Questions for the Future of Ecological Engineering
What is the rationale for ecological engineering and what are its goals?
What are the major concepts of ecological engineering?
What are the boundaries of ecological engineering?
What are the measures of success of ecological engineering projects?
What are the linkages of ecological engineering to the science of ecology?
How do we balance theory vs. empiricism?
At what scale do we approach ecological engineering?
What tools are available for analyzing ecological engineering?
What are the ramifications of ecological engineering in developing countries with differing values and cultures?
How do we institutionalize ecological engineering education? How will we integrate the ecological and the engineering paradigms? Under what conditions will ecological engineering flourish or disappear? Source: Adapted from Mitsch, W. J. 1998. Ecological Engineering. 10:119-130.
with expanding energy resources (technoptimism) while others require less energy (technopessimism).
The smallest size ecological engineering application may be in nanotechnology, which has been called the last frontier of miniaturization. Nanotechnology is molecular engineering or "the art and science of building complex, practical devices with atomic precision" (Crandall, 1999). It involves working at the scale of billionths of a meter with microscopic probes. This field was first articulated by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 and has been championed by futurist Eric Drexler (1986, 1990). While nanotechnology is very early in its development (Stix, 1996), small-scale engineering applications are arising (for examples, see Caruso et al., 1998; Singhvi et al., 1994). There are probably many possible uses of nanotechnology in ecological engineering, such as the construction of molecular machines that cleanse polluted sediments or regulate biofilms, but this kind of design must wait for future developments in the field. Several speculative environmental applications are listed by Chesley (1999) and Lampton (1993). To be truly ecological, these applications need to affect interactions between species or biogeochemical pathways. A molecular machine, for example, that improves phosphorus sequestering in a treatment wetland might significantly increase overall performance.
Beyond speculation, however, there is already an interesting connection between ecological engineering and nanotechnology. Both fields rely on self-organization as the basis for design. In ecological engineering, species populations and abiotic
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