Assessing the environmental impact of nanotech

An extensive article in Science News Magazine ("Taming High-Tech Particles: Cautious steps into the nanotech future", by Jessica Gorman, 30 March 2002) says that nanotechnology "appears to be a new industry in the making. However, as nanomaterials approach commercial development, some researchers are beginning to look at the potential consequences of putting the new materials into the environment or the body. These scientists' goal is to launch preemptive strikes against any problems that might arise down the line."

The article focuses on research at the new Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University in Houston, one of six new national Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSECs) established by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in September 2001 (see Nanodot post from 27 September 2001). The Rice CBEN was also host to a workshop on the possible environmental impacts of nanotechnology in December 2001 (see Nanodot post from 17 December 2001).

The potential environmental impacts of nanotech materials and devices will also be the focus of new research programs recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For more information, see the Nanodot post from 15 March 2002.

Thanks to Mr_Farlops for bringing the Science News item to our attention. He also comments: "Poorly designed nanotechnology could lead to pollution. For example, anti-cancer smart bullets like Sloan-Kettering's nanogenerator and the "Gottingen grenade" could lead to problems if these molecular parts, intentionally designed to infiltrate cells, began to accumulate in the tissues of wild animals and plants. Some nanomachine parts, designed to be as inert as possible like chlorofluorocarbons, may also build up unless some measures are taken to break them down."

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