With fortuitous timing, a pair of nanotechnology research organizations -- the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) and Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) -- have assembled the world's first database of nanoscience research related to benefits and risks.
Although nanoscale particles have long existed in the natural world, and studies of the effects of "ultrafine" particles from traditional material production techniques are well-established, the active manufacturing of materials (and, eventually, machinery) at the nanoscale has raised significant questions about their overall environmental and health effects. Some preliminary research has pointed to risks from materials such as carbon nanotubes under certain conditions; as these materials become easier to produce, and as their benefits become more widely known, we need to be able to show definitively the level of environmental and health risk they present. As we better know the level of risk, we can adjust our production, containment and mitigation techniques accordingly.
Many nanoparticles exhibit unique chemical, electrical, optical and physical properties by virtue of their size, shape or surface characteristics. The great diversity of nanoparticle types that have already been created has made it difficult for scientists to make general statements about the potential safety hazards that nanoparticles might pose to living organisms. [...]
"An informed decision about how to ensure the safety of nanomaterials requires a comprehensive review of where we are and where we've been with prior research," said Dr. Jack Solomon, chairman of the Chemical Industry Vision2020 Technology Partnership. "By gathering findings that are scattered throughout the literatures of biomedical application developers, toxicologists, environmental engineers and nanomaterials scientists, we are helping researchers and government funding agencies to see the big picture."
The database is still in its early stages. It can be accessed through the ICON research summaries page, but work remains to be done to organize the data better.