The state of standards: Nano

The nanotechnology standards-development race is on, as participants recognize their ability to affect the nascent industry’s future.

By Sarah Fister Gale

The rush to develop a set of standards for nanotechnology that the world will embrace is in full throttle. Standards organizations across the globe are working together to define critical components of nanotechnology. From finding a common language, to defining material dimensions and quality, to building a road map for future development, standards will give nanotech the foundation upon which commercialization can proceed.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI—, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE—, the British Standards Institute (BSI—, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO— are just a few of the groups currently engaged in standards development, with some documents already released to the public.

While it remains unclear which standards will take hold, this is an important time for the industry. How the standards are defined—and who defines them—will shape the future of nano-related industries, and clever industry professionals are investing their time and expertise to make sure these documents best define the language and goals for their futures.

IEEE addresses CNTs and road mapping

One of the first and best-known standards documents for nano was developed by a group through the non-profit professional association IEEE. The standard, IEEE 1650-2005 (, defines test methods for measurement of electrical properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). It was approved by IEEE on December 8, 2005, after months of development, writing, peer reviews, and edits, and was one of the first formal industry efforts to document the minimal amount of information required for reporting lab results for nano-tech materials.

IEEE chose CNTs for its initial foray into standards for nanotech because there is so much hype around the commercial applications for CNTs in displays, integrated circuits, sensors, and other nanoelectronics components, says Dan Gamota, director of printed electronics at Motorola in Schaumberg, IL, and chair of the working group that developed the standard. “There is so much talk about carbon nanotubes, but we needed a way to reproduce and prove lab results on a large scale,” he says. “IEEE 1650 establishes a common metrics and a minimum requirement for reporting.”

Standards for measurement of CNTs are a key concern because significant measurement errors can be introduced if the electrical characterization design-of-experiment is not properly addressed. IEEE 1650 outlines common sources of measurement errors and recommended practices to minimize and/or characterize the effect of measurement artifacts and other sources of error encountered while measuring CNTs. “It’s fundamental and precompetitive information, but it provides a level of assurance that is necessary for commercial scale up,” says Gamota. “It will give suppliers a way to prove their materials meet certain quality requirements, and buyers a way to verify the quality of what they are purchasing.”

More recently, in April 2007, IEEE released its Nanoelectronics Standards Roadmap (NESR—download a copy at, which establishes a framework for creating standards to help industry transition electronic applications based on nanotechnology from the laboratory to commercial use. Like IEEE 1650, the NESR was developed by industry professionals, government experts, and academics and from many nations. It focuses on nanomaterials and devices that promise the highest value in the near-term. 

“The goal of the NESR effort was to help define where the industry needs to go next,” says John Tucker, one of the co-chairs of the NESR initiative and the lead marketing engineer for nanotechnology at Keithley Instruments, a manufacturer of electronic test and measurement instruments in Cleveland, OH. “Currently there is no one globally accepted architecture,” he says. “In order to move forward we need to all be on common ground.”

The road map recommends the initiation of five nanoelectronic standards: three for nanomaterials involving conductive interconnects, organic sensor structures, and nano-dispersions; and two for nanodevices involving nanoscale sensors and nanoscale emitting devices (not limited to light emission). It also targets the start of seven nanomaterial standards and five nano-device standards in 2008.

IEEE groups are also currently working on standards for fundamental properties of bulk and compounding materials—called IEEE 1690 ( They’re also working on interoperability issues within silicon-based infrastructures, as yet unnamed.

ANSI, ISO, and IEC collaborate

IEEE is not the only group that is making headway in standards development. ANSI is sponsoring a Nanotechnology Standards Panel to serve as the cross-sector coordinating body for the purposes of facilitating the development of standards in three areas of nanotechnology: nomenclature and terminology; materials properties; and test, meaurement, and characterization procedures.

ANSI has since accredited the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-formed Technical Committee (TC) 229. (For links to documents relating to ISO TC 229, go to alogue_tc_browse.htm?commid=381983 to develop a set of standards for those three areas.)

In December 2006, more than 100 delegates from 17 nations gathered in Seoul, Korea, to further the development of the road maps and strategies that will guide the work of the technical committee’s three working groups. Delegates also laid plans for potential coordination with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) technical committee on nanotechnology standards relating to electrical and electronic products and systems.

“We are making quite a bit of progress,” says Clayton Teague, director of the US National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) in Washington, DC, and chair of the technical advisory group (TAG) to TC 229. A UK member of the working group to develop a standard for terminology has already submitted for comment a document proposing lexicon and definitions of nanoparticles.

To ensure ongoing progress, ISO has put a five-year limit on standards development, from the submission of the work item to final acceptance. “A standard for terminology will have a huge impact on our ability to communicate and to buy and sell products,” says Teague.

“The work being conducted by TC 229 is relevant because as products come to market we all need a common language,” adds Heather Benko, standards administrator for ANSI. She believes the terminology working group is close to releasing a draft of its terminology standard. “We’ve got a lot of intelligent people at the table working together to meet the needs of the industry,” she says. “It’s an exciting time.”

Meanwhile, the US working group focused on health, safety, and the environment has furthered for publication its draft document, “Health and Safety Practices in Occupational Settings Relative to Nanotechnologies.”

And ANSI has encouraged the national bodies of Japan, South Korea, and the US to develop new work item proposals relative to the characterization of carbon nanotubes for input into the TC 229 working group on measurement and characterization.

The US is expected to submit at least one proposal for work in this area before year-end and has announced its intention to develop a technical report relating to toxicologic assessment of nanomaterials.

ASTM settles on terminology, pursues partnerships

In 2005, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) launched its own Committee E56 on Nanotechnology to develop standards and guidance documents related to nanotechnology and nanomaterials. Initially, six subcommittees were formed to address terminology; characterization; environmental, health, and safety; international law and intellectual property; international cooperation; and product stewardship. In December 2006, the committee approved its first standard—E 2456: Terminology for Nanotechnology.

Because of the great need for a terminology document that is globally recognized and because of the cooperation of several organizations in making the document a reality, Terminology E 2456 is available free of charge from the ASTM International Website, DATABASE.CART/REDLINE_PAGES/E2456.htm?L+mystore+ylyc6366.

“This ASTM terminology standard will change how I communicate with policymakers, teachers, and my neighbors,” says Vicki Colvin, chair of Committee E56. “For the first time I can use critical terms such as ‘nanoparticle,’ confident my language is precise and shared with other nanotechnologists across the globe.” Colvin adds that the document will also benefit students entering nanotechnology-related industries.

“Now teachers and students interested in nanotechnology can access this dictionary and learn for themselves the nuances of our field,” says Colvin.

To facilitate the development of E56, ASTM initiated and signed partnership agreements with IEEE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), NSF International, Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI), and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. ASTM believes these partnership agreements will eliminate redundant resource allocation among a variety of standards organizations and will provide for the pooling of technical experts in a single standards development venue.

Teague agrees, saying “it’s critical that there be an international standard because we live in an international marketplace.”

Eliminating boundaries and working together could streamline the standards process, adds IEEE road map co-chair Tucker. “This isn’t a US, EU, [or] Asia issue: It’s a global issue. We need a common standard for every country, and whoever develops the controlling standard controls what the world does.”

Global effort, great opportunity

Tucker recognizes that there is also a sense of urgency among global communities that want to take the lead on standards development. The BSI, for example, currently sponsors technical committee NTI/1 “Nanotechnologies,” holds both the chair and secretariat of ISO TC/229, and serves on the European Commission for Standardization’s Technical Board Working Group 166 on Nanotechnology, whose goal is to analyze the need for nanotechnology standardization. BSI’s Website touts its position on these committees as “enabling the UK to play a key role in leading the development of nanotechnology standards.”

“Currently no one standard is dominating, but we will need global agreement as we go forward,” says Tucker, who urges industry professionals in the US to get involved in their efforts.

“Standards development is a people project, and we need people,” he adds. Tucker sees an opportunity for professionals like himself to shape the future of the industry and to establish themselves as experts. “Getting involved in standards development doesn’t take a lot of time, and it can increase the visibility of you and your company.”

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