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Nanotechnology research receives large sums of public funds because of the technological innovations it promises, not least in the area of medical technologies. Exploration of social aspects of nanotechnology is now encouraged by science policy in attempts to foreclose possible future public controversy. This article explores how the social aspects of nanotechnology have emerged as a public issue; how public engagement projects are framed in terms of nanotechnology; and the rationale for social science research on nanotechnology. The article argues that pubic policy processes are increasingly focusing narrowly on the environmental and health risks of nanoparticles and that public engagement projects are limited by adopting nanotechnology as a focus of deliberation. The article concludes by rejecting grand claims for social science as a means of making science and technology more reflexive, but suggests more modest ways that research can support a widening of discussion of the public dimensions of nanotechnology.