A number of researchers and organizations such as the Meridian Institute in the US believe that nanotechnology could contribute to some or all of the UN Millennium Development Goals, aiming for poverty reduction by 2015. Applications of nanotechnology that could benefit those living in poverty include diagnostics and therapies for infectious diseases, water purification and desalination, sustainable energy production, and environmental monitoring and remediation. Nanotechnology could also contribute to food security by boosting the yields of food crops, and packaging materials coated with nanoparticles that will allow food to be stored longer. So far, nanotechnology has been an area of 'technology push', with substantial investments in both generic research and technology development, in the absence of clear market demand. Worldwide, private investments in research have recently overtaken public funding, but the potential advantages of nanotechnology-based products compared to other alternatives are not yet clear. Also, there is a growing global debate on the ethical, legal and social aspects of nanotechnology, in particular the potential risks to human health and the environment posed by engineered nanomaterials. Nanotechnology is still mainly a solution looking for problems to solve, including sustainable development issues.
The list of great monuments and frescoes destroyed or seriously damaged by negligence or criminal action is dramatically increasing, and the biggest culprit is air pollution. Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the most serious causes of degradation in carbonate stone, which in the form of marble, limestone and similar materials comprises some of the most important monuments and artifacts in the world. The main damage to monuments is that the stonework becomes sulphated through the transformation of calcium carbonate to calcium sulphate owing to the presence of sulphur dioxide. Two forms of deterioration then take place: the constitution of a black film in areas sheltered from the rain, and elsewhere the crumbling of the interior of the stone. For instance, UNESCO estimates that the surface eaten away annually in a cultural heritage site such as Venice represents 6 per cent of marble and stone monuments and 5 per cent of frescoes. The problem is not only what causes the damage but also how repairs are done. Quite often, the experts in charge of restoration work - architects, restorers, renovators - conduct their work without previous scientific studies of the damaged monument. Specifically the consolidation of decayed stone in historical buildings is a common intervention that can cause irreparable damage to the monument. Although commercial products, such as alkoxysilanes that are commonly used to consolidate stone, present unquestionable advantages they also present certain disadvantages totally ignored by the experts in charge of their application. Scientists in Spain are committed to the development of new nanotechnology materials specifically suited to stone-based historical structures. Their objective has been the development of a new nanomaterial which forms a crack-free gel in the pores of the treated stone.
If you belong to the sizeable number of flag-waving, hand-on-the-bible type of Americans who believe that America has assumed it's god-given role as leader of the free world (if you don't live in this country, don't laugh; unfortunately this is not a joke) you probably haven't read Thomas L. Friedman's book 'The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century' (but then of course you wouldn't read something from an East Coast liberal columnist for the New York Times). In a chapter titled 'The Quiet Crisis' Friedman quotes Shirley Ann Jackson, the 2004 president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since 1999: "The sky is not falling, nothing horrible is going to happen today" says Jackson. "The U.S. is still the leading engine for innovation in the world. It has the best graduate programs, the best scientific infrastructure, and the capital markets to exploit it. But there is a quiet crisis in U.S. science and technology that we have to wake up to. The U.S. today is in a truly global environment, and those competitor countries are not only wide awake, they are running a marathon while we are running sprints. If left unchecked, this could challenge our preeminence and capacity to innovate. "A roadmap project on the future of engineering in the U.S. is coming pretty much to the same conclusion. The fundamental knowledge undergirding engineering practice increasingly requires research at the extremes, from nanotechnology to the mega level of global systems such as civil infrastructure, energy, and climate change as well as the mastery of new tools such as cyber infrastructure and quantum engineering. The report urges that this requires far greater attention by government and industry to the support of the long-term basic engineering research necessary to build the knowledge base key to addressing society's needs. This is increasingly challenged both by the relentless pace of new technologies and their declining ability to attract a diverse cadre of the most capable students compared to other professional programs such as law, medicine, and business administration.
For centuries, man has searched for miracle cures to end suffering caused by disease and injury. Many researchers believe nanotechnology applications in medicine may be mankind's first 'giant step' toward this goal. According to Freitas nanomedicine is "...(1) the comprehensive monitoring, control, construction, repair, defense, and improvement of all human biological systems, working from the molecular level, using engineered nanodevices and nanostructures; (2) the science and technology of diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease and traumatic injury, of relieving pain, and of preserving and improving human health, using molecular tools and molecular knowledge of the human body; (3) the employment of molecular machine systems to address medical problems, using molecular knowledge to maintain and improve human health at the molecular scale." Nanomedicine not only has the potential to change medical science dramatically but to open a new field of human enhancements that is poised to add a profound and complex set of ethical questions for health care professionals. For instance, there is a fine line between medical and non-medical uses of nanotechnology for diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive purposes (e.g. non-medical implants in soldiers). The question of whether nanotechnology should be used to make intentional changes in or to the body when the change is not medically necessary is just one hot topic in a long list of concerns. The good news is that these questions are being asked, but there is still much work to be done, but despite the enormous promise of nanomedicine, and the considerable funding going into the field, the research into the ethical, legal and social implications of nanomedicine is comparatively minute. As Peter Singer wrote in his 2003 tutorial Mind the gap: science and ethics in Nanotechnology: 'The science leaps ahead, the ethics lags behind.' As with nanotechnology in general, there is danger of derailing nanomedicine if the study of ethical, legal and social implications does not catch up with scientific developments.
Given past revelations of previously top secret military technology programs there is a good chance that some 'black' projects somehwere tinker with advanced nanotechnology applications. But, you keepers of military secrets, relax. This Spotlight is not a piece of investigative journalism into the world of military black projects. It is the first in a series of eight scenarios that have just been published by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) - and we here at Nanowerk have posted the entire nanotechnology scenario project here. CRN's scenarios depict various versions of a near-future world into which transformative manufacturing concepts may emerge. Across eight separate storylines, an international team of policy, technology, and economic specialists organized by CRN imagined in detail a range of plausible, challenging events - from pandemics to climate crises to international conflicts - to see how they might affect the development of advanced nanotechnology over the next 15 years. Please keep in mind that this and the others seven scenarios are NOT predictions but fiction. CRN intends the scenarios to provide a springboard for discussion of molecular manufacturing policies and societal responses. While each scenario can be understood individually, the real value of the process comes from the comparison of multiple scenarios. A strategic response that appears robust in one scenario may be dangerous in another; an organization, community, or polity using these scenarios to consider how to handle the emergence of molecular manufacturing should strive for responses that are viable across multiple scenarios.
Governments always struggle when faced with regulating highly complex subject matters such as nanotechnologies. Primarily concerned with managing the potential risks to the environment, human health and the safety of workers (EHS), regulators often feel overwhelmed by the complexity and novelty of new technologies, stymied by a lack of data, and confused by conflicting research findings and advice from various interest groups. In the meantime, against a backdrop of a legal environment that ranges from gaping holes to regulatory vacuum, research organizations and early-adopting industry players push ahead with the new technology. Not being able to create any breathing room for lengthy political and legal considerations, the last 15-20 years have seen several governments adopting voluntary environmental programs (VEPs), arguing that this is the only viable proportional option for the time being. It is estimated that there are some 300 VEPs in the European Union and over 200 in the United States, dealing with matters such as climate change, energy, waste, water, toxic materials, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, forestry, hotels, hospitals, and financial institutions. If these voluntary programs work is subject to debate - some apparently do, some less so. In the case of manufactured nanomaterials, the risk properties remain largely unknown and it is unclear what exactly should be regulated. For the VEPs that are in place for nanomaterials, governments are urging companies to submit health and safety information on the nanomaterials they produce or commercialize. In order to investigate whether voluntary government programs will be sufficient to ensure the safety of manufactured nanomaterials, researchers have analyzed a sampling of voluntary programs in the fields of environmental health and safety in the United States over the past 20 years, with a view towards their applicability in the case of manufactured nanomaterials
The benefits of new technologies, whether they are new medical treatments, an innovative approach to farming or new ways of generating energy, almost always come with some new risks as well. In the emerging stages of a new technology, experts and the public generally differ in their perceptions of risk. While this might be due to social and demographic factors, it is generally assumed by scientists who conduct risk research that experts' risk assessments are based more strongly on actual or perceived knowledge about a technology than lay people's risk assessments. Nevertheless, whether the risks are real or not, the public perception of an emerging technology will have a major influence on the acceptance of this technology and its commercial success. If the public perception turns negative, potentially beneficial technologies will be severely constrained as is the case for instance with gene technology. It is not surprising that a new study found that, in general, nanoscientists are more optimistic than the public about the potential benefits of nanotechnology. What is surprising though, is that, for some issues related to the environmental and long-term health impacts of nanotechnology, nanoscientists seem to be significantly more concerned than the public.
Cancer is an enormous socio-economic problem. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is estimated that in 2007 there will be over 1.4 million new cases of cancer (of any type) and over 550,000 deaths from cancer in the United States (you can download a detailed Cancer Statistics 2007 Presentation; ppt download, 808 KB) from the American Cancer Society. This makes cancer the second deadliest disease category, after heart diseases. But while the mortality rates for heart diseases have dropped by more than half from 1950 to 2004, and other major disease categories show similar trends, cancer death rates have stayed pretty much the same. Shocking but true, if you are a male living in the U.S., your lifetime probability of developing some type of cancer is 1 in 2. If you are female, your probability is 1 in 3. Equally dismal are the economic cost associated with this disease: The amount of direct cancer-related costs (treatment, care and rehabilitation) have reached $74 billion in the U.S. in 2005, and growing fast, while the overall economic costs (including loss of economic output due to days off and premature death) are estimated to be over $200 billion per year (2005 data). This Spotlight will discuss existing and new approaches to fight cancer and their limitations. The goal is to stimulate readers to support and participate in interdisciplinary research and teaching efforts toward relieving suffering and death due to cancer. Fighting cancer involves three phases: (i) detection, (ii) treatment, and (iii) monitoring. Success depends on matching science to the actual practical needs. We'll take a look at - in particular nanotechnology - efforts underway in the direction of these three phases and comment on some of the practical problems encountered fighting cancer. We also speculate about some unconventional research that might be successful fighting cancer in the future.