WASHINGTON, D.C.--Society is in danger of squandering the powerful potential of nanotechnology due to a lack of clear information about its risks, conclude 14 top international scientists in a major paper published in the November 16th issue of the journal Nature. The paper, "Safe Handling of Nanotechnology," identifies Five Grand Challenges for research on nanotechnology risk that must be met if the technology is to reach its full promise.
The paper's lead author is Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Chief Science Advisor Andrew Maynard. The co-authors are among the world's foremost nanotechnology risk and applications researchers from universities, government, and industry in the United States and Europe.
"The spectre of possible harm--whether real or imagined--threatens to slow the development of nanotechnology unless sound, independent and authoritative information is developed on what the risks are, and how to avoid them," Maynard and his co-authors write.
"We are running out of time to 'get it right.' Last year, more than $32 billion in products containing nano-materials were sold globally. By 2014, Lux Research estimates that $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnology," asserts Maynard. "If the public loses confidence in the commitment--of governments, business, and the science community--to conduct sound and systematic research into possible risks, then the enormous potential of nanotechnology will be squandered. We cannot let that happen."
"Fears over the possible dangers of some nanotechnologies may be exaggerated, but they are not necessarily unfounded," say the authors. "Recent studies examining the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials in cell cultures and animals have shown that size, surface area, surface chemistry, solubility and possibly shape, all play a role in determining the potential for nanomaterials to cause harm."