17 December 2004 16:57 [Source: ICIS news]
The burgeoning nanotechnology business should welcome the drive on both sides of the Atlantic for nanotechnology standards. The field, which links so many scientific disciplines, needs reference points. Exactly what is a nanocomposite, for instance? Is there any such thing (yet) as a nanobot? Nanotechnology markets will be helped, not hindered, if participants agree on what they are talking about, particularly as the nanotechnology lexicon expands.
The small scale world is different, that’s for sure, and explorers in this new domain need help not just with navigation but to explain just what it is they have seen.
It is widely felt that nanotechnology standards will help researchers find relevant patents and in the recognition of their own intellectual property (IP). Organisations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSTI) believe that standard terminology is vitally important. At the same time voluntary agreement is sought on measurement and testing standards for nanoscale materials and devices. In nanotechnology the state-of-the-art is changing by the day. Industries and institutions feel a pressing need to keep up.
The European Union (EU) is spending heavily in the nanotechnology race. Nanotechnology is widely seen as an ‘enabling’ science that will be vitally important to technological development for decades to come. Chemical producers have been in the nanotechnology business from the outset and they too will be helped if there is a wider recognition that advances in nanotechnology are being used for good. In a confused field nobody wins even if the unscrupulous gain a short term marketing edge. The process of standardisation will speed commercialisation across the many segments of industry that ultimately use the new science.
And industry needs to be aware of just what damage unscrupulous purveyors of products based on nanotechnology might inflict. Nobody in business wants to give nanotechnology a bad name, yet fears of the widespread use of nanomaterials and nanoproducts are rising.
In its stakeholder dialogue, the EU is seeking to address not just issues of how nanotechnology research is best advanced and how nanotechnology based industries are developed but also how governance is addressed. ANSI too sees the need for clear risk management and communications nomenclature.
Just as nanotechnology – or should that be nanotechnologies – begins to gain ground so nanotechnology’s detractors become more vociferous. Britain’s premier scientific body, The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, warned in a report published in July* that while nanotechnologies offer many benefits, public debate is needed about their development. Research has to address uncertainties about the health and environmental effects of nano particles, it says, for instance. This one small area of the nanotechnologies spectrum gains increasing attention, by no means all of it good.
This expanding group of technologies and skills will find widespread use in materials and devices but these cannot be developed successfully in a vacuum. The broad spread of nanotechnology is developing fast. Markets for products based on nanotechnologies will expand faster in a clearer and more open development environment.
* ‘Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties'. For full report, see: http://www.nanotec.org.uk/finalReport.htm
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