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A Research Strategy for Engineered Nanotechnologies

by Redazione FGB [1], 16 March 2012

Earlier this year the National Research Council of the National Academies published a document entitled 'A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanotechnologies' [2].

The document was prepared by the Committee to Develop a Research Strategy for Environmental, Health and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nano-Materials, within the National Research Council and a pre publication copy is available from the National Academic Press [3] for downloaded here [4].

This is a long and detailed document written with the help of a host of academics, and it raises some very important points about an industry that Barak Obama has placed at the forefront of his innovation policy. In this year's budget Obama is asking for 123.5 million dollars to invest in nano-tech research, which if seen next to the relatively small investment of 34.8 million in 2005 signals the importance attached to this form of innovation.

But all of this investment is made in a technology that is as yet practically unregulated and severely lacking in health and safety legislation, with the problem being that exposure limits and contamination issues have yet to be formalized. All of this is despite the ever growing use of such particles in our everyday life.

The National Research Council document aims to develop such a research strategy starting from a conceptual framework for considering environmental, health and safety risks, through critical questions to understanding the problem, tools and approaches for identifying properties that may cause risk, resources needed and how to implement the strategy once it has been described.

The document is extremely thought provoking. The fact that safe (or dangerous) exposure levels to such particles have never been determined nor possible environmental release dangers quantified or analyzed seems to paint a picture of an entire industry that operates without a clear understanding of how to manage the risks involved in their work.

One of the collaborators involved in the preparation of the report is Andrew Maynard of the University of Michigan, and his 2020 Science blog really is a must for anyone interested in keeping a breadth with developments in nanotechnology. Here is a review [5] of the finished research strategy as published in January, and his blog's nanotechnology section [6] contains a series of posts about the development of the project including an insightful look at how public participation and comment affected (or may not) the final publication.

Several cities in the US have started to draw guidelines regarding nano-technology research even before this strategy has taken off, with Cambridge (here in Massachusetts where I myself currently reside) at the forefront.

In a phrase that very much reflects the work of the bassetti Foundation, Cambridge city joins Berkley in California in stating that it "Intends to promote the responsible development of nano technology....." The Bio Ethics blog [7] offers more details.

The topic of nanotechnology has been addressed several times on the Bassetti Foundation website and the following links offer just a flavour of our work here.

In 2007 Jeff Ubois interviewed NanoMarkets co-founder Lawrence Gasman and Christina Peterson of the Foresight Institute. The conversation with Gasman touched upon the reporting of nano technology in the press, possible regulation and its effects, discontinuity in near future development and responsibility. A transcription is available here. [8] Peterson talked about the framing of the nano problem and differences between the European and US approaches to its regulation. Read the entire conversation here [9].

In 2008 I myself wrote two articles about nanotechnology. The first entitled Governance and Participation in Nanotechnology [10] is a review of on-line literature broadly relating to governance. The second is a review of a white paper published by the International Risk Governance Council [11] about global risk governance. In 2009 I followed up on these posts with a review of the Oversight of Next Generation Nanotechnology report [12] published by The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In 2009 Brice Laurent posted an article [13] in which the author raised the question of nanotechnology regulation through private actors. The article addresses the insurance company perspective and includes links to Lloyd's emerging risks team report and another article from Lloyds entitled Nanotechnology: An insurer's perspective, both of which make interesting reading.

Any interested reader can search the site using the Search key on the homepage, and a search for nanotechnology reveals a wealth of publications.

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(photo: Designing Nano-Potteries: CdS Hollow Spheres [14] by PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory from Flick)

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Redazione FGB
  2. 2] http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13347
  3. 3] /it/segnalazioni/2011/06/national_academic_press_a_host.html
  4. 4] http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13347
  5. 5] http://2020science.org/2012/01/25/national-academy-publishes-new-nanomaterials-risk-research-strategy/
  6. 6] http://2020science.org/category/nanotechnology/
  7. 7] http://blog.bioethics.net/2008/07/not-waiting-for-the-feds-on-nano/
  8. 8] /en/ubois/2007/03/responsibility_in_innovation_a.html
  9. 9] /en/ubois/2007/02/christine_peterson_of_the_fore.html
  10. 10] /en/focus/2008/04/governance_and_participation_i_1.html
  11. 11] /en/focus/2008/07/without_risk_there_is_no_progr.html
  12. 12] /it/segnalazioni/2009/07/oversights_in_oversighting_nan.html
  13. 13] /en/focus/2009/02/regulating_nanotechnology_thro.html
  14. 14] http://www.flickr.com/photos/pnnl/6237927015/
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cc - photo by PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory - from Flick
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