Firstly, may I commend the RS & RAE for producing this excellent report on the difficult subject of Nanotechnology. It is a much needed study of an area that is certain to impact, if it has not already, on all our lives.
I do however have a few comments, including ones concerning the definition of the term itself. The name nanotechnolgy, I fear, may have already been hijacked by the popular media in a way that renders its use as a real definitive term lost (much in the same way that those of us who are 'real' chemists will always struggle against public perception). I feel that to try and correct this needs firm action now to accurately and correctly define the terms and get these definitions over to the general public. I found the document to be slightly vague on this issue (not unexpected) with definitions from the different interested parties from a number of different angles. I would like to see nanotechnology put into context with scale much more clearly, i.e.
Micro(technology) - physical properties of materials remain as normal bulk properties, it is just the size that has shrunk Nano(technology) - physical properties of materials are fundamentally different from the bulk, quantum effects dominate
Atomic(technology) - (for the future) materials are built by precise atom by atom placement and bonding to tailor very specific properties
So I see 'nanoscience' as being bounded by the miniaturisation of the bulk but limited to ending before we get down to 'atomic construction', something no doubt we will get round to eventually. The documents definition was essential this but lost a relative view as those involved are so 'close to the coal face'. If we can get over the fact that nanotechnology is just our continuing ability to understand matter on an ever decreasing 'length' scale we may be able to convince the public that there is little to fear and much to be fascinated in. To put it in to a real scale compared to say the diameter of a human hair would help immensely! I did like the clear definition of 3D, 2D and 1D nanomaterial dimensionality.
In terms of the current state of the knowledge (art?) and applications, again I think we need to be clear where microscience and nanoscience meet and diverge. We also see 'laboratory demonstrators' of MEMS at the atomic or near atomic scale, but, how many of these are utilizing quantum effects or are purely examples of just true miniaturisation? The markets for some of these advances are still pre-conception and the danger is the demonstrators may purely feed the imagination of the science fiction writers - a group that are obese already. The public perception could be a major obstacle in areas such as Bionanotechnolgy.
We need to win this one with the public, badly. We cannot let the nano-bots and self-replicating ideas take firm hold, although how we 'talk' Nanotechnolgy without using terms that mean nothing to 99% of the population will be a challenge ('quantum effect' of 'quantum mechanical' will no doubt send most people instantly into a deep coma). Can anyone say that the term 'Chemical Industry' has anything but bad vibes with many people no matter what good news is put in the public domain. It would be a mistake to allow Nano(science/technology) to be seen likewise. We need to be clear, we need to be open, and we need to engage the public from the start. This document is a start on the long path in the right direction.
A final question. Are we trying to cover too much under the one umbrella term? There are advantages and disadvantages to doing this.
Thank you again for providing the opportunity for me to read such a thought provoking document and I trust you will get the avalanche of (positive) feedback that it deserves.