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Posted: December 13, 2007
Public inquiry into the pro and cons of nanotechnology to be held in Australia
(Nanowerk News) The New South Wales Government will hold a public inquiry into the pro and cons of nanotechnology, a field of science that involves matter so small it could cross the body's membranes and affect cells and tissue in the body.
It's already being applied to food and scientists say it will also be used in clothing, medicine and across industry. Because of its potentially wide reach, it could become as controversial as genetically modified crops and cloning.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level, lengths equivalent to 1/100,000th the diameter of a human hair, the NSW Minister for Science and Medical Research, Verity Firth, said in a statement.
"Nanotechnology offers the promise of breakthroughs that will revolutionise the way we detect and treat disease; monitor and protect the environment; and produce and store energy," Ms Firth said.
"But before the technology's full potential can be released, safety and ethical concerns need to be assessed by governments."
Matter created by nanotechnology is so small there are concerns about the way it might affect humans, as it is small enough to enter the body's bloodstream, a spokesman for Ms Firth, Jeff Singleton, said.
"I don't think many people know it's been used in many products we eat," he said.
"For example, it's in sulphur dioxide, which is used to make chocolate shiny."
Ms Firth said there were several institutions in NSW doing research into nanotechnology.
These include Macquarie University's Department of Physics, which is home to two nanotechnology research facilities, the University of Wollongong and its electro-materials research centre and the University of Western Sydney' s Nanotechnology Project.
The NSW Government has already provided $4 million for research into nanotechnology, and the parliamentary inquiry is due to report by next October.
The Federal Government's Australian Office of Nanotechnology has invested $21.5 million in its national strategy. Its key initiatives are an atomic force microscope for the National Measurement Institute, a Health, Safety and Environmental Working Group to co-ordinate regulatory issues relating to nanotechnology; and a public awareness program.