What you didn’t know about Nanotechnology

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Thirty out of 60 surveyed participants at the World Resources Forum feel skeptical about Nanotechnologies. 25% feel good and 25% don’t know what Nanotechnologies are.

The reality is that we use Nanotechnologies in our everyday life. We eat, wear, or apply on our faces products that incorporate components that have been engineered at the molecular scale. From the skin cream you applied this morning, the camera you take pictures with to your toothpaste: Nanotech is everywhere.

So why do almost half of the participants feel so suspicious?

Glysomed by Jepster Flickr /Creative Commons Photo Credit: Jepster via Flickr/Creative Comons 

According to Marcel Weil and Claudia Som, both Nanotech engineers, we face many challenges. Foremost, we are confronted to the “Nanotech Bubble”: we have currently very little knowledge and data available, yet there are high speculations and expectations on what Nanotechnologies could improve.

When applied to resource efficiency, they enable radical innovation. Per example, by developing manufactured, potent and multifunctional nanomaterials we help decrease material consumption. Labs are developing from energy saving insulation materials, better water and air purification techniques to improved energy storage efficiency (more powerful and longer lasting batteries).

However as MIT Professor, Jeff Steinfeld points out, we are at the same stage point as we were 40 years ago with the new development of the chemistrial industry. We could be making tremendous damaged to our environment and health without realizing it now but in 40 years.

In reality, the technology we are dealing with is still immature; and on top of the possible damages, one can’t ignore the ethical questions behind Nanotechnologies. If nanotechnology in medicine makes it possible for us to enhance ourselves physically, is that ethical? In theory, medical nanotechnology could make us smarter, stronger and give us other abilities ranging from rapid healing to night vision. Should we pursue such goals? (source: Howstuffworks)

For Jesus Maria Alquezar Sabadie, the European Commission is currently making risk assessment at the center of it’s nanotechnology policies. The core question is how to harness their potential while addressing their potential risks?  “The European Commission aims at reinforcing nanotechnology and, at the same time, boosting support for collaborative R&D via toxicological and ecotoxicological studies.”Additionally,  the Commission is performing a regulatory inventory, covering EU regulatory frameworks that are applicable to nanomaterials (chemicals, worker protection, environmental legislation, product specific legislation etc.).

However Marcel Wiel holds a different opinion, for him, what the standards determined by the European Commission are not necessarily transposed to the research level. And on top of that, regulations and legislations differ from one country to the other, within and most importantly, outside of the EU.

In my opinion, the crucial question is how fast will we understand the implications and changes in our world implied by the development and use of such technologies.

And you:  Will you ever use your skin care cream the same way?



2 thoughts on “What you didn’t know about Nanotechnology

  1. What is nanotech, exactly? How is it different from chemical engineering?

    Regardless, we have developed an enormous variety of synthetic compounds over the last 100 years. It may be that the real world is the only lab that can feasibly test how these new compounds will interact and what long-term exposure means for our bodies and for the environment. If we assume any other testing procedure is inadequate or incomplete to some degree, how do we evaluate the risks of inventing and deploying new compounds? How much testing is appropriate? Should we hold back innovations until we’re sure they’re safe?

  2. @Austin Davis You are right, at this point when talking about Nanotech, we have not enough information nor knowledge to evaluate the risks.

    However, unlike at the time chemical engineering was developing, we have a more comprehensive experience on how far damages to the environment can go. Therefore it is crucial, that at the early R&D stage we conduct as well Risk Assessment Strategies.

    Innovation can’t be held back, but Risks can be reduced

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