We are happy to respond to your request for views on Nanotechnology and have discussed this across the University. Our response is as follows; "Nanotechnology may be taken to cover the exploitation, design and fabrication of structures in the range 100nm to 0.1nm (the generally accepted range of 3 decades). It is important to recognise that research at such length scales has been going on for many years; for example, the trend of miniaturisation that has driven the semiconductor industry forward during the past half century, or even colloid chemistry. So there is nothing new about the length scale involved per se, and such work raises no ethical or health and safety issues that have not already been adequately addressed. Further, most of the exciting and profoundly important new areas of research into what one might call true nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes, are also, in our judgement, perfectly safe and acceptable within the standard rules and practices of the profession. The potential 'problem' area is the interface to biological systems, and the implications for self-replicating systems and the like. We accept that in such areas of research effective legislation needs to be in place and the ethical issues need to be monitored. However, we suspect that much of what is needed by way of such legislation already exists. Likewise we see no reason for any special new legislation in health and safety. But more importantly, it is patently absurd that wild speculations related to the biological interface, much of which has little scientific basis, are allowed to cloud, through association and a confusion of basic nomenclature, a hugely important area of research and development for the UK."
"Nanotechnology embodies not only the materials and biological science
bases and the cutting edge applications in MEMS devices, sensors and electronics,
but it also includes nano-manufacture, micro-process engineering and micro/nano
fluidics applications. These latter techniques and funding for engineering research
in these strategic areas to enable large scale production facilities will be
a significant component of the commercial success of the nanotechnology sector
in years to come. We will continue to hear as much in nano manufacture as in
nano-materials in months and in years to come simply because the conventional
"bottom-up" synthesis route to production using "living cells"
and "molecules" as building blocks has serious production scale-up
challenges whilst at the same time imparting "scare" on ordinary folk
visa vi "the nano-robots taking over the world!" or "genetically
Growth in the nano-technology sector will partly come from the "top down" processing and production methods which are much easier and cheaper to scale up for industrial production. Techniques based on ion implantation, soft lithography, micro/nano capillary networks and structural composites, nano-coating of textiles are some examples of "top-down" production routes which offer great potential for wealth creation in countless industry sectors without scaring the public.
The whole Press furore seems to be the result of a Royal misunderstanding and pronouncement possibly fuelled by a certain amount of hype from the popular and sensationalist press. But whatever the reason for the present review, the argument in favour of investment in the field probably couldn't be put much better than in the Times article and Leader of 24 June 2003 and we would commend this to the review Panel.
Professor Barry Evans
PVC Research and Enterprise
University of Surrey