Six Ways I Know Nanotechnology is Here to Stay
The recent new focus on safety and environment isn't a death knell, just growing pains.
By Scott E. Rickert
July 8, 2011
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Have you been keeping up on recent government developments that have the nanotechnology industry in an uproar? First there was a dust-up when Clayton Teague stepped down as Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. There were rumors that the anti-nano forces had run him out. (Not true, by the way.) Then an announcement that the Food and Drug Administration would be looking at nanotechnology safety guidelines got some folks twitching. The same day, the White House released principles to guide the regulation and oversight of nanotechnology applications. That had people running for the exits.
Colleagues who've been in nanotechnology for a decade without incident were considering shutting down businesses, afraid a nano-boogieman was going to target them for billion-dollar lawsuits. Start-ups were in fear that the trickle of investment money would completely dry up. Any day I expect to see black armbands popping up in university labs in mourning over lost research grants.
So is it time to shutter the labs, find a new business, start nanotech speakeasies? I think not. How do I know?
1. The government is investing 10x as much in nano research as regulation.
The 2012 federal budget proposes $2.1 billion for the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Yes, the increase in funding for environmental health and safety topics is up to $124 million. At 38% growth, that's the second biggest percentage increase in the plans. But guess what comes in first? Nanomanufacturing at 46%, with a bottom line total of $123 million.
2. The federal EHS research is taking a responsible stance, not a radical one.
For example, the FDA guidance document explicitly states that nanotechnology products will not be prejudged as either "intrinsically benign or harmful." Are there issues to work out? Yes. The hotspot from my point of view is that they're looking at both nanomaterials under 100nm in size and those that are larger but display the properties associated with nanomaterials. We need a tighter definition -- and soon.