Clues to solving the nanotechnology puzzle

by Ishani Hewage on June 5, 2013

Finding appropriate regulatory solutions to the fast developing science of nanotechnology requires an understanding of the brand, associated languages and their implications, according an article recently published in the Science and Public Policy journal.

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“There are three distinct languages that frame nanotechnology regulatory discussions”, said Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center and co-author of the paper Nanotechnology: Rhetoric, risk and regulation.

“These languages have the ability to affect how we view nanotechnologies, how associated risks are analysed, and finally how the potential regulatory and policy discussions are handled,” said Andrew.

Authors, Andrew, Diana Bowman, also of the Risk Science Center and Graeme Hodge from the Monash Centre for Regulatory Studies, also contend that nanotechnology is a brand which lumps together a range of diverse scientific fields that are united by use of the nanoscale, and that this label fails to convey the complexities, multi-disciplinarity, or the level of sophistication and power that the technology holds.

As explained by Diana, “The connotations attached to the nanotechnology brand frames the way in which regulatory and public debates are held. In order to move forward in developing and defining our policy and regulatory priorities it is important that we understand the implications of this branding and eliminate any confusion caused by languages.

Moreover, the article suggests that there are at least seven major challenges, spanning fields of science, engineering, public policy, business, politics and law, that all need to be addressed in order move forward with promoting innovation.

The seven challenges can be summarised as follows:

  1. The language game – understanding the implications of language and the need for regulatory discussions to be driven by scientific evidence rather than rhetoric
  2. Gaps in scientific knowledge – the need for timely multi-disciplinary research into the dangers and impacts of nano-materials throughout their lifecycle
  3. Strengthening standards – developing standardized specifications and methods for scientific measurements of nano-materials
  4. Current regulatory gaps – identifying gaps in current legislation and regulations to address potential risks caused by increasingly sophisticated materials
  5. Balancing innovation, economic growth and health – striking an effective balance between nanotechnology innovation, economic growth and safety
  6. Evaluating regulation – identifying strengths and weaknesses in varying regulatory methods
  7. Transparency and trust – ensuring transparency and fostering public confidence and trust through effective regulation of nano-based products.

According to Andrew, “these challenges will need to be tackled as a matter of priority in order to address community concerns and advance nanotechnology innovation.”

A full-text copy of the article can be accessed here.

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