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Posted: Apr 05, 2011
Switzerland launches National Research Program "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials"
(Nanowerk News) Nanomaterials are causing a revolution in fields as far apart as medicine, energy systems and consumer products. Despite their enormous potential, the production, use and disposal of these materials can entail risks for humans and the environment. The National Research Programme "Opportunities and risks of nanomaterials" (NRP 64) aims to identify both the risks and the opportunities of nanomaterials for human health, the environment and natural resources.
Numerous substances, such as metals, metal oxides, carbon modifications and pigments, can contain nanoscale structures. When further processed, they can enhance the properties of existing materials, making them for instance more scratch proof or deeper in colour. Nanothechology thus helps us develop more sophisticated and effective products. Engineered nanomaterials can be put to use in a wide range of fields: medicine, energy systems, environmental protection, data storage, chemicals, foodstuffs, consumer goods and many others. Nanotechnology is a veritable cross-border technology that promises improvements in numerous areas of daily life.
Better risk assessment through research
But there is another side to the coin. Along with their huge potential, nanomaterials can also pose risks that should not be taken lightly. Despite rapid progress in the development of nanomaterials and the increasing number of nano-based products, we are only beginning to understand the effects of exposure on humans and the environment. NRP 64 intends to fill this gap by
gaining insights into engineered nanomaterials, their development, use, behaviour and risks;
developing methods and tools to monitor the behaviour of nanomaterials and their potential effects on humans and the environment;
developing tools to maximise the advantages of nanomaterials and minimise the risks for humans and the environment;
supporting the development and application of safe and effective technologies based on nanomaterials;
providing decision-makers, manufacturers, distributors and consumers with facts on which regulations and processing methods could be based;
enhancing and underpinning specialist knowledge and competencies for developing innovative nanomaterials and assessing risk in Switzerland.
NRP 64 consists of 18 projects divided into three modules. One module deals with medical applications, a second with the ecological effects of nanomaterials, and a third with the development and use of innovative nanomaterials in other domains, such as construction. All of the projects consider not only the opportunities, but also the risks of the nanomaterials they study.
Simultaneous kick-off in different institutions
The research groups participating in NRP 64 are based at different academic institutions: Empa (3 projects), Eawag (4 projects), EPFL (2 projects), the universities of Berne (3 projects), Lausanne (1 project), Fribourg (1 project) and Zurich (2 projects), the Agroscope Reckenholz-Tšnikon ART (1 project) and the RMS Foundation (1 project). NRP 64 has been allocated a budget of 12 million Swiss francs. Research work was initiated in 2011 and will continue until end of 2015. If you are interested in receiving progress updates for the different projects, please sign up for the electronic newsletter.