UK Government investigates risks of nanotech

Out-Law News | 02 Dec 2005 | 11:44 am | 1 min. read

The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set out its agenda for researching the possible risks posed by nanotechnology and announced a grant of £5 million to fund the research this week.

Nanotechnology is the growing industry built around the ability to control materials on the nano scale. One nanometer is one billionth of a metre, around 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Many expect it to bring great advances in medicine, electronics and the IT sectors. But like many new technologies, nanotech is threatened by hype. The Government has therefore been investigating the benefits and risks of nanotechnology and last year commissioned a report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering into the new science.

That report, Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties, concluded that there were no significant concerns at present but raised areas where more research should be conducted.

Those research priorities are covered in Wednesday’s report, Characterising the potential risks posed by engineered nanoparticles. Three areas are highlighted:

  • Characterising, defining and measuring nanoparticles;
  • Understanding the impact of nanoparticles on humans and the environment; and
  • Understanding where nanoparticles come from and how they travel through the environment, including the human body.

"This report sets out the ambitious and forward-looking research agenda that is needed to ensure that we are able to identify and manage potential risks associated with the use of nanotechnologies,” said Professor Howard Dalton, Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser. “Gathering this knowledge is vitally important so that we can reap the benefits, both environmental and economic, of nanotechnology."

The report identifies 19 research objectives and describes funding opportunities to address them. The entire research and funding programme will be regularly reviewed.

Including the £5 million investment announced today, the Government is now funding research into nanotech to the tune of almost £13 million.

According to Defra, research councils will welcome bids from those interested in carrying out the research.