Oral Evidence – Dr Kristen M. Kulinowski, Center for Biological and
Environmental Nanotechnology, Rice University, Houston TX (USA)

This evidence was taken on November 5th 2003 at the World Nano-economic Congress, London, in the presence of Professor Ray Oliver, Nanotechnology Working Group member, and Dr Andrew Dunn of the Royal Society. The evidence was written up by the secretariat and has been approved by Dr Kulinowski.

Note that the views summarised in this document are those of Dr Kulinowski alone and do not necessarily represent those of CBEN

Definition

Dr Kulinowski defined nanotechnology as the production of man-made materials between 1 and 100nm in size. She noted that the emphasis should be placed on the control of the chemical and physical properties that can change dramatically at this scale, and that purely miniaturisation per se was not important.

Dr Kulinowski was not interested in drawing a distinction between nanoscience and nanotechnology, and suggested that this may depend on whether one was speaking to a scientist or an engineer, or a marketeer.

Health, safety and environmental issues

When asked if nanotechnology would be likely to raise new health, safety or environmental issues, Dr Kulinowski felt that further investigation was necessary into nanomaterials, which are likely to possess unexpected properties. She also stated that any possible risks associated with nanomaterials would be of much more importance to factory workers who produce the materials, than to consumers of end products containing them, especially in the near-term. This is due simply to the higher potential dose or exposure within the manufacturing plant.

When asked about the commonly used comparison between carbon nanotubes and asbestos, Dr Kulinowski felt that this was not a good analogy as asbestos fibres are typically much larger than carbon nanotubes, and there is currently no evidence that they behave in the same way.

Social and ethical considerations

DrKulinowski believed that the widespread use of the term ‘nano’ by companies was generally in order to raise money from venture capital firms. She pointed out the hypocrisy of using this term when trying to raise capital, however when companies speak with regulators, this term evaporates, to be replaced with ‘simply carbon’ or ‘chemistry’. She felt this was only adding to the confusion surrounding nanotechnology.

As a general point, in comparison with Europe, Dr Kulinowski felt that the US public were much less concerned about possible environmental effects, and thought this probably has affected awareness of the need for more studies into these effects. Dr Kulinowski also welcomed the public nature of the RS/RAEng study which has not been seen in the USA.