Archive for the ‘Nanotechnology’ Category

Research Takes First Step on Tolerance of Nanoparticles

June 21st, 2009

Posted by: admin

The Scientist has a capsule review of a 2007 research article on the ability of mice to purge themselves of nanoparticles.  The full article is available in Nature Biotechnology (subscription/purchase required).  The article also includes notes on some subsequent work in this area.

As nanotechnology matures, providing more and more products with particles measured in nanometers, the risk of exposure to these particles needs to be assessed and regulated.  Being able to determine what size of particles can be expelled by the body and what sizes accumulate in the body helps shape the questions for the regulatory landscape.  But it doesn’t close off exploration into potential risks.

While other regulatory models can provide useful examples, it’s important to remember that the scale of these particles may provide unique concerns.  I would hope that the hard lessons of chemical regulation – where accumulated exposure flew under the regulatory radar for years (see Krimsky’s Hormonal Chaos for a good overview), could be used to good effect here.  It may not be enough that the small particles can be expelled.  Enough transitory exposures over time could have unfortunate effects, much like enough small doses of certain chemicals have had dramatic effects on endocrine systems.

Whig History and Science Policy

April 7th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Science Progress gave two historians a few column inches to remind us that not all science and technology narratives reflect the history of their disciplines.  Folks focused on nanotechnology will find the article of interest, but the main points are more broadly applicable than to just the really, really small.  The lessons, if you want to boil them down (which is a lousy thing to do with history, but expected in blogging) resemble some obvious statements, but statements that aren’t effectively applied and rarely considered when dealing with science and technology.  The Whig history mentioned here and in the Science Progress piece refers to historical treatments that treat current conditions as another step along a steady path of progress.

There is a history.  Nearly every person engaged with science and technology policy in the United States seems to think their field started and ended with Vannevar Bush in the late 1940s.  This ignores over 150 years of prior activity in the United States.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition and the U.S. Census are two ventures in the field that date back nearly to the founding of the republic.   The Forest Service and Geological Survey are also good pre-World War II examples of federal science and technology at work.


Science Studies: Cheerleader, Marketer, or Critic?

May 12th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A former colleague of mine used to say that social scientists were the equivalent of “lap dogs” for the broader scientific community.


By that, he meant that social scientists were around to entertain, look good, but nothing more. My experiences suggest that there is some element of truth in his description of the relationship of science studies with the broader scientific community, especially in those situations where the funding of the science studies scholars depends upon the largesse of the broader scientific community that they are working with. It is a difficult issue because one of the lessons from science studies research is the need for a close relationship with stakeholders, which for many science studies scholars are the scientists themselves.

I was motivated to blog on this after reading a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, discussing the challenges of putting limits on science. He observes,


New Nanotechnology Inventory

March 13th, 2006

Posted by: admin

On Friday, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies released an inventory of 200 existing consumer products that claim to incorporate nanotechnology.

Here is a link to the inventory.

The inventory has implications both for the economic value of nanotech investments (currently over $1 Billion in US federal funding alone), and also for the EHS (Environmental, Health, and Safety) dimenions of nanotech in society. We might think of these as conflicting understandings of “health” – one focused on economic health, the other on human and environmental health.

Not too long ago, a report “slammed” nanotech research and its funding for not delivering economically. The Wilson Center’s inventory may this reassure some as a contrary indicator.

On the other hand, Congress held hearings late last year and last month to explore EHS issues related to nanotech. The Wilson inventory may thus also raise alarms about health and safety.


Nano Concerns and the Production of Useful Scientific Information

November 30th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Nanotechnology holds great promise for industry, business, medicine and more. As government and private industry ramp up support for nanotechnology research and development (about $1billion from the Feds last year alone), one has to wonder… what do we know about the safety of nanotechnology?

In the November 18 issue of Science, Robert Service reports on the truly amazing possibilities in treating cancer with nanotechnology. How’s this for cool: gold-covered nanoparticles that attach to cancer cells and then heat up to more than 40C, cooking the cancer cells to death! Stay tuned for the remake of the Incredible Journey… The article concludes with a brief discussion on the toxicity of nanoparticles, stating, “environmental health and safety agencies around the world continue to grapple with how best to regulate these novel materials.” Despite the promise of nanotech (indeed, it’s already being used in some products), research and development should proceed with one eye on potential benefits, and the other eye on possible harms. We should avoid moving so quickly that we find ourselves with the nanotech equivalent of asbestos, MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether… a gasoline additive now being phased out due to contamination in of groundwater and uncertainty regarding its health effects in large doses), or even worse, the dreaded ‘grey goo’.


New Nanotechnology Project

October 19th, 2005

Posted by: admin

The CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder will collaborate on a new National Science Foundation (NSF) project exploring the societal implications of nanotechnology. NSF recently awarded Arizona State University a 5-year, $6.2 million grant under its Nanoscale Science and Engineering Program to create a Center for Nanotechnology in Society. The CIRES Policy Center will contribute to this project by organizing a National Consensus Conference panel in Colorado to identify values intended to guide policymakers and then develop specific policy recommendations for the future development of nanotechnology. It will also help conduct exploratory research aimed at assessing the implementation of federal policies on the societal dimensions of nanotechnology at local university lab settings. To read more about the project see this news item.

**Post submitted by Bobbie Klein

Which ethics policy for nanotechnology?

July 7th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Last week during a House Science subcommittee hearing, “Nanotechnology: Where Does the U.S. Stand?”(), there was a testy exchange on the role of ethical impact assessment in nanotechnology and who determines this. The focus of the hearing was on how U.S. nanotechnology activities “measure up” to international competition, and one question asked about barriers to nanotechnology commercialization.

The hearing comes on the heals of an assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a report that was required by the 2003 act authorizing federal funding for nanotech R&D. This law called for a National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel to conduct the assessment. In 2004, President Bush designated PCAST as the NNAP.

The law requires NNI activities to integrate research on ethical concerns surrounding nanotechnology into R&D activities, and requires the NNAC (now PCAST) to assess “whether societal, ethical, legal, environmental, and workforce concerns are adequately addressed by the [NNI]” and to make recommendations for improvement. The PCAST report, however, can be interpreted as fairly insubstantial in its treatment of how ethical concerns are being addressed (see Howard Lovy’s entertaining summary). For instance, in stressing the role of “sound science” over “perceived fears,” the language of the report appears to downplay the role of ongoing ethical assessment with respect to R&D activities.


Nanotech Authority

August 9th, 2004

Posted by: admin

A recent report by Britain’s Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering entitled ‘Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties’, calls for public debate regarding the development of nanotechnologies and research into their health and environmental effects.

The report has occasioned editorials such as one posted on SciDev.Net by David Dickson.

Dickson suggests the report points to two key challenges facing nanotechnology and nanoscience: adequately ensuring that nanotechnologies address the needs of the world’s poor and building social markets favorable to nanotechnologies.

To address the risk of a “nano-divide” between the world’s rich and poor nations, Dickson calls for the development of nanotech skills among poorer nations, dissemination channels for nano products, and informed public debate.

Characterizing the content of this debate, Dickson writes: “informed public debate…must include authoritative information about potential health and environmental consequences; there is no room for those who dismiss all such concerns as merely the unreasonable demands of whose who seek a risk-free society.”

It is not always clear on what basis information should be considered “authoritative” nor who should decide this. The approach outlined by Dickson would seem to include information and demands that might otherwise be disqualified on the grounds of being “unreasonable.” This type of approach may be encouraging to those who would make such demands, but it stops short of outlining what counts as “reasonable.”

While defining “reasonable demands” is risky business, without clear parameters, what gets debated could too easily be determined by the agendas of those who get to decide, rather than by a reasonable process.

Nanotechnology: Paving the Way for the Little Guy

April 9th, 2004

Posted by: admin

by T.S. Ryen

The U.S. government must nurture and oversee the burgeoning field on nanotechnology.

Occasionally, scientific and technical discoveries open up vast new disciplines, and herald new inventions that fundamentally change our way of life. For instance, engines, planes, and computers have drastically changed our society in just the last few centuries and even decades. Now, scientists and engineers around the world work feverishly in a field that promises even greater transformations; nanotechnology.