nanotechnologyThe U.S. has revised its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Research Strategy to reflect advances in nanotechnology and serve as a guide to developing nanotechnology environmental health research programs.

Writing on the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) blog, Sally Tinkle amd Tof Carim said the federal government is committed to helping maximize the benefits of the still-developing science while minimizing the potential for unintended consequences from nanomaterials. Tinkle is Deputy Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office; Carim is Assistant Director for Nanotechnology at OSTP.

Nanotechnology uses matter measured on a very tiny scale, the nanometer scale, which is one billionth of a meter. "But nano is not just about being small; unusual things happen at the nanoscale (a term generally understood to mean at a scale less than 100 nanometers)," say Tinkle and Carim. "Specifically, unexpected physical, biological, and chemical properties emerge that are not present in the same materials at larger scales."

These unique properties are what make nanotechnology so remarkable, and allow certain materials to be extremely strong yet incredibly light, and others to have highly useful electrical or optical properties.

The United States has taken a resource-backed interest in nanotechnology research through the NNI for the last ten years.

"Responsible development of nanotechnology requires an integrated, risk-management-based approach to environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research," according to the post. NNI participating agencies produced their first NNI strategy for nanotechnology-related EHS research in 2008.

The revised and updated 2011 NNI EHS Research Strategy addresses the following core research areas: nanomaterial measurement, human exposure assessment, human health, environment, risk assessment and management, and the new core area of predictive modeling and informatics.  "Also emphasized in this strategy is a more robust risk assessment component that incorporates product life cycle analysis and ethical, legal, and societal implications of nanotechnology. Most importantly, the strategy introduces principles for targeting and accelerating nanotechnology EHS research so that risk assessment and risk management decisions are based on sound science."

Tinkle and Carim said progress in EHS research is occurring on many fronts, citing as an example a joint effort by the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health to researched the safety of nanomaterials used in skin products like sunscreen. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission are monitoring the health and environmental impacts of products containing silver nanoparticles, and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has recommended safe handling guidelines for workers in industries and laboratories.

More information on the National Nanotechnology Initiative, including the full range of NNI documents and resources, is available here.

Click here to read the complete blog post.