Participants in two international workshops sponsored by the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) have identified a number of areas that need additional research in order to understand nanotechnology’s environmental and health impacts. The results of the workshops, held in January and June 2007, were presented at an event sponsored by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
ICON sponsored the workshops in response to the growing commercialization of nanotechnology applications and the accompanying concerns about the lack of research conducted into the safety of the relatively new science. By virtue of their size, shape, or surface characteristics, many nano-particles exhibit properties that aren’t observed in the bulk form of the same material.
More than 70 experts from academia, industry, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations and more than 13 countries participated in the workshops. They identified 26 research needs to predict nano-biointeractions, a second set of six research needs for risk management, and outlined two-, five- and 10-year goals for producing tools to help all stakeholders characterize the risks of emerging nanotechnologies. In addition, participants agreed on the need for a shared language, as well as defined research methods and materials, for researchers to be successful in developing predictive models.
“Our ‘grand challenge’—producing computational models that predict interactions of engineered nano-particles with organisms—will take some time, perhaps 10 years,” said Dr. Vicki L. Colvin, executive director of ICON and professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Rice University. “But the systematic approach taken in these workshops, of breaking the big challenge into component areas, will provide a solid foundation for further research, enable risk management, and guide commercial development.”