The NanoBusiness Alliance has formed a task force to explore health and environmental issues related to nanotechnology and ways to educate the public and industry.
The Health and Environmental Issues Task Force includes researchers and nanotechnology business leaders and will meet soon to begin its work. In the short term, the group will assemble research and other nanotechnology information and provide that data on its website. One aim is to help companies avoid pitfalls when they scale up or down for nanotechnology manufacturing.
In the long term, the task force will propose nanotechnology standards and work with organisations in other countries with similar efforts under way.
In its broadest sense, nanotechnology is the ability to measure, predict, make - or manipulate - at the scale of atoms and molecules. But the fledgling ability to manipulate atoms and molecules, which are the very substance of all life, disturbs some opponents who believe it confers god-like power to scientists.
One popular science fiction notion is that of "grey goo," where self-replicating robots created with nanotechnology take over after a mutation goes horribly wrong. Other concerns are more down to earth with questions raised about nanotechnology being used to create killer viruses or weapons of mass destruction.
Although some detractors provide extremist scenarios and viewpoints meant to scare the unknowing public, there are legitimate concerns and issues because there is plenty that scientists and companies working in nanotechnology do not yet know. A lot more research needs to be done to measure what effects there might be from making quantities of new materials.
The alliance hopes to have a web-based library of studies and educational materials up in late September, with work toward establishing industry standards and best practices continuing in the months to come. Its Web site is at http://www.nanobusiness.org/.
Nancy Weil writes for IDG News Service