The University of Oregon's Jim Hutchison already holds three patents in the emerging field of nanotechnology as well as leadership roles in organizations that promote the technology's potential in materials science and medicine.
Hutchison, a chemist and materials scientist, however, also embraces a strong call for exploring potential environmental and health implications, which he says could be many, and for designing new materials with reduced hazard. The available data, he notes, are often uncertain or in conflict. He urges the industry to adopt a proactive approach now, before unforeseen roadblocks threaten the technology's progress.
"The absence of data or seemingly conflicting data -- for example, research articles and subsequent media reports that contribute to uncertainty about the hazards of carbon nanotubes -- reduce public confidence in product safety and invigorate activist groups that aim to prevent the use of nanomaterials in products of commerce," he writes in ACS Nano, an international journal of the American Chemical Society.
Carbon nanotubes are molecules shaped like cylinders and have unique properties potentially useful in electronics, optics and various other materials. They are manufactured and synthesized in many different ways, and produce different results when trying to assess their safety.
"Without relevant data, innovators are forced to rely on 'reasonable worst-case scenarios' in applying risk-management frameworks or may not discover product hazards until late in product development," Hutchison writes. "The lack of information on material safety hinders innovation and places companies at considerable risk of failure."
Nanomaterials are complex, as are their interactions with biological organisms and the environment. While microscopically sized, they come in all sizes, shapes and compositions. "To confound the situation further," he writes, "the methods of production are still immature
|Contact: Jim Barlow|
University of Oregon