Sizing up the challenge

The public’s nanotechnology knowledge is scant, so a new group has set out to demystify it.

Key players in the many industries associated with nanotechnology came together last week to launch the Nanotech Association — the first group of its type to unite those involved in such diverse fields.

In the same week the government unveiled its response to the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers’ report on nano-technology. It was positive, and spoke of the exciting opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in the development of this new technology. One of the central themes of the government’s report was the need to widen the channels of communication between the science community and the public to break down the ‘anti-science’ culture to which Tony Blair recently referred in front of the Parliamentary Liaison Committee.

Moreover, the government asserted that industry has a key role to play in forging links between civil society groups, the research community and the public to foster constructive dialogue. It is for these reasons — to encourage open and informed debate on nanotechnology and to promote positive interaction between stakeholders — that the association has been formed.

Nanotechnology is already put to use in the manufacture of hard disks, sun-block creams, lasers and cosmetics — and nanosilver particles can even be used in the manufacture of socks. One of the greatest potential beneficiaries of nanotechnology is the healthcare sector, and recent developments in the use of the nanoscale could revolutionise drug delivery and wound care. The global market is currently worth around £105bn, but industry estimates that 10 years from now it will exceed $1trillion (£520bn). It may be the science of the small, but its future worth is enormous.

One of the key aims of the association is to clarify in the public mind what nanotechnology is and to demystify it. Despite its many applications, public knowledge is scant.

So a variety of players from within the industry — from large multinationals such as Smith & Nephew to small, innovative start-ups such as Oxford-based Oxonica — have joined together to project a unified voice and dispel the myths.

The association believes that informed, sensible and rational debate on nanotechnology, combined with open dialogue with the government, the media and the general public will enable the tremendous potential of this technology to be realised.

We will answer the government’s request for UK industry to lead the way in terms of promoting open and constructive dialogue. And we would also issue a call to arms to other players in the nanotech industry to join us in our campaign.

Alec Reader is sales and marketing director of Innos; Mark Gilligan is managing director of Syrris.

Editor’s notes:

The Institute of Nanotechnology has produced a CD-ROM offering a detailed introduction to nanotechnology, and a comprehensive glossary. Click here for more details.

The US EPA has awarded grants to 12 universities to investigate the potential health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials: More information on the grants and the recipients is available here.

Nanotechnology News is a web site dedicated to the subject of nanotechnology. For more infornmation, click here.