Taking a fresh look at nanomaterials

November 11, 2008

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report on Novel Materials

Imagine for one naïve moment that we have a pretty good handle on managing the environmental impact of existing manufactured “stuff”.  Then someone comes along and invents some “new stuff” that behaves very differently from the “old stuff.”

How can we be sure that the frameworks and mechanisms in place for preventing harm to the environment will work for the new stuff?  And where they are strained to breaking point, how do we go about fixing the system?

These are two questions addressed in a new report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution—an independent British standing body established in 1970 to advise the Queen, government, Parliament and the public on environmental issues… Read the rest of this entry »

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A consumer’s guide to nanotechnology

August 21, 2008

 

White Swan Uniforms and Scrubs with Nano-Tex

How cool is this: A nanotech-enabled labcoat to protect the user against… well, nanomaterials presumably, amongst other things!  

The labcoat—which uses Nanotex technology to make it stain resistant—is part of a major update to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Consumer Products Inventory that tracks manufacture-identified nano-products.  Other eye-catchers in the update include a hunting shirt that resists bloodstains, a nanotech-based adhesive for McDonald’s burger containers, and an oven-like device for sanitizing whiffy shoes.

Of course, there are plenty of people who feel that consumer products represent an altogether too trivial side of nanotechnology.  And I have to agree that on the scales of virtue, a nano-silver bidet would find it hard to compete with the next generation of nano-enabled solar cells or targeted cancer drugs.  Yet trivial as many of the 800+ products in the updated inventory may seem, this is where most people will probably first come across the technology, and start to form their early opinions on whether it’s a good thing, or not so good.  

And in this bizarrely-connected world within which we live, good experience with nano-bidets (for example) are more likely than not to make the introduction of nano-cancer drugs go just that little bit smoother. Read the rest of this entry »


Late lessons from early warnings

July 20, 2008

As the rate of technological progress advances, are we learning the lessons of past successes and failures?  And are we applying these lessons successfully to nanotechnology? 

In 2001, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a seminal report on developing emerging technologies responsibly.  Through a series of fourteen case studies spanning the past century, a panel led by the late Poul Harremoës examined what has gone right and what has gone wrong with the introduction of past technologies, and what can be learned about introducing new technologies as safely and as successfully as possible.  

The resulting report, “Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000” (PDF, 1.7 MB) draws twelve “late lessons” for decision-makers faced with addressing emerging technologies [1]. Read the rest of this entry »


Smart materials; smart choices?

May 31, 2008

Why nano?  Why care?  For non-nanotech initiates, an obsession with nanotechnology must sometimes seem a bizarre occupation of the sad and lonely.  And even within the nanotechnology community, who hasn’t had occasional doubts over the legitimacy of singling out “nano” as something special?  Yet occasionally a piece of work comes along that helps put things back into perspective.  For me, a paper just published on-line in the journal Nano Letters did exactly that. Read the rest of this entry »