Foresight’s Standards for Molecular Nanosystems

Since July 2005, the Foresight Institute has participated as a member of ANSI’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO Technical Committee 229, “Nanotechnologies” [1,2]. TC229 was established in 2005 to develop ISO standards, specifications, and technical reports on Nanotechnology. ANSI is the United States’ representative body on the ISO council. Currently there are four Working Groups, both within the ANSI TAG and at the ISO level:

  • WG1 Terminology and nomenclature
  • WG2 Measurement and characterization
  • WG3 Health, Safety and Environmental aspects
  • WG4 Materials specifications

Initially, Dr. Forrest participated in WG2 as well as the general meetings. More recently there has been enough progress in the Terminology and Nomenclature front (WG1) to warrant more attention there and best represent Foresight’s focus on nanosystems. Specifically:

  1. The Terminology Framework group (JWG1, PG2) included “Nanosystems” in its heirarchical structuring of nanotechnology terminology. It turned out that they deferred further development of this branch back up to Joint Working Group 1 to recruit the needed expertise from the ISO members. We will continue to participate as nanosystems terminology is defined.
  2. A New Work Item Proposal was recently presented by the British and American delegations on Terminology and Definitions for Nanomanufacturing.
  3. Nanosystems is a core term that is currently being addressed by ISO JWG1, PG5 (just starting out). Dr. Forrest is a member of this ISO project group, has already pointed them to the original definition in Drexler’s Nanosystems, and will solicit input from key researchers and Foresight community experts as this moves forward.
  4. The terms “Top Down” and “Bottom Up” (originally applied by Foresight in 1989 in relation to Nanotechnology) have been cited as the ISO documents are being developed, and in one case was proposed as a method of organizing nanomanufacturing processes. However, the definition of these terms in relation to nanotechnology was distorted and changed from their original usage. Foresight’s participation is helping to re-established the original meaning via dialogue with the Project Group members. In addition, Dr. Forrest has edited the Wikipedia page on “Top Down and Bottom Up Design” to improve its accuracy and provide the original Foresight citation [3]. Dr. Forrest has also posted a web page on this terminology issue [4].

The efforts of ANSI’s WG1 were recently highlighted in the August 2008 issue of Nanotechnology Law Report [5].

It is important to note that ISO’s efforts to bring definitions into ISO documents is a complex process involving as much cooperation, political savvy, tenacity, and international diplomacy as it does technical acumen. It is complicated by the fact that many of the terms have been in use for decades and have never had a consensus definition. The process is glacial: ISO has been at this for three years now and there is still no ratified definition of “Nanotechnology” let alone the myriad of other related terms. Foresight’s continued presence and participation in the ISO process helps to maintain a focus on nanosystems, maintains our stature in the international Nanotechnology community as a leader in education and policy issues, and underscores our commitment to consensus standards as a cornerstone of responsible development of molecular nanotechnology.

[1] f_iso_technical_committees/iso_technical_committee.htm?commid=381983




[5] See the link to the August 2008 issue on this ANSI page, as well as related articles:

ANSI = American National Standards Institute
ISO = International Standards Organization

David R. Forrest, ScD, PE
Senior Fellow, Standards
Foresight Nanotech Institute