"If they get in the bloodstream or into ground water, even if the nanoparticles themselves aren't dangerous, they could react with other things that are harmful,"
Kathy Jo Wetter, a researcher with the ETC Group
"It may have some unexpected consequences. Some could be toxic, but this happens with larger particles and in other industries. The risks are very small in comparison with the benefits."
Mihail Roco, the National Science Foundation's senior adviser on nanotechnology
"Are there going to be classes of nanomaterials that are going to pose health problems? Sure, but those are things we'll know beforehand. We can plan around them."
Kevin Ausman, director of the Rice University Centre for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology.
"If those concerned with the development of new technologies, and nanotechnology in particular, are convinced that the benefits they hope to generate will withstand scrutiny, they should have no concerns about engaging and winning public support."
“There are new safety concerns raised by nanoparticles and I believe these have not got enough attention.”
K. Eric Drexler, Chief Technical Advisor of Nanorex, a company developing software for the design and simulation of molecular machine systems.
"In a field with more than 12,000 citations a year, we were stunned to discover no prior research in developing nanomaterials risk-assessment models, and no toxicology studies devoted to synthetic nanomaterials Researchers do not know, how nanomaterials are cleared from the body, whether they are degraded, and whether they accumulate in the environment.”
Vicki L. Colvin, director of Rice University's Centre for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN), Houston
“While peoples’ movements, civil society organizations and communities throughout the world are still trying to grasp the implications of genetic engineering for their lives, a series of new and powerful technologies are rapidly emerging. These include human genomics, neuroscience, robotics, computer and information technologies and, most significantly."
Nanotechnology.” ETC Group
Nano - The prefix ‘nano’ is derived from the Greek word for dwarf. One nanometre (nm) is equal to one-billionth of a metre, 10 –9m. A human hair is approximately 80,000nm wide, and a red blood cell approximately 7000nm wide. Atoms are below a nanometre in size (approx 0.2nm), whereas many molecules, including some proteins, range from a nanometre upwards.
Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale.
Nanotechnologies are the design, characterisation, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at nanometre scale.
Source - The Royal Society & the Royal Academy of Engineering
Nanoscience and nanotechnologies July 2004
So Far – Over 200 products (FoE now estimate 700) use nanomaterials, products include; clothing, electronics, health and cosmetics. In the U.S. nanotechnology is increasingly being used in foodstuffs, food packaging and refrigeration. In industry nanotechnology is used in a wide range of research and manufacturing processes.
In Development – The main focus of development is in two areas, medical and food production and storage. These areas are considered to be the ones most likely to produce fast, high financial rewards.
Potential – Nanoscience and nanotechnologies are widely seen as having huge potential to bring benefits in areas as diverse as drug development, water decontamination, information and communication technologies, and the production of stronger, lighter materials. In theory, in the future, nanotechnologies could provide answers to just about any practical problem, food and water shortages, energy supply, environmental degradation, medical needs, inequality, etc.
For an extensive breakdown of possible benefits see,
The concept of nanotechnology was first described and explored by Richard Feynman in his lecture ‘There’s plenty of room at the bottom’ (Feynman 1959). He identified the potential of techniques to develop that would allow work at this scale and some of the possible uses. The goal of nanoscience through the 1960’s and 70’s was to develop ways of storing and using information in smaller and smaller containers to allow the development of smaller and more complex devices. This is still an important sector of nanoscience but, more recently, attention has been focused on a particular aspect of the very small.
The Quantum Effect
In the size range 0.2nm (atomic level) up to 100nm materials can have different qualities to those they have when at a larger size.
The first reason for this change is that as an object reduces in size its surface area increases relative to its mass, this makes the object more chemically reactive. For the same reason that a pound of flour will dissolve in water much more quickly than a pound of dough, a quantity of material in nano scale pieces will react much more quickly to stimulus. This quality makes some nanomaterials useful as catalysts in fuel cells. Other effects that occur at the larger end of the nano scale include changes in surface tension or ‘stickiness’.
At the lower end of the nano scale (at, or close to, atomic scale) quantum effects begin to come into play. These effects can alter the material’s optical, magnetic or electrical properties.
The increasing focus of nanoscience is not just to create and manipulate materials at this scale but to understand and utilise the different properties of materials at the nano scale.
Bottom Up, Top Down
Nanoscience can be split into two categories. One approach is to reduce materials and structures in size in order to take advantage of their changing qualities at that scale. This approach has been termed Top Down and it covers virtually all the output of nanotechnology to date. These products contain ‘new’ materials whose behaviour and impact is, at best, uncertain but in many ways this type of nanotechnology represents a continuation of technological and materials development.
The second approach involves building up materials, systems and devices atom by atom, molecule by molecule, using tools and technology that are themselves at the nano scale. This is the approach first outlined by Feynman and developed by Drexler. It is this approach that could lead to molecular manufacturing, a technique that could lead to the mass, quick, cheap production of virtually any manufactured product. This technology is feasible, and is being researched, but many believe its development could be up to 50 years away.
Follow the Money
It has been estimated that total global investment in nanotechnologies is currently around €5 billion, €2 billion of which comes from private sources. (E.C. 2004a)
The number of published patents in nanotechnology increased fourfold from 1995 (531 patents) to 2001 (1976 patents) (3i 2002).
Although it is too early to produce reliable figures for the global market, one widely quoted estimate puts the annual value for all nanotechnologies-related products (including information and communication technologies) at $1 trillion by 2011–2015 (NSF 2001).
Although many people believe that nanotechnologies will have an impact across a wide range of sectors, a survey of experts in nanotechnologies across the world identified hype (‘misguided promises that nanotechnology can fix everything’) as the factor most likely to result in a backlash against it (3i 2002).
Examples of public funding for research and development (R&D) in nanoscience and nanotechnology. (Source: European Commission 2004a):
Europe - Current funding for nanotechnology R&D is about 1 billion euros, two-thirds of which comes from national and regional programmes.
Japan - Funding rose from $400M in 2001 to $800M in 2003 and is expected to rise by a further 20% in 2004.
USA - The USA’s 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (passed in 2003) allocated nearly $3.7 billion to nanotechnology from 2005 to 2008 (which excludes a
substantial defence-related expenditure). This compares with $750M in 2003.
UK - With the launch of its nanotechnology strategy in 2003, the UK Government pledged £45M per year from 2003 to 2009.
Sources, People and Orgs.
K. Eric Drexler is a researcher, author, and policy advocate focused on emerging technologies and their consequences for the future. He pioneered studies of productive nanosystems and their products and is at the forefront of the debate on the future of nanotechnologies.
DuPont Chemical Company (DuPont) and Environmental Defense (ED) - jointly have proposed a voluntary “risk assessment” framework for nanotechnology.
Royal Academy of Engineering
Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes engineering and technology in the UK. Activities focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. Provide independent advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community.
The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency.
Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.)
Oversees environmental protection in the U.S. Recently changed federal policy to require that manufacturers provide scientific evidence that their use of nanosilver won’t harm waterways or public health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering taking a regulatory role. In the U.K. the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs is considering how to expand its regulatory framework to include nanomaterials; this will probably involve the Environment Agency.
Paper by R. Feynman entitled ‘There’s plenty of room at the bottom’:
Institute of Nanotechnology:
European Society for Precision
Engineering and Nanotechnology
The Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology
The ETC Group