Goal Four Objectives

Goal 4: Support responsible development of nanotechnology.

As detailed in the 2014 NNI Stragegic Plan, the objectives for this goal are as follows:

4.1. Support the creation of a comprehensive knowledge base for evaluation of the potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology to the environment and to human health and safety.

4.1.1. Continue to identify gaps and prioritize needs for relevant knowledge through active stakeholder engagement, including with industry and regional, state, and local initiatives.

4.1.2. Facilitate the development of an informatics-based structure for knowledge sharing that includes a compendium of existing knowledge and mechanisms to incorporate new knowledge.

4.1.3. Promote the development and validation of measurement tools and decision-making models to enable hazard and exposure quantification for human and environmental risk assessment and management.

4.1.4. Participate in international efforts, particularly those aimed at generating best practices and consensus standards.

Science-based risk assessment and management of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and nanotechnology-enabled products (NEPs) is predicated on the broad availability of a comprehensive knowledge base that includes validated data, methods, protocols and assays, reference materials and consensus standards, and interpretative and predictive models. Such a knowledge base is also essential for the development of beneficial nanotechnology applications for society and the environment. There is a substantial and rapidly growing body of knowledge on ENM and NEP characterization, hazards, and exposure that needs to be collected, analyzed, organized, and archived in an informatics-based structure to facilitate sharing and use of information. The development of broadly applicable, accessible, and validated measurement tools that enable the generation of accurate and reproducible data remains a high-priority research area. Such tools provide confidence in quantifying hazards, exposure, and ultimately risk, all of which are critical to evaluating the safety of NEPs. Such safety evaluations will accelerate innovation and commercialization of NEPs and support science-based regulatory actions to protect human health and the environment. Decision-making models that are flexible enough to integrate limited amounts of data will accelerate and advance risk assessment and management. The NNI agencies will continue to play a strong participatory and, where appropriate, leading role in international activities to develop consensus standards and in other international activities. Such consensus standards, along with best practices, provide essential guidance to policy-makers and regulators.

Specific research areas for increased emphasis that have been identified collectively by NNI agencies include sustainability (Objective 4.4), high-throughput screening tools, environmental fate and transport, tools for risk assessment and management, dose metrics, and human and environmental health monitoring. Another high-priority need is a library of well-characterized ENMs available for testing by researchers and for use in international interlaboratory studies.

4.2. Create and employ means for timely dissemination, evaluation, and incorporation of relevant environmental, health, and safety (EHS) knowledge and best practices.

4.2.1. Explore new avenues to engage with a broader group of stakeholders, to communicate NNI research progress, and to share technical information.

4.2.2. Promote multistakeholder activities to evaluate EHS concerns such as human and environmental exposures to ENMs and NEPs.

4.2.3. Participate in coordinated international efforts focused on sharing data, guidance, and best practices for environmental and human risk assessment and management.

NanoEHS is a multidisciplinary research area of importance to a large and diverse group of stakeholders. Thus, it is a challenge to engage, communicate, and share information with stakeholders who have varying concerns and levels of EHS knowledge. Addressing this challenge requires expanded use of modern approaches to disseminate information, such as popular social media tools, and enhanced awareness and new functionality of key websites, notably www.nano.gov. Another approach is enhanced communication of individual NNI agencies’ specific research priorities, activities, and interagency collaborations. Advances in the evaluation of specific EHS concerns are enabled by increased participation of diverse stakeholders in existing evaluation activities as well as by initiation of new activities. The NNI agencies will continue to participate in, and where appropriate, lead international efforts focused on sharing information, including safety data, pertinent to risk assessment and management.

4.3. Develop the national capacity to identify, define, and responsibly address concepts and challenges specific to the ethical, legal, and societal implications (ELSI) of nanotechnology.

4.3.1. Support the creation of a comprehensive knowledge base for ELSI and the development of an ELSI infrastructure.

4.3.2. Promote awareness and education of ELSI among relevant stakeholders (including manufacturers, regulators, nongovernmental organizations, workers, and the public).

4.3.3. Foster deliberative interactions, such as public forums, among relevant stakeholders concerning national and global ELSI.

Addressing ELSI in a proactive manner is critical to ensure public trust in nanotechnology and to promote innovation and commercialization of NEPs. The first step in addressing ELSI is to build a comprehensive knowledge base that includes a compendium of ELSI experts, results from societal dimensions research, workshop reports, patents, and best practices to approaching ELSI issues. Such a knowledge base relies on support from an enhanced ELSI infrastructure composed of networks, repositories, and centers for advancing the collection, dissemination, and preservation of societal dimensions research on nanotechnology for both the research community and public audiences. To increase stakeholder awareness and education concerning ELSI issues, appropriate and relevant ELSI knowledge will be disseminated to myriad stakeholders having varying levels of ELSI knowledge. Expanded opportunities and new approaches for deliberative interactions among stakeholder groups, which are numerous and diverse, will be developed and implemented.

4.4. Incorporate sustainability in the responsible development of nanotechnology.

4.4.1. Encourage the development of ENMs that are safer and more sustainable alternatives to materials—nanoscale and otherwise—that are now in use.

4.4.2. Promote the design and development of safe and environmentally benign manufacturing and end-of-life processes for ENMs and NEPs.

4.4.3. Support R&D on nanotechnology with beneficial applications toward human health and the environment.

Materials sustainability encompasses many global challenges of growing societal, economic, and environmental importance: material, water, and air management; green manufacturing; environmental stewardship; and renewable and clean energy sources.[1] Responsible development of nanotechnology must include consideration of these sustainability challenges in the design of manufacturing and end-of-life processes for ENMs and NEPs. New research will be directed at developing ENMs that are more sustainable alternatives to larger-scale materials currently used in myriad processes and products, and at integrating sustainability in the design, development, and manufacture of ENMs and NEPs.

On the other hand, nanotechnology has great potential to address societal, economic, and environmental sustainability needs. Some of the beneficial applications that nanotechnology could provide in support of sustainability are ENMs for more efficient generation and use of energy, water purification, production of food and bio-based industrial and commercial products, and remediation of environmental contaminants. New research will develop these and other nanotechnology applications for widespread positive impact on human health and the environment.


[1] Materials for Sustainable Development, MRS Bulletin, 37(4), 303-308 (2012).