Getting nanotechnology in perspective

As with most things, everybody has an agenda when it comes to nano, according to the former CEO of a Chicago nanomaterials manufacturer. The people who make the materials are concerned of course with profitability and with observing all the laws and regulations governing worker safety. The scientists want funding for research and legislation requiring strict standards of safety. The universities want to encourage entrepreneurs, help take nano from lab to market but with a strong eye to keeping their government funding coming.

IIT recently started a collaboration between its Center for Ethics in the Professions and its Center for Entrepreneurship to invite local nano businesses to keep a continuing dialogue going, and to find ways to raise awareness among professionals and the public about the realities of nano manufacturing.

The Center’s director Vivian Weil recently invited a group to meet on IIT’s campus and talk about the best way to collaborate to continue building the library and use it to promote awareness.
The nano executives who attended this first “lunch and learn” session a few weeks ago talked about the safety precautions automatically put into practice for nano-manufacturing, as required by existing regulations. The Center for Ethics thas researched a significant body of knowledge about the nano industry and ethics and has compiled and cataloged it into a library.

The nanomaterials experts hastened to point out that nano-biotech is a whole different story. For things that humans might consume or inject or otherwise ingest, considerations are different. So there must be a unique set of standards that will be completely different from the materials side.

One of the execs pointed out that nanomaterials of various sorts have been in use for decades. It’s just that no one called them nano, and the press hadn’t yet picked up on the scare tactics often used to make scientific stories “news.” Two products in particular are the carbon black used in women’s eyeliner. It’s the only material that will make eyeliner truly black—without it, the best they can do is medium gray. And another nanomaterial used in tires makes them more stable and longer lasting.

He said members of the public would never be willing to give up these qualities because the additives were labeled nano and “dangerous.” Just as with asbestos, which can make people fatally ill even up to several decades after they’re exposed, people who are not sick from it will have no part of the cost and inconvenience of getting rid of the asbestos. They say they don’t care if something “might” happen 30, 40 or 50 years from now. It’s the same with nano.

To check out the resources at IIT’s Center for Ethics in the Professions, visit the NanoEthicsBank and their beta site Nano Portal for Industry and their NanoEthicsBank blog.