Posted: September 21, 2007

Federal nanotechnology grant made to Law School team

(Nanowerk News) The Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology has been awarded a multi-year federal grant to develop models for the international regulation of nanotechnology, a growing science with big implications for health, safety, quality of life and environmental concerns.
Three law professors in the Center, which is housed in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, received a $314,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Genomes to Life Program. They are Gary Marchant, the Center’s executive director and Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics, Kenneth Abbott, a Willard H. Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar and professor in ASU’s School of Global Studies, and Douglas Sylvester, a Center faculty fellow who specializes in intellectual-property law.
The project is a natural fit for the College, said Marchant, because it was the first U.S. law school to offer a course in nanotechnology, it has several faculty members who actively publish in the area, and it has amassed a cluster of about 20 student researchers in the emerging technology.
Abbott, a leading scholar in international law, said he is especially pleased to be working with the Center on the grant because of the scope of issues raised by nanotechnology.
“Nanotech will create regulatory issues across the entire spectrum of public policy, from food safety and personal privacy to energy and arms control, requiring a broad interdisciplinary approach,” he said. “It also poses difficult problems of international cooperation, as countries race to take the lead in nanotechnology development.”
Nanotechnology is the science of the small – the ability to manipulate and utilize materials at the “nanoscale” level, where they display unique and beneficial characteristics. It is expected to revolutionize electronics, medicine, agriculture, materials science, consumer products, manufacturing and many other industries. In fact, both the federal government and Wall Street analysts predict nanotechnology will quickly become a major part of the U.S. economy, reaching sales revenues exceeding $1 trillion within five to seven years.
Although nanotechnology often is described as “the next big thing,” there’s very little “next” about it, Marchant said. Already, more than 500 nanotechnology products are on the market, from dent-resistant automobile bumpers and stain-repellant clothing to highly effective sunscreen lotions and tennis balls that bounce twice as long as old-style balls.
“It’s already out there and moving very fast,” Marchant said. “There’s growing pressure to put in some sort of regulatory oversight for two reasons, one, to protect consumers against any risk from these products, and two, to provide assurance to the public that the government is exercising adequate oversight of this rapidly developing technology.”
Fortune 500 companies have identified nanotechnology as a top priority, the federal government is devoting more research money to nanotechnology than to any other technology, many state governments, including Arizona, are actively promoting its growth, and start-up nanotechnology companies are sprouting across the world.
And yet, nanotechnology is largely unregulated, and that’s where Marchant, Abbott and Sylvester come in. The researchers will focus on the potential for global coordination and harmonization of regulatory and other oversight mechanisms for nanotechnology applications, using bioenergy applications of nanotechnology as a case study.
“We have the chance to get it right from the get-go,” Marchant said. “We’ve learned that, when you have different laws in different countries, you can easily create an international stalemate that impedes global trade. We want to explore models for harmonizing national regulations in order to increase regulatory efficiency and effectiveness while avoiding the trade wars that have impeded other technologies such as genetically modified foods.”
Because technology moves so quickly, there’s a danger that traditional types of statutes and regulations that are enacted through lengthy processes and then are hard to modify may not be able to keep pace with the evolution of nanotechnology. Therefore, the team will look at “soft law” instruments that are more adaptable to change.
Specifically, the researchers will use the grant to:
• create and maintain a public online database of proposed and enacted regulatory requirements and programs specific to nanotechnology at the international, national and local levels.
• analyze proposed and enacted national and local regulations for nanotechnology, including the consistencies and inconsistencies of requirements in different jurisdictions.
• prepare case studies of nine transnational models for the oversight of various technologies, with analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.
• propose and evaluate potential frameworks for the transnational regulation of nanotechnology and coordination of national regulatory strategies.
The team’s work will be completed in three years.
Source: Arizona State University