The Royal Society Nanotechnology Study - EPSRC Submission


The advent of the term Nanotechnology has performed a useful integrating function in that it has encouraged multidisciplinary research across science and engineering to create an amalgam of tools, techniques and processes for the precision manipulation of matter at the nanometre scale. EPSRC has been funding research into Nanoscience and Nanotechnology for more than 15 years and through managed programmes (National Initiative in Nanotechnology (NION) 1986, SERC 1990 and LINK 1994) and Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations (IRCs) in these areas has been largely instrumental in ensuring that there is a Nanoscience community in the UK and that the means of translating this into Nanotechnology is in place. Currently just less than 10% of the total EPSRC grants portfolio of £1billion is concerned with Nanotechnology.

EPSRC has taken full role in developing the strategy for future research in Nanotechnology and actively participated on behalf of all the Research Councils in the UK Strategy Exercise for Manufacturing. It is represented on the Nanotechnology board of the IOM3 and the Institute for Nanotechnology as well as other UK and European organisations. EPSRC has also supported International Technology Service (ITS) missions on Nanotechnology research in the USA, Europe and Japan and taken part in the nascent public debate about the need for control and legislation of Nanotechnology.

Information on the current EPSRC investments and strategy in Nanotechnology is given in EPSRC Briefing note No.4 and the Research Opportunities and Priorities document both of which are available on the EPSRC website.

Full access to the details of grants funded by EPSRC can also be obtained from the EPSRC website further analysis could be carried out using the EPSRC’s Management Information System and EPSRC would be happy to provide this if requested to do so by the Royal Society working group.

Definition of Nanotechnology.

In 1999 EPSRC held a Theme Day in Nanotechnology at which considerable effort was expended by the panel of academics and industrialists (from both UK and abroad) active in Nanotechnology research in defining what Nanotechnology was and how it might be divided into sub-themes that best represented the research then in progress.

The Panel adopted Prof. Albert Franks definition of Nanotechnology as ‘A technology in which dimensions and tolerances in the range 100nm to 0.1nm play a critical role’ and have described Nanotechnology via a series of sub-areas (further information is available in the Nanotechnology Brief):

Functional nanotechnology
Nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS), devices and machines
Molecular (including bio-molecular) nanotechnology
Nanoparticles, Nanoclusters and nanocatalysis
Nanostructured materials
Extreme nanotechnology.

Applications of Nanotechnology.

There are numerous examples of applications in Nanotechnology some of which are given in the Nanotechnology brief. Existing uses have been concentrated in nanoparticles, for uses in coating technology, and functional nanotechnology, in optical, electronic and magnetic devices. Future near and medium term applications are seen in informatics, drug delivery, tissue engineering, medical diagnostics and implants and in novel materials.

Society, health and ethics.

The briefing for the Royal Society study seems to emphasise the possible negative aspects of nanotechnology- impacts on health etc., ethical and social issues, regulation rather than the positive benefits. It is important that the working group occupy a balanced, realistic position with regard to nanotechnology (and technology as a whole) and exaggerate neither the benefits or possible problems. EPSRC are concerned that University researchers in Nanotechnology be prepared to deal with the media and key figures in the leading research groups have been offered training to do this. In addition plans are in place to appoint Senior Media Fellows to act as spokesmen for Nanotechnology research.

Key Issues.

What are the real economic, environmental, social and ethical questions that apply to Nanotechnology and how do they differ from questions pertaining to Technology as a whole?

Where should the UK direct its resources to maximise the potential benefits of nanotechnology?

What are the training, research and technology transfer requirements to ensure the future competitiveness of the UK in Nanotechnology?

How should the media be handled to ensure that the public receives a balanced view of nanotechnology?

How can UK industry be stimulated to take advantage of the creative opportunities deriving from nanotechnology research?


Annex Documents :

EPSRC Briefing Note 4 – Nanotechnology. October 2002

Updated Statistics for Briefing Note 4. July 2003

EPSRC ‘Research Opportunities and Priorities’- Excerpt on ‘Nano World’. 2003

EPSRC report on Nanotechnology Theme Day.1999

An EPSRC view of the Nanotechnology Horizon-Paper presented at E-MRS conference, Strasbourg 2003