Press releases and Media Coverage
Nanotechnology offers benefits but risks must be
Scientists and engineers believe nanotechnology can
be used to benefit human health now and in the future
through applications such as better filters for improving
water purification, more effective methods of delivering
drugs in medicine and new ways of repairing damaged
tissues and organs, according to a report published
today (10 November 2003) of a workshop held by the Royal
Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
However, some nanotechnology experts at the workshop,
organised as part of the joint Royal Society and Royal
Academy of Engineering study on nanotechnology, believed
that more assessments need to be made of the potential
risks to human health posed by nanotubes and other nanoparticles,
which may have the potential to be hazardous in unpredictable
ways. Further studies should be carried out of the behaviour
of nanoparticles in the environment.
Many participants at the workshop also thought that
the construction of self-replicating ‘nanorobots’,
which feature in some science fiction accounts of nanotechnology,
is likely to be physically impossible.
The report also warns that participants felt “hyped
up reports from some scientists or writers have only
served to confuse the public’s perception of nanotechnology”.
They wanted a public debate based on “a realistic
projection of the potential impacts, both positive and
negative, of nanotechnology.”
Professor Ann Dowling, who is chairing the working
group for the study on nanotechnology, said: “This
report outlines some of the ways in which nanoscience
and nanotechnology may develop, and the potential applications.
We are publishing the report so that the science and
engineering community in the UK and abroad, and indeed
everybody with an interest in this area, can comment
and let the working group know their views. The working
group wants to make sure that they gain the most informed
view possible of future developments in nanotechnology.”
The report is based on a workshop involving 42 scientists
and engineers drawn from a wide spectrum of disciplines
in universities and industry. The participants discussed
likely developments over the next 20 years in nanoengineering
and measurement, nanomaterials, electronics and optoelectronics,
and bionanotechnology. They also considered health,
safety, environmental and social issues that might arise
in these fields.
The report notes a wide range of current applications
of nanotechnology and nanoscience outside medicine,
ranging from the creation of ‘nanomuscles’
to make dolls that could react to sound by moving their
eyes, to television screens that require less power
and produce less heat.
Nanotechnology could also be potentially beneficial
for the environment, according to the report, through
the use of nanomaterials, for example, to create fuel
cells and photovoltaic cells, or to remove heavy metals,
cyanide and other substances that damage the environment.
Overall nanotechnology could be used to develop industrial
processes that make more efficient use of resources
and generate less waste.
The report highlights some concerns that current regulations
do not take into account the size of particles, which
at the scale of the nanometre, or one-millionth of a
millimetre, can have a significant effect on their properties.
Although nanoparticles are already present in the air
from a range of natural and man-made sources, further
research is required into their safety.
The report indicates that some participants were critical
of major corporations for “becoming less open
to engaging the public, and indeed their own peers,
in discussion about their nanotechnology research programs”.
Workshop participants wanted more effort to be made
in involving the public in debates about the commercial
research and development of nanotechnology. There were
also fears that the successful application of nanotechnology
in the UK is being held up by the lack of a national
strategy to guide its progress.
Read the report "Nanotechnology:
views of Scientists and Engineer".