In brief, we welcome this initiative. The last two decades have seen an explosion of interest in the interdisciplinary field of nanotechnology from physicists, chemists, biologists and material scientists. The possibilities afforded by designing and tailoring the properties of matter at the nanometer scale including materials with novel properties and nanomachines are only now beginning to be recognized and the borderline between fact and fantasy is still difficult to discern. On the 'fact' side, one already sees an array of nanomaterials in everyday use, including in paints, inks, ceramics etc. and within the realms of IT. On the 'fantasy' side, there has been much recent 'hype' about molecular machines with the alleged potential of self-replicating 'nanobots' to reduce the world to 'grey goo'. There is clearly a huge potential for nanomachines, particularly in the biomedical sciences (where Nature has already anticipated our efforts through natural selection), but also huge challenges not simply in the design of the machines themselves but in the elaboration of input/output and control systems. The almost hysterical media response to Prince Charles' ill-informed concerns in this area was, as in many other areas of the public/science interface, deeply disturbing. Irresponsible journalism has caused considerable damage to science and medicine (and thereby society at large - see, for example, the repeated, mischievous reporting of the alleged MMR 'controversy') and this important technology must not be allowed to suffer the fate of GM and irradiated food.
The Novartis Foundation
Web site: www.novartisfound.org.uk