April 14, 2004 – To regulate or not to regulate? That’s the question European politicians have been asking themselves lately. To help these lawmakers make good choices, the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats in the European Parliament, in association with the Institute of Physics, hosted a gathering of industry experts in early March. The group included the European NanoBusiness Association and several academics for an informative briefing on the implications of small tech.
They spoke to members of the European Parliament, industry representatives, and European Union researchers. Many of the people who attended the meeting in Brussels were “in the position of looking at issues of regulation,” said Tim Harper, chief executive and founder of the European NanoBusiness Association. “We were looking to get the Parliament up to speed.”
European leaders have high hopes for small tech, which they believe has the potential to give Europe a competitive edge, if the right political decisions are made.
Harper emphasized that regulations should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, or rather an application-by-application basis. “If you take titanium dioxide, for example, the nanoparticles should be treated differently if you are smearing them on your face (in the case of sunscreen), using them in a paint, or in a piece of fabric.”
Across the channel in Britain, nanotech regulation is officially on the agenda, after talk of “gray goo” caused much public uneasiness. The government commissioned an investigation by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to look into the potential benefits and risks of nanotechnology last year.
The committee found that the British public is becoming increasingly aware of small tech, although not everyone knows whether you put it in your soup or wear it in your hair. Twenty-nine percent of respondents claimed to have heard of nanotechnology, but only 19 percent were able to give a definition of it, accurate or not.
After issuing a third progress report in January, the final report, due in late spring or early summer, will make recommendations about whether government regulation is required.
Societal implications of nanotechnology are expected to garner still more attention in Britain with the creation of a two-year research post within the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) in Nanotechnology, a joint project between University of Cambridge, University College London, and University of Bristol. The post involves investigating ethical and societal issues arising from developments in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
Business and academia are joining forces in Germany, where the University of Bielefeld is launching the new Institute for Biophysics and Nanosciences this month, in collaboration with two local chambers of commerce.
The goal is to develop close research and development relationships with local industry, said Dario Anselmetti, a professor and spokesman for the new venture. “We have the people and the apparatus available at the university, while industry has problems they need to solve and money,” he said.
Joint research in Ireland
Ireland is also trying to encourage better cooperation between academia and industry. Mary Harney, minister for enterprise, trade, and employment, announced in January that the government would make $12.5 million available to University College Cork, University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin to establish a joint-research center called CRANN (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructure and Nano-devices) at the Trinity College campus.
Chipmaker Intel Corp. has agreed to relocate four staffers to the new CRANN facility for the next five years to work as researchers in residence. The government will also allocate $14 million to another specialized nano science facility at Trinity College.