Buying Nano This Holiday

According to the Nanotech Project, more than twenty years of research, has begun to yield the first commercial applications for nanotechnology in consumer products. They explain that nanoscale materials can now be found in electronics, cosmetics, automotive parts, and medical products. Apparently, there are about 350 such products.

But, while the British media is running scared at the idea of nanotechnology turning the world to grey goo (and we’re not talking Second Life here), The Register reports on a Nature Nanotechnology paper that claims almost three quarters of Americans have heard little or nothing about nanotechnology. Nano, of course, refers only to the scale of any particular particle or component of any technology.

Nano, meaning nothing more than a billionth, so a nanometre is a billionth of a metre. Funnily enough, most of the so-called nanoscale products actually have dimensions of several hundred nanometres, so in truth such objects could be called microscale (or in more familiar parlance microscopic). Micro meaning a millionth. A micrometre is therefore a millionth of a metre. Something that’s 500 nanometres might just as readily be described as half a micrometre.

The author of the Nature Nanotechnology paper warns that public ignorance in the US of nanotechnology means that legislation may be passed without informed debate. Fair point, but it can be pushed to the opposite extreme with precautionary attitudes predominating and stifling research and development that might benefit us all, as has happened in the UK with respect to genetically modified organisms (GMOs and GM food).

Do you agree?