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Posted: Apr 04, 2012
Nanotechnologies for development - a first NANO-DEV policy brief
(Nanowerk News) This first NANO-DEV policy brief (pdf) reviews literature on nanotechnologies for development. On the basis of this literature, the NANO-DEV policy brief identifies a number of gaps in our understanding of the relation between development and nanotechnology.
The key message of the policy brief is that nanotechnology can have both positive and negative consequences for countries in the global South. These should be pro-actively dealt with.
The positive consequences of nanotechnology include direct benefits in the form of solutions to the problems of the poor and indirect benefits in the form of economic growth. The negative consequences of nanotechnology include direct risks to human health and the environment and indirect risks such as a deepening of the global divide. Core challenges to harnessing nanotechnology for development include risk governance, cultures of innovation, knowledge brokerage and travelling technology.
In recent years billions of dollars have been invested in nanotechnology
research. Nanotechnology, usually defined as the understanding and control of
matter at the nano-scale, is said to have such pervasive consequences that
the 21st century is already proclaimed to become the 'nano-century'. Scientists
and engineers across the globe are currently exploring the new characteristics
that materials acquire at the nano-scale.
Nanotechnology may also contribute to development in the global South.
The new characteristics of nanotechnologies are also said to offer
solutions for problems faced by people in the global South, especially in the
fields of water, energy, and health. For instance water filters, energy storage
systems, solar powered electricity and portable diagnostic tests may be
developed and improved using nanotechnology.
But the very same features that give rise to new opportunities may also
generate new risks. There may be risks to the human body and environment.
But for instance also investing in nanotechnology itself can be seen as a risk.
After all, it is not guaranteed that nanotechnology will deliver the desired solutions, nor that it will do so in
a better or cheaper way than
Much is still unknown about
the relation between technologies
at the nano-scale and
development. In order to
understand the potential role of
development, several issues
need to be addressed. For
instance, how can different
stakeholders engage in thinking
about nanotechnologies? How
are risks and benefits taken into
account? How and why do
laboratories engage in
nanotechnologies? And how can
nanotechnologies travel from the
laboratory to the market or from
one geographical context to
This policy brief reviews the
existing literature on
nanotechnology for development.
On the basis of this literature the
NANO-DEV project identifies a
number of gaps in our
understanding of the relation
between nanotechnology and
For more information about the policy brief one can contact Koen Beumer ([email protected]ity.nl).
The NANO-DEV project is partnership of three research institutes led by Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Besides Maastricht University, it includes the University of Hyderabad (India) and the African Technology Policy Studies Network (Kenya). Further details about the project, contact details, results and publications are available at the project website.