Sample sq edc essay topics Potential Topics Individual sq edc paper Solar Cell Design Spring 2010, Section 14

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Sample SQ EDC essay topics

Potential Topics -- Individual SQ EDC Paper

Solar Cell Design

Spring 2010, Section 14


Our focus for the SQ EDC individual paper is ethics. Choose one of the following topics as a general area for background reading and thinking, and then narrow your focus so that you can present a well informed and effectively reasoned argument on a position. Alternatively, if you are torn between two positions, you can present competing arguments within your analysis.


General directions for the paper are in the EDC textbook (chapter on essay writing), along with advice about style and documentation. Due dates are on the s14 syllabus and the paper assignment sheet, which also includes the criteria that will be used to evaluate your paper.


1. Debate the ethics of using nanotechnology or solar cells in a particular field, such as medical or consumer products, society, the environment. Check out The implications of nanotechnology as related to human enhancement are some of the most personal and therefore passionate issues in the emerging field of nanoethics, forcing us to rethink what it means to be human, or, essentially, our own identity. For some, nanotechnology holds the promise of making us superhuman; for others, it offers a darker path toward becoming Frankenstein's monster.


2. What are the ethical issues related to solar cell use as an alternative energy source? Are there issues with cost? health? government support? Provide an overview of relevant issues, but then choose one to explore in greater depth.


3.  Write a "feature story" essay based on an interview you conduct with an expert in  nanoscience, nanotechnology, or alternative energy.  If you want work with a partner or small group, you and a friend or two could conduct a press-conference-style interview in which each of you asks a set of predetermined questions. That way, the expert wouldn’t have to do multiple interviews and answer the same questions more than once. After the interview, you would each write your own paper.


4.  Debate the ethics of using government money to further nanotechnology or solar cell development (how it could impact our economy).  How is this related to government money being used for STEM education? Begin your thinking by considering the function of government.


5.  Examine the ethical issues related to standard-based education as it affects the middle school or high school science curriculum. How does standardized testing influence student learning related to nanoscience and/or alternative energy? Do standards privilege or discriminate against specific groups of students (for example, how does standards-based science teaching work in school districts with smaller or larger budgets or more or less science equipment)?  How does “Race to the Top” (federal money) affect local control?


6. Discuss the ethics of nanoscience from a religious framework: "Responsible Nanotechnology" ( The intersection of religion and science has been a site of controversy in several areas, particularly in regard to evolution. Do, or will, religious ideas affect teachers’ and parents’ views of what is or should be taught about nanoscience and/or alternative energy? Do your religious views cause any difficulties for you as a science/engineering student of these areas? (Darwin’s certainly did!)


7.  Explore a case study: the issue of safety in nanoscience, using articles in The Economist and Nature as source reading (e.g. “A Little Risky Business,” The Economist, Nov 27, 2007).  Questions/prompts for this case include the following:

What responsibilities do companies involved in nanotech production bear for the safety of their products, both in the short and long term, and that of their workers?

How should companies proceed in the absence of regulations or of scientific data on safety?

Can these companies legitimately claim that they are not doing anything wrong?  To what degree is genuine scientific ignorance exculpable?

Can they fairly place the burden of responsibility entirely on government regulators? 

In conjunction with the case study, you may want to create a fictional scenario with the role of an engineer in a consumer products company using nanotubes - ask what their decision should be about their use, and what precautions they should take in the face of the

scientific ambiguity.


8.  Explore another topic that interests you – but check with Profs Hirsch and Dugan before you begin.

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