Assessing and Measuring the Environmental Impacts of Nanotechnology


Workshop and Webcast to Explore Advances in Instrumentation, Metrology, and Analytical Methods

(September 28, 2009—Arlington, VA)  As part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) ongoing strategy to coordinate nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety research (EHS) research, experts from industry, academia, and the Federal Government will come together for a two day workshop to explore current research on the environmental implications of nanotechnology, as well as the latest developments in instrumentation, metrology, and analytical methods. Nanomaterials and the Environment & Instrumentation, Metrology, and Analytical Methods is the second workshop in the NNI’s three-part, nanoEHS series.

“This workshop marks another step forward in our commitment to advancing EHS research, consistent with the NNI vision of building a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society. One of our main goals is to support responsible nanotechnology development,” said Dr. Clayton Teague, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.

Dr. Teague added that this workshop, as part of the nanoEHS series, is a key component of the overall NNI adaptive management strategy. “This workshop will provide one of the regular assessments of the state of EHS research called for in the 2008 document, Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research, and will provide essential information to better understand the evolving needs and priorities of this dynamic field.”

The workshop is sponsored by the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee and is coordinated by the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group.

The workshop will cover two over-arching research need tracks: (1) Nanomaterials and the Environment and (2) Instrumentation, Metrology, & Analytical Methods. The specific goals of this workshop are to:

  • Build dialogue and strengthen collaborations
  • Discuss the state of the science to assess the progress made and to identify prioritized gaps and emerging trends as related in the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s Strategy for Nanotechnology-related Environmental Health and Safety Research
  • Relate progress and next steps to adaptively manage this strategy

Stakeholders will share knowledge about research progress and chart a path forward to address research needs in this vital area.

Since it began, the NNI has promoted research to study the potential EHS impacts of nanotechnology. All told, government agencies participating in the NNI have invested at least $254 million on research related to environmental, health, and safety concerns between 2005 and 2009.

For FY 2010, $88 million has been requested for the primary purpose of understanding and addressing potential risks of nanotechnology to health, safety and the environment. This includes studies funded by several agencies examining the potential toxicity of nanomaterials to humans and the environment, as well as developing and communicating safe practices for handling nanomaterials in the workplace. The FY 2010 EHS funding does not include substantial research in other NNI program component areas that are also vital to learning more about the potential risks of nanotechnology. Based on a sampling of EHS research funded in FY 2006, if all related research was included, current funding figures for EHS research would be as much as 60 percent higher.

The workshop will be held October 6-7 at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn at Key Bridge, 1900 N Fort Meyer Drive, Arlington, Va., 22209.

Nanotechnology Fact

Nanotechnology is used in many commercial products and processes, for example, nanomaterials are used to manufacture lightweight, strong materials for applications such as boat hulls, sporting equipment, and automotive parts. Nanomaterials are also used in sunscreens and cosmetics.

Nanostructured products are used to produce space-saving insulators which are useful when size and weight is at a premium—for example, when insulating long pipelines in remote places, or trying to reduce heat loss from an old house. Nanostructured catalysts make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient, by saving energy and reducing waste.

In healthcare, nanoceramics are used in some dental implants or to fill holes in diseased bones, because their mechanical and chemical properties can be “tuned” to attract bone cells from the surrounding tissue to make new bone. Some pharmaceutical products have been reformulated with nanosized particles to improve their absorption and make them easier to administer. Opticians apply nanocoatings to eyeglasses to make them easier to keep clean and harder to scratch and nanoenabled coatings are used on fabrics to make clothing stain-resistant and easy to care for.

Almost all high-performance electronic devices manufactured in the past decade use some nanomaterials. Nanotechnology helps build new transistor structures and interconnects for the fastest, most advanced computing chips.

All told, nanotechnologies are estimated to have impacted $251 billion across the global economy in 2009. This is estimated to grow to $2.4 trillion by 2015 (Lux Research, 2010).

For more information, see Benefits and Applications.