It’s been a long slog, but the end of 2007 is in sight. A year of endless meetings, papers by the bunch, and more frequent flyer miles than any sane person should rack up (got to get that Carbon footprint under control). But did this all add up to progress on the safe nano front? Here’s my personal and admittedly subjective round-up of the year’s highs and lows. And just for good measure, I’ve added a sprinkling of papers that caught my eye on the way.January. While the whole world was celebrating the dawn of 2007, I was working feverishly on comments for the NSET public meeting on nanotechnology environment, health and safety research needs
, held a mere three days after January 1st. Comments were invited on the NSET tour de laundry list of seventy-five research needs, published the previous September in the nick of time for a Congressional hearing
on the same. Despite the meeting being overshadowed by Congress reconvening on the same day, one genuine member of the public did manage to make the meeting. Larry Miller of Madison Wisconsin flew to Washington DC at his own expense to see nano-policy at work. Having listened to the usual suspects pontificating on strategic research, Mr. Miller
was somewhat scathing on the subject of public participation:"I've heard quite a few comments this afternoon about the public, about your desire to respond to the public, to inform the public and so on. And lo and behold, here I am."
Definitely the man who put the “public” back into “public meeting”
Paper of the month:
Schulte, P. A. and Salamanca-Buentello, F. (2007). Ethical and scientific issues of nanotechnology in the workplace. Environ Health Perspect 115:5-12.
February. This was the month my “alma mater” showed the world that with a little creative thinking, a nano budget can go a long way. In a meeting hosted by the Wilson Center Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, NIOSH released a progress report on what the agency is doing to address nanotechnology health and safety issues. And in doing so, the agency demonstrated that while others might talk, they “do”. But even creative use of limited funds has its limits. From NIOSH director John Howard’s foreword to the report:
“Using only internally redirected resources, the NTRC [Nanotechnology Research Center] has begun to make contributions to all the steps in the continuum from hazard identification to risk management.”
Let’s hope that those internal resources aren’t required elsewhere, before we have cracked nano safety in the workplace…Paper of the month: Friedrichs, S. and Schulte, J. (2007). Environmental, health and safety aspects of nanotechnology - implications for the R&D in (small) companies. Science and Technology of Advanced Materials 8:12-18.
March. A definite high – the journal Nanotoxicology hit the virtual streets, under the editorial leadership of Vicki Stone. The first issue was packed with insightful reviews and informative research; more good stuff followed throughout the year. This is clearly a publication to watch.Paper of the month: Oberdörster, G., Stone, V. and Donaldson, K. (2007). Toxicology of nanoparticles: A historical perspective. Nanotoxicology 1:2 - 25.
April. While I was sequestered away on the small island of San Servolo, a mere vaporetto-trip out from Venice, ostensibly “talking nano” at Nanotoxicology 2007, colleagues back at the ranch were launching Nanofrontiers – a series of publications, newsletters and podcasts on future nanotech developments.In 2006, thirty plus of the world’s leading nanotechnology experts were asked to peer into heir crystal balls, and take a stab at where nano is heading. The resulting report by science writer Karen Schmidt; Nanofrontiers: Visions for the Future of Nanotechnology, was released in April, and does a great job of laying out the broad landscape of what nano could achieve. Karen’s follow-on podcasts – interviews with leading “nanotechnologists” that include Sam Stupp, Angela Belcher and Nate Lewis – flesh out some of the possibilities. Also check out the NanoFrontiers newsletter, that currently explores areas ranging from medical treatments to nanotech in developing countries.
Paper of the month: Cheng, J., Flahaut, E. and H., C. S. (2007). Effect of carbon nanotubes on developing zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos. Environ Toxicol Chem. 26:708-716.
May. Following hot on the heels of the journal Nanotoxicology, the International Council on Nanotechnology launched the nanoEHS Virtual Journal. Based on a nanotechnology environment health and safety publications database originally developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and made available through ICON, the Virtual Journal provided a sleek, versatile and powerful portal into the cross-disciplinary world of nano-risk publications.Once you’ve carried out the obligatory vanity-check for your own publications (my apologies – of course no-one would dream of doing this), take a look at what everyone else has been doing.One of the most useful resources to appear in 2007 in my opinion, and one that is destined to grow in size and importance.Paper of the Month: Linse, S., Cabaleiro-Lago, C., Xue, W.-F., Lynch, I., Lindman, S., Thulin, E., Radford, S. E. and Dawson, K. A. (2007). Nucleation of protein fibrillation by nanoparticles. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 104:8691-8696. (Also check out related information here).
June. After an exhaustive – and probably exhausting – effort, Environmental Defense and DuPont released their Nano Risk Framework. Developed as “systematic and disciplined process—to evaluate and address the potential risks of nanoscale materials”, the framework prompts the sort of questions anyone working with engineered nanomaterials should be asking, and gives pointers to how answers might be found.On its release, the Framework received its fair share of criticism: “ It’s too long”; “it’s too complex”; “it isn’t the result of an open and inclusive process”. Maybe the framework will just be a short-lived stepping stone towards better nano-product stewardship. Hopefully though it will become a cornerstone of safe nano good practices – complementing other equally instructive guides. Either way, it is hard to deny that there are now fewer excuses not to develop nanotechnologies as safely as possible, thanks to the efforts of the folks at ED and DuPont.Paper of the month: Wilkinson, C., Allan, S., Anderson, A. and Petersen, A. (2007). From uncertainty to risk?: Scientific and news media portrayals of nanoparticle safety. Health, Risk & Society 9:145-157.
July. This is the month that I lost all credibility, and shot “The Twinkie Guide to Nanotechnology”. In my defense, I deny all responsibility for 50’s retro look of the resulting video. If pushed, I would probably deny all responsibility. In fact, the person you see on the screen isn’t me at all…Paper of the month: Dobrovolskaia, M. A. and McNeil, S. E. (2007). Immunological properties of engineered nanomaterials. Nature Nanotechnology 2:469 - 478.August: The month that NEHI shrunk the laundry! The Nanotechnology Environment and Health Implications (NEHI) working group within the US National Nanotechnology Initiative released their revised research priorities list (remember the 75 research priorities up for comment in January) in the document “Prioritization of Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Needs for Engineered Nanoscale Materials. An Interim Document for Public Comment”.In shrinking the list down from 75 to 25 – and only taking a year to do it - Barnaby Feder at the New York Times commented:
“The title of the latest report from the Federal government’s nanotechnology policy coordinators on safety concerns borders on self-parody”
Paper of the month: He, C., Morawska, L. and Taplin, L. (2007). Particle Emission Characteristics of Office Printers. Environ. Sci. Technol. 17:6039 -6045.
September. And Spring in the Antipodes. I was fortunate to spend a great week with folks at the CSIRO Niche Manufacturing Flagship – a $AU3.6 million, 4-year program to develop commercially viable nanotechnologies for niche markets. While this is an initiative aimed fairly and squarely at realizing the commercial potential of nanotechnology, its leaders realize that success will only come through a proactive and integrated approach to spotting and avoiding possible future risks. Which is why environment, safety and health research is an integrated thrust within the Flagship.One to watch I think.Paper of the month: Hansen, S. F., Larsen, B. H., Olsen, S. I. and Baun, A. (2007). Categorization framework to aid hazard identification of nanomaterials. Nanotoxicology 1:243 - 250.
October. Time for the NEHI nanotechnology risk research proto-strategy to rear its head again – this time at a hearing of the Congressional House Science Committee Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. Is the federal government doing enough, fast enough? Floyd Kwamme, a venture capitalist and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), thought yes. Witnesses from academia, the Environmental NGO community and industry were not so sure. While this meeting was easier on the feds than the preceding one in September 2006, Chair Brian Baird (Rep, WA) was concerned over the lack of progress being made. In his opening statements, he declared:
“The bottom line is that this is simply not an acceptable situation. We are basically still waiting for the EHS research strategy and detailed implementation plan that we were told would be available 18 months ago.I am genuinely puzzled why more progress has not been made to develop this research strategy and plan that everyone believes is necessary for the successful development of nanotechnology.”
I don’t think he’s the only one who is puzzled.
Paper of the month: Rengasamy, S., Verbofsky, R., King, W. P. and Shaffer, R. (2007). Nanoparticle penetration through NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators. Journal of International Society for Respiratory Protection 24:49-59.
November. November was a NISE month – as in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education network annual meeting. NISE Net is a 5-year, $20 million initiative funded in 2005 by the National Science Foundation to form a national infrastructure that links science museums and other informal science education organizations with nanoscale science and engineering research organizations. I was at the meeting to talk to a bunch of seasoned pros on engaging “the public” on nanotechnology. And I must confess that, as an amateur in the fields of communication and engagement, I was a little daunted. Fortunately, they were a gracious crowd, and I had a great time - although I suspect that I took more away from the meeting than I came with.For the record, my keynote was entitled: "Please don't shout. We're not deaf, we're just not interested". This is fodder for another blog on another day, but bridging the chasm of scientific disinterest (and the associated belief that reality is negotiable) is a major challenge in today’s technology-driven world. It’s good to know therefore that there are organizations like NISE Net working hard on addressing it.Paper of the month: Balbus, J. M., Maynard, A. D., Colvin, V. L., Castranova, V., Daston, G. P., Denison, R. A., Dreher, K. L., Goering, P. L., Goldberg, A. M., Kulinowski, K. M., Monteiro-Riviere, N. A., Oberdörster, G., Omenn, G. S., Pinkerton, K. E., Ramos, K. S., Rest, K. M., Sass, J. B., Silbergeld, E. K. and Wong, B. A. (2007). Hazard Assessment for Nanoparticles: Report from an Interdisciplinary Workshop 115:1654-1659.
December. Cutting short a worthwhile trip to Helsinki for the European Nanotechnology Occupational Safety and Health (NanOSH) conference, early December found me talking about nanotechnology Codes of Conduct in Brussels. The event: a one-day meeting at the European Commission to compare and contrast two proposed Codes of conduct for nanotechnology research, development and commercialization."Towards A Code Of Conduct For Responsible Nanosciences And Nanotechnologies Research" is an EC consultation paper on codes of conduct for nanotechnology research. The “Responsible Nanocode” is a draft code aimed at all organizations involved in nanotechnology research, development and commercialization. It is being led by the UK Royal Society, Insight Investment, the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA) and the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network.Both codes are based on a set of principles rather than prescriptive standards and guides – in essence, aiming to engage top management down in the process of developing workplace cultures, where the safest possible nanotechnology practices are followed.I like codes of conduct. I like the idea of encouraging a safety culture within organizations. I like the concept of developing a mindset where preventing human and environmental harm is integral to good business (or good laboratory) practice. And I like the approach of giving management and workers/researchers the freedom to come up with their best solutions for ensuring safety – which will often surpass what could be enforced upon them. But codes of conduct will only work within a framework of good regulation and appropriate stewardship – they are a complementary tool, not an alternative to other forms of oversight. And of course, they are only as good as the available knowledge for ensuring the safe use of engineered nanomaterials.Both proposals have their strengths, and one or two kinks that I suspect the public review process will help iron out. It will be interesting to see how they develop in 2008Paper of the month: Helland, A., Scheringer, M., Siegrist, M., Kastenholz, H. G., Wiek, A. and Scholz, R. W. (2007). Risk Assessment of Engineered Nanomaterials: A Survey of Industrial Approaches. Environ. Sci. Technol. DOI: 10.1021/es062807i.
On to 2008. 2007 was a busy year – I’ve only touched on some of the more interesting developments, and neglected many that should not have been (such as the launch of the SafeNano web site, the 3rd International Symposium on Nanotechnology and Occupational health in Taipei, ConsumersTalkNano, and more…). Whether it was a productive year, we will have to wait and see.In the meantime, 2008 promises to be busier still. More and more new nanotechnologies are reaching the tipping point between a good idea and a commercial product; risk-research publications are set to bloom as programs funded in the last few years bear fruit; the US Twenty First Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act is up for reauthorization; the near-mythical EPA Voluntary Reporting could be launched. And if we keep our fingers crossed, the US Federal Government’s ever-shrinking list of research priorities just might mature into a robust research strategy. Stranger things have happened.Have a great 2008!