Submission from NTera Ltd
NTera has developed an electrochromic display technology that, through the use of nanostructured metal oxide films, can be used as electronic paper. We are a nanotechnology company in that we generate films of metal oxide nanoparticles to create the electrodes of the display cell. The nano-particulate nature of the films leads to their advantageous properties.
Issue 1: Definition and segmentation of “Nanotechnology”
Nanotechnology struggles with the fact that it can be defined in so many ways. There are naturally-occurring nanoscale particles and structural features in areas such as materials and biochemistry in addition to the artificially-generated nanoparticles and ultimately (perhaps) nano-machines. It is not helpful to anyone to group all these together under one heading and to then treat them all similarly. A useful segmentation needs to be developed that allows us to address reasonably homogenous activities sensibly, without tarring all with the same brush.
Issue 2: Health and Safety
Within the structure created by a useful segmentation, the standard issues of health and safety must be addressed. These will need to cover the full range of risks from those inherent in the material/product, to those affecting people working with the materials to those affecting consumers, both active and passive. Many man-made nanoparticles and nanomaterials are already in circulation, with the assumption that the properties of the nano- materials are the same as their micro and macro equivalents. This may be true, but should be proven.
Regarding the more futuristic nano-products, for example nano-robots and “grey goo”; while we cannot test these until they exist in the lab, their development should be subject to the normal stringency applied to other emerging technologies
Issue 3: Applications and Benefits
As well as studying the potential risks involved in the various branches of nanotechnology, the group should study the benefits, both current and potential that nanotechnology does and will deliver. There is always a risk in developing a new technology, but if the potential benefits can be demonstrated to outweigh the risks, then development should be encouraged.
By studying these issues and relating them to relevant segments of nanotechnology, it should be possible to reach conclusions and recommendations that help the government and public
These conclusions, when properly communicated, will go a long way towards clarifying,
demystifying and de-demonising the entirety of nanotechnology, while identifying
appropriate controls over the potentially more risky areas of nanotechnology.