Reilly Center Forum - W. Patrick McCray. “California Dreaming: The Golden State’s Influence on Imaginings, Policies, and Narratives of Nanotechnology”


Location: 200 McKenna Hall

W. Patrick McCray, “California Dreaming: The Golden State’s Influence on Imaginings, Policies, and Narratives of Nanotechnology”

Despite its seeming newness, nanotechnology already has many different historical narratives. From seminal speeches at the start of the Space Age to futuristic imaginings in the 1980s to industrial commercialization in the 1990s, the emergence of nanotechnology as an idea and a research program connects to California in a variety of ways. In this talk, I explore how the West Coast version of nanotechnology resonated among researchers, policy makers, the media, and the public within and beyond the Golden State. Seen more broadly, this California-infused perspective gives insights into the nature of technological ecosystems, historical analogies, and the challenges posed by competing historical narratives.

Bio sketch

W. Patrick McCray is a professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2011-12, he was also the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science at the California Institute of Technology. McCray entered the historians’ profession via his original career as a scientist. He has written widely on the history of science and technology after 1945. His book Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology (Harvard University Press, 2004) explored how scientists build and use today’s most modern telescopes. A subsequent project examined the activities of citizen-scientists during the Cold War (Keep Watching the Skies: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton University Press, 2008)). After he arrived at UCSB, McCray became interested in the history of nanotechnology and is a founding member and co-PI for the NSF-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UCSB. He currently leads one of the CNS’s research initiatives; this explores the history of nanotechnology and its place in the broader context of the technological enthusiasm and industrial policy in the late 20th century.

His new book – called The Visioneers: How an Elite Group of Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future – is about people who used their expertise as scientists, engineers, and popularizers to promote visions of a more expansive technological future. Princeton University Press will publish the book in late 2012. McCray has received numerous awards and fellowships including grants from the National Science Foundation, a Collaborative Research Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2010), and election as a Fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011).

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