawing practice that circumscribes nanoengineering as an intrinsically ethical practice, and as a time machine that collapses past, present, and future. In my analysis of the film, I showed that it represents a Cold War military narrative; depicts a lack of control over the material world; displays multiple instances of social, political, environmental, and technological failure; highlights the ambiguity between human and nonhuman; illustrates the political nature of technologies; displays the race, gender, and other social and cultural values and biases of its day; and disrupts classical notions of man, nature, and scale. Excluding these elements produces the nano dream as bounded by an abstract, universal good; the medical vision of saving a human life exists within [End Page 294] the dream, while the military vision of controlling miniaturization in the machinery of war is silenced. It also produces the nano dream as inevitably successful; full control of the material world is understood as both desirable and inevitable within the trajectory of scientific progress, while the multiplicity of failure is silenced. It produces the nano dream as apolitical, which hinges on the reification of man and nature as discrete, separable domains. It is also apolitical in deriving from a story about “a team of scientists saving the life of a very important scientist” where the scientists in question are abstract entities lacking race, ethnicity, sex, national identity, or politics. The nano dream is cast as universal—it is about benefitting society or humanity. This reflects language often used in the department: for example, in the mission statement, which says that nanoengineering creates devices “to be utilized by mankind.”
Fantastic Voyage additionally provides a framework around which nano can be articulated to a very particular kind of outsider: the student who will become a member of the community by the time she graduates as a nanoengineer. It establishes the primary themes, the worldview, the temporal orientation, and the identity of this new category of scientist-engineer-entrepreneur, upon which additional stories, discussions, pictures, and activities can then elaborate. Crucially, the way the film is used in the curriculum performs a cut between what counts as relevant and irrelevant that potentially deresponsibilizes the nanoengineer. In the context of contemporary research efforts in the department, students learn specific futures, in which cancer will be cured, solar energy will be widespread, and batteries will be long-lived. However, through Fantastic Voyage, students learn that underlying these specific materializations is an open future,58 one that is shaped according to their own visions as nanoengineers, and that follows the ethos of mimicking and dominating nature in the service of progress. Even though it portrays a specific vision about medicine, the way the film is framed in the curriculum emphasizes that any nano dream can be realized within a lifetime, to inspire students to pursue their own nano dreams. Dreaming the future is an activity that is encouraged as part of their new identity. Making the future according to one’s dreams is part of the power of the nanoengineer. Yet dreams can be framed differently. According to the professors in the department, the dream articulated by the [End Page 295] film is one of a new field and of using nanotechnology to save a human life, a dream that fits within this oft-repeated phrase of using nanotechnologies for the “benefit of humanity.”59 They see a “nano dream” in this film. But alternatively, the vision could be understood as using nanotechnologies to create new weapons. The students are not asked to think about how nanotechnologies can be appropriated for a range of different purposes, what it means to benefit humanity, who and what might or might not actually benefit, or what it means to be benefitted.
While the film is used to constitute a narrative of the power nanoengineering has to control the material world, the nanoengineers/nanotechnologies portrayed are anything but precisely controlled as they move through the scientist’s bloodstream. There is even a traitor who nearly brings the entire endeavor to a catastrophic, fatal end. However, in the nanoengineering department, the possibilities of human failure are often elided by the promises of technological success. Though nanotechnologies are presented as the products of dreams, in the context of the film itself, the nanotechnologies and the nanoengineers are one and the same. In the context of the department, the nanoengineers too are the product of dreams, and the nanoengineers and the nanotechnologies are mutually constituted. Though the chair frames this human-technology collapse in the film as Hollywood not “being nice” to the nanoengineers, this aspect of the film actually fits well with the ways in which nanoengineers and nanotechnologies are co-produced in the lab and in the classroom as relational entities. And whether the students are asked to understand their field of research as the product of a dream, or to understand the future as open, awaiting their dreams, the nano dream perpetuates a relationship to what is relevant and irrelevant that narrowly delimits the nanoengineer’s responsibility. To the extent that nanoengineers learn the dream of saving lives, the moral and ethical stance that life is worth saving and that saving lives is a worthwhile goal for technoscientific pursuits is included. Outside of the dream are the possibilities that the same technoscientific pursuit might not only fail at its goal, or have unintended consequences, but could also be enrolled in morally ambiguous or even sinister goals. This also constitutes an ethical orientation. What is obscured in the professors’ account of miniaturization in the film is that the technological and the human are mutually entangled, the human and nonhuman elements [End Page 296] that constitute the technology contain multiple politics, the uses of this miniaturization are multiple—from saving lives to creating novel new weapons—and the precision and control promised by the technology are never fully realized.
Nanoengineers are not trained to do a close reading of a film in the same way as is a person trained in the humanities or social sciences. From the perspective of an engineer, these details about the film may seem irrelevant—they are the story part, the Hollywood part, extraneous to the vision of nanomedicine that they see in this film. Yet it is this boundary drawn between what counts as relevant and what is deemed irrelevant that I am challenging here. It is this separation between scientific practice and a reflexive engagement with scientific practice, and between nature and culture, that is inadequate to prepare scientists and engineers to intra-act responsibly with the world. I m not advocating that the nanoengineering department should get rid of Fantastic Voyage as part of its disciplinary history. Rather, I am arguing that it could productively engage the film even more than it does in order to enact a critical pedagogy. Neither is it the case that merely including more elements of Fantastic Voyage to generate discussions about the societal dimensions of nanoengineering will by itself produce nanoengineers who know how to responsibly intra-act with the world; this is merely one moment in a four-year curriculum, but it illustrates how approaching engineering education from a perspective of agential literacy rather than just scientific literacy can teach students that “… thinking about science is part of doing science.”60 The chair indicated that he doesn’t feel it makes sense to go into ethics before students learn what it means to be an engineer.61 But if we understand ethics and critical reflection as a skilled practice that is inseparable from doing science and [End Page 297] engineering responsibly, then it is important to begin building this skill immediately and concurrently. And, by instituting a critical pedagogy, faculty are encouraged to model critical engagement as a part of their own identity as nanoengineers. Finally, one can use this film to talk about the power of technoscientific visions while challenging students to think about the responsibilities of that power. The nano dream need not exclude the complexities of intra-acting with the world; indeed, it would be even more powerful if it were understood as a material-discursive practice that does indeed materialize the world and therefore necessarily has real consequences.
My attention to the constitutive exclusions enacted through Fantastic Voyage and my subsequent pedagogical recommendations are grounded in the specifics of my site. However, what I am attempting to model is a strategy for building transdisciplinary bridges between the natural and social sciences and for incorporating STS and particularly feminist STS insights into an epistemic community that I hope will resonate in very different spaces, potentially even those that do not include a pedagogical component. Importantly, I use ethnographic access to identify a cultural object that is already valued and used by this epistemic community; I take that cultural object as seriously or perhaps even more seriously than the community does, analyzing not only how they use it but also doing my own analysis of it to consider whether it offers additional opportunities for intervention; and I identify ways that these insights might be translatable back into the community. In my case, since this is a pedagogical space and the chair has requested a report back on my research related to the pedagogy, it makes sense to offer specific classroom approaches to engage students in discussion that can build toward understanding the societal dimensions of nanoengineering. In doing so, I am attentive to ways I can connect what I view as a political and ethical imperative with an instrumental orientation that demonstrates how such thinking is not merely moral but also potentially productive of a more successful kind of engineer. Other cultural objects in other epistemic communities might lead to different opportunities for intervention. This is not a generic prescription; indeed, I do not yet know if my recommendations will be taken up. Rather, this is an invitation to imagine alternative forms of intervention, and to closely examine the cultural objects produced and appropriated within an epistemic community to understand how both inclusions and exclusions are constitutive of its disciplinary and professional identity. [End Page 298]
Emily York is currently a PhD candidate in Communication and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and she teaches in Communication and in the Writing Program at Marshall College. Her research draws on STS, feminist theory, cultural studies, and communication studies to examine technoscientific imaginaries and questions of ethics and justice in practices of knowing and making worlds.
Many thanks to Valerie Hartouni for her invaluable support. I would also like to thank Donna Haraway for challenging me to think more about the close relationship between dreams and nightmares, and Monika Sengul-Jones, the editors of the journal, and the anonymous referees for their helpful feedback. Finally, I want to thank the nanoengineers who have welcomed me into their world. [End Page 299]
1. Kleiner’s screenplay was adapted from a short story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. The novel by Isaac Asimov published the same year was based on the film version.
2. For example, see Michael Berger, “Another Nanotechnology Step Towards ‘Fantastic Voyage,’” 2010, http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=19378.php; Robert A. Freitas, Jr., “Nanomedicine Art Gallery Images from Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage,” Foresight Institute, 2000, http://www.foresight.org/Nanomedicine/Gallery/FanVoy/; Omid Farokhzad and Robert Langer, “Small Is Fantastic: Exciting Times for Nanomedicine,” The Economist/The World in 2013 Print Edition (2012), http://www.economist.com/news/21566438-exciting-times-nanomedicine-small-fantastic; Christina T. Loguidice, “Nanotech in 2009: A Fantastic Voyage,” HPCLive, 2009, www.hcplive.com/publications/oncology-live/2009/may2009/ON_nanotech_in_2009; Wyss Institute, “A Fantastic Voyage through the Future of Nanomedicine” (June 7, 2013), http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpage/476/; Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Emmaus, PA: Rodale/Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2004). For analysis, see Brigitte Nerlich, “From Nautilus to Nanobo(a)ts: The Visual Construction of Nanoscience,” Journal of Nanotechnology Online 1 (December 22, 2005): 1–19, http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1466; Kathryn D. de Ridder-Vignone and Michael Lynch, “Images and Imaginations: An Exploration of Nanotechnology Image Galleries,” Leonardo 45:5 (November 5, 2012): 447–454; Zach Horton, “Collapsing Scale: Nanotechnology and Geoengineering as Speculative Media,” in Shaping Emerging Technologies: Governance, Innovation, Discourse, ed. Kornelia Konrad, Christopher Coenen, A. B. Dijkstra, Colin Milburn, and Harro van Lente (Bristol, UK: IOP Publishing, 2015), pp. 203–218.
3. See Antonia Darder, Marta Baltodano, and Rodolfo D. Torres, “Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction,” in The Critical Pedagogy Reader, ed. Darder, Baltodano, and Torres (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 1–21; Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14:3 (1988): 575–599.
4. Karen Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy: Or, Learning How to Intra-Act Responsibly within the World,” in Doing Science + Culture, ed. Roddey Reid and Sharon Traweek (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 221–258.
5. Rosalyn W. Berne and Joachim Schummer, “Teaching Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology to Engineering Students through Science Fiction,” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 25:6 (2005): 459–468.
6. The department claims to be the first of its kind, offering the first undergraduate program in the United States. However, based on my research, I believe that that the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY-Albany, established in 2004, could be understood as the first even though it is not technically a “department” (http://www.sunycnse.com/AboutUs.aspx).
7. The human subjects protocol for this study was initially approved by the UC San Diego Human Research Protections Program on November 3, 2010 (101734).
8. The chair in 2011 indicated to me that this change of title was precipitated by the Physics Department’s interest in preserving the term “nanoscience” for any programs it might instantiate, and that changing to the term “nanoengineering” secured the formal endorsement of that department.
9. de Ridder-Vignone and Lynch, “Images and Imaginations” (above, n. 2), p. 447.
10. Indeed, in an interview on September 9, 2011 with the dean of the engineering school, which houses the nanoengineering department, I asked whether there was a difference between science and engineering. The dean laughed and indicated that he thought there was none. In the context of the laboratory work I have observed in the nanoengineering department, and based on my interviews with most of the PIs of the nanoengineering labs regarding their research projects, it seems that often there are several projects occurring simultaneously that range from more fundamental research to that which is more applied (i.e., closer to market “translation”).
11. See, for example, Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989); Karen Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); Timothy Lenoir, Instituting Science: The Cultural Production of Scientific Disciplines (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Colin Milburn, Nanovision: Engineering the Future (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Steven Shapin, The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Sharon Traweek, Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).
12. See Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Haraway, Primate Visions (above, n. 11); Valerie Hartouni, Cultural Conceptions: On Reproductive Technologies and the Remaking of Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Katherine Hayles and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nanoculture: Implications of the New Technoscience (Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2004); Nerlich, “From Nautilus to Nanobo(a)ts” (above, n. 2); Milburn, Nanovision (above, n. 11); and Traweek, Beamtimes and Lifetimes (above, n. 11).
13. See Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (above, n. 12); Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993).
14. See Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy” (above, n. 4); Sandra Harding, “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What Is “Strong Objectivity”?,” in Feminist Epistemologies, ed. Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter (New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 49–82. More information about the Science & Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz can be found here: http://scijust.ucsc.edu/; and here: Science & Justice Research Center (Collaborations Group) (2013) “Experiments in Collaboration: Interdisciplinary Graduate Education in Science and Justice,” PLoS Biol 11(7): e1001619. DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001619.
15. Examples of work that does engage culture within epistemic cultures and that informs the present work include Haraway, Primate Visions (above, n. 9); Milburn, Nanovisions (above, n. 11); and Stefan Helmreich, Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
16. See Berne and Schummer, “Teaching Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology” (above, n. 5); Deborah Johnson and Jameson Wetmore, “STS and Ethics: Implications for Engineering Ethics,” in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, ed. Edward J. Hackett and Society for Social Studies of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press in cooperation with the Society for the Social Studies of Science, 2008), pp. 567–582; Cyrus Mody and David Kaiser, “Scientific Training and the Creation of Scientific Knowledge,” in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, ed. Edward J. Hackett and Society for Social Studies of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press in cooperation with the Society for the Social Studies of Science, 2008), pp. 377–402.
17. He also indicated that establishing a new department would enable them to hire new, outside faculty rather than just cross-listing existing faculty. He identified this as important to creating something truly interdisciplinary. This discussion occurred over an informal lunch meeting on October 11, 2012.
18. Gabor Hornyak, Introduction to Nanoscience (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008), p. 5.
20. The poster was developed by a graphic designer, who researched the topic of nanotechnology independently and engaged with nanoengineers as part of that research (from private email communication, February 28, 2011). I originally encountered the poster in the department on the wall outside the chair’s office. He indicated that he had placed it there. I later encountered it in several other locations as well.
21. Richard Feynman, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Engineering and Science 23:5 (1960): 22–36.
22. http://nano.gov/timeline. Briefly, Moore’s Law stated that the capacity of integrated circuits had doubled approximately every two years, and that this rate could be expected to continue. The original article actually appeared in 1965; see Gordon E. Moore, “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits,” Electronics (April 19, 1965): 114–117.
23. “Proposed Undergraduate Program Leading to Bachelor of Science in NanoEngineering,” prepared 2009, p. 12. An unpublished document provided to me by the department chair.
24. Ibid., p. 25.
25. Ibid., p. 25.
26. Colin Milburn (Nanovisions, above, n. 11) argues that Feynman’s status as a Nobel Prize-winning physicist makes him the ideal father figure in terms of conveying authority to an emerging industry. And Andreas Junk and Falk Reiss argue that not only are scientists who cite “Plenty of Room” essentially doing so for their own benefit, but that they miss the mark in that Feynman was more interested in biological machines and that he would not have taken credit for founding theoretical nanoscience (Junk and Riess, “From an Idea to a Vision: There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” American Journal of Physics 74:9 (2006): 825–830). In this department, while both arguments may be true, I would argue that invoking Feynman is not done in a cynical way. Moreover, there is a huge emphasis in this department on biomimesis and biomedical machines, so in that sense it is not discontinuous with Feynman’s interest as Junk and Reiss interpret it. In fact, the chair said the following in his January 5, 2011 lecture in Nano 1, explaining Feynman’s talk: “He [Feynman] also talked about the fact that there’d be a unique connection between this ability to produce small scale materials, and biological systems. And this is perhaps where nano will have its initial biggest impact, is because you’re dealing with materials that have functionality, and makes, you make them small enough so that they can fit inside cells. We can now create materials that interact with specific functions inside cells. That allows us to produce unique kinds of cures. Okay? So in the area of biology and medicine, nano is having already a significant impact, and nearly a third of our faculty work in that area.”
27. Ben Rogers, Jesse Adams, and Sumita Pennathur, Nanotechnology: Understanding Small Systems. Mechanical Engineering Series (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008), p. 13.
28. https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/752. Eigler said that one night after he first used a scanning tunneling microscope to move an atom, he was sitting in his office when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He described feeling like a ghost was there, and he realized that Feynman had talked about manipulating atoms in his famous 1959 paper. Eigler went on in his TEDx talk to read excerpts from that paper, and to marvel at the amazing prescience of it, then to borrow its form to project his own work into the future.
29. Chris Toumey argues that “Plenty of Room” is read retrospectively into the history of nanoengineering but did not have any direct influence over earlier developers of nanotechnology-related instrumentation and practices (Toumey, “Reading Feynman into Nanotechnology: A Text for a New Science,” Techne 12:3 (2008): 133–168). He therefore contests its status as the origin of nanotechnology. While his argument is convincing, when looking at nanoengineering as a field only currently being consolidated, it is just as important to look at how it is working now than at how it did or did not specifically influence “important scientific developments in nanotechnology” in the 1980s (ibid., p. 133). Indeed, arguably it is only retrospectively that we can understand such developments as being “nanotechnology” developments. So while nanotechnology as a field may not have begun with Feynman’s talk in 1959, and there may not be a single and direct line from Feynman’s talk to the STM to nanotechnology as a field, it does in fact figure into the consolidation of nano as a distinct disciplinary and professional identity being consolidated in the twenty-first century. For one of the first generations of nanoengineers to identify as such, Feynman’s talk works as an origin story, however historically inaccurate. In this sense it is both a false origin story and one that has on some level been made real.
30. Over lunch, I mentioned to the chair that I had watched the film, and was surprised to realize that it is a Cold War film about shrinking an army to send it over to the other side. I asked him when he last saw it, and he replied that he watches it all the time because he frequently uses it in his talks. It is reasonable to assume, then, that the omissions in his plot summary regarding the Cold War and weapons aspects cannot be attributed to relying on an old memory or a secondary source. Informal discussion with department chair, October 11, 2012.
31. The chair is referring to the science fiction novel Prey, by Michael Crichton (New York: HarperCollins, 2002).
32. This exemplifies the kind of mutual constitution of science and science fiction that Colin Milburn terms “nanovision” (Milburn, Nanovision [above, n. 11]).
33. This sense of possibility is framed in the mission statement of the department, using the following quote from Theodore von Kármám: “The scientist describes what is, the engineer creates what never was.”
34. As a feminist STS and communication scholar, this strikes me as inaccurate and anachronistic (is either Feynman or Fantastic Voyage actually referring to nanomedicine?). However, I acknowledge that my reaction speaks to disciplinary differences. From the perspective of the nanoengineer, the field exists prior to its institutionalization, as I described on page 269. Also, from this slide alone it is not clear whether he is referring to the idea of nanomedicine rather than to nanomedicine itself. But, in conjunction with the subsequent slide which distinguishes between the “nano-dream” and the “reality” of nanomedicine, it seems clear that he is referring to the idea of it. Even though it wasn’t called “nanomedicine,” I would agree that the idea of small and targeted medical treatment is portrayed in the film, and that this idea is central to current conceptions of nanomedicine. In this sense, then, I can find common ground.
35. See Cyrus Mody, Instrumental Community: Probe Microscopy and the Path to Nanotechnology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) for an analysis of the mutual articulation of probe microscopy and nanotechnology.
36. Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy” (above, n. 4).
37. Ibid., p. 246.
38. Ibid., p. 237.
39. Berne and Schummer, “Teaching Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology” (above, n. 5), p. 466. Berne and Schummer suggest that science fiction stories for the engineering classroom should be selected based on how well they raise “important and realistic” moral issues and to the extent that they present believable near-future scenarios (ibid., p. 462). However, the case of Fantastic Voyage suggests that these two parameters need not be strictly interpreted. The moral issues that this film raises are not evoked explicitly, and the future they are presenting is on many levels unbelievable in part because it is from 1966. However, in some ways a past vision of the future, I would argue, is quite useful for engaging with the politics of future visioning/making because the politics, temporally located in the past, are more visible. Nevertheless, the most important reason for choosing this film in this case is that it is already used and valued in this space.
40. Mission statement of the department.
41. See the IBM image here: http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view_group_subpage.php?id=4251.
42. In the context of the Cold War, it could be argued that risking the lives of the five crew members to obtain this knowledge is a morally robust wager in that obtaining military superiority could ultimately save lives. Yet this perspective is not developed in the department—which doesn’t acknowledge this aspect of the film at all—or in the film. In the latter, the issue is framed in terms of “our side” and the “other side,” and there is no speculation about goals beyond an indication that both sides know how to shrink an army but neither yet knows how to control miniaturization. That is, they do not have the capability of controlling how and when to return the army to its human scale. The race to be the first to obtain this military capability is therefore reminiscent of the nuclear arms race, which is, at the least, morally questionable.
43. Nerlich shows that the image of the nanosubmarine can be traced back to Jules Verne’s 1869 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and that the same man who made the Nautilus for the Disney film version of that novel made the Proteus for Fantastic Voyage. She interestingly points out that the Nautilus “… also came to stand iconically for the ‘progress of science’, where the image of science as a voyage or journey is mapped onto 19th-century hopes invested in the positive outcomes of that journey, hopes which are still being conjured up by many biotech or nanotech entrepreneurs” (“From Nautilus to Nanobo(a)ts” [above, n. 2], p. 11).
44. Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Sacha Loeve argue that the “therapeutic missile” metaphor in nanomedicine, used to frame nanobot drug delivery in terms of ballistics, is neither necessary nor useful (“Metaphors in Nanomedicine: The Case of Targeted Drug Delivery,” NanoEthics 8:1 : 1–17). They suggest that an “oikological” approach emphasizing relationality would instead highlight the affordances of both the nanoparticle and the biological milieu. In this site, one can see how the therapeutic missile metaphor gets reproduced within an epistemic community, and how popular culture—in this case, Fantastic Voyage—plays a key role in making the metaphor available.
45. Nanoengineering student, interview on April 7, 2014.
46. Rosalyn Berne, speaking of nanoscale science and engineering researchers, makes a similar point: “Their stories are potentially a powerful force, influential in shaping the wider ideas and beliefs about nanotechnology’s direction and purposes. Through interdisciplinary collaboration efforts and shared expertise, nanoscale science and technology researchers are in large measure the designers of our emerging world. It is these individuals who are in the laboratories, framing the basic research questions, making the observations and discoveries that open new possibilities for society through knowledge and technology. As such, they have the unique capacity to offer moral leadership to the pursuit of the imagined, technological future” (Nanotalk: Conversations with Scientists and Engineers About Ethics, Meaning, and Belief in the Development of Nanotechnology [Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006], pp. 31–32).
47. Harry Kleiner, “Fantastic Voyage,” 12/22/1964, revised 2/26/1965: Scene 82.
48. Kleiner, “Fantastic Voyage” (above, n. 47): Scene A-154.
49. Kleiner, “Fantastic Voyage” (above, n. 47): Scene 135.
50. See Bruno Latour, Aramis, or, the Love of Technology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).
51. Fantastic Voyage, directed by Richard Fleischer (1966; Beverly Hills, CA: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2007), DVD.
52. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (above, n. 12).
53. Horton argues that “scalar collapse”—”a process by which objects occupying two or more different scales are articulated together and made commensurate so that the difference between them is elided”—privileges the scale of the human individual while “eliding significant differences of scale and complexity” (Horton, “Collapsing Scale” [above, n. 2], p. 1). I agree that scalar collapse is happening in the film, particularly when still images are analyzed. Such collapse is also produced in the ways that scale is introduced to students in this department. However, when viewing the film in movement and taking into account the story, I think it is also showing a more fluid kind of movement between and through scales, such that even though the viewer sees a human scale—and in this sense the human scale is privileged—the humans in the film are not themselves human scale. In this sense, scale is not static, and the human is not easily situated between macro- and microscales.
54. See Horton, “Collapsing Scale” (above, n. 2).
55. While the original film poster describes the crew as “Four men and one woman,” the film trailer voiceover claims that “Four men and a beautiful girl [are] off on a fantastic voyage,” signaling that the woman in the story does not have the same status as the men.
56. This department currently has twenty faculty listed, three of them women. While no female undergraduate student I interviewed indicated experiencing any discrimination from nanoengineering faculty, some did report some form of gender bias among their colleagues, feeling that some male colleagues did not want them on their teams, or that male colleagues were more likely to take over their work when perceiving their female teammates did not understand something instead of helping them in more collaborative ways. Nevertheless, students who reported such bias emphasized that this was not the behavior of the majority.
57. See Haraway, “Situated Knowledges” (above, n. 3).
58. I use the term “open future” as defined by Barbara Adam and Chris Groves: “The contemporary future is no longer assumed to be predestined but subject to human shaping and transformation” (Adam and Groves, Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics. Supplements to the Study of Time [Leiden: Brill, 2007]), p. 199.
59. This language is also used by the National Nanotechnology Initiative: “… Applications of nanotechnology are delivering in both expected and unexpected ways on nanotechnology’s promise to benefit society.” http://www.nano.gov/you/nanotechnology-benefits.
60. Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy” (above, n. 4), p. 245.
61. The chair does communicate the necessity of clinical trials in biomedical applications, and the general need to be responsible as an engineer. Here is an excerpt from my interview with him on January 25, 2012: “I didn’t really think there would be a dedicated lecture to it [ethics], simply because the reason I said that they don’t really know what engineers do yet, and to devote time to engineering ethics at a point when they’re not really ready to be engineers, doesn’t seem, but just to kind of expose them to the idea that what engineers do is different from what history, a person doing history, what they do isn’t going to kill anybody or hurt somebody. So I guess I just wanted to bring out that there’s a higher level of responsibility for being a scientist or engineer, but then after they figure out what it is to be a nanoengineer, before we sort of let them out the door, we then really want them to know that there’s a level of expectation for what they do and responsibility for documenting and speaking up in situations where you think that the outcome could lead to someone being hurt or killed, … you know you have a responsibility to speak up.”