Nano World: Regulations in prospect (By Charles Q. Choi, United Press International)
- "The planning phase for nanotechnology regulations needs to start now," said J.D. Shipman, a research associate with the University of South Carolina currently at the University of North Carolina School of Law. "We don't want to be caught up in the possibilities of a life-altering technology and not think about the long-term implications of what it will mean."
There is a "deep divide" in approaches toward nanotechnology regulation, Shipman explained, depending largely on where one stands on the ideas of scientist Eric Drexler.
Drexler coined the word "nanotechnology" in his 1986 book, "Engines of Creation." The landmark and influential work popularized the concept of molecular nanotechnology, which encompasses ideas such as self-replicating nano-robots that could have the power to grow entire cities from scratch or, conversely, turn civilizations into puddles of gray goo.
Drexler and others think molecular nanotech "has very broad ramifications, and needs strong regulations before it gets into the wrong hands," Shipman said.
On the other hand, physicist Richard Smalley at Rice University -- who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the soccer ball-shaped, carbon-based nanostructures called Buckminsterfullerenes, or buckyballs for short -- and others doubt molecular assemblers are scientifically possible.
U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and George Allen, R-Va., both major legislative proponents of nanotech, "do not back the Drexlerian view," Shipman said. "They don't see the sweeping, broad, change-every-aspect-of-life view of nanotechnology and don't see the need for regulation."
Drexlerians also contend that the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorizes $3.4 billion for nanotech over the fiscal-year 2004-to-2008 period, moves away from the doctrine of molecular nanotechnology.
Whether or not the momentous issues posed by molecular nanotechnology arise, regulatory agencies inevitably will have to deal with nanotech issues. For example, nanomaterials often are merely smaller versions of existing materials, but their reduced size can grant them significantly different physical properties and potential health and environmental risks, said John Miller, a managing editor at the journal Nanotechnology Law & Business and vice president of intellectual property for Arrowhead Research Corp., a nanotech research firm in Pasadena, Calif. More here
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