In an interview with EURACTIV, the Commission’s head of the nanotechnology unit, Renzo Tomellini, emphasises that more research must be undertaken into the risks of nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is perceived as one of the key technologies of the 21st century with a potential to grow into a 1 trillion euro industry within a decade. Described as 'a new industrial revolution', nanotechnologies have the potential to produce sweeping changes to all aspects of human society.
Nanotechnology and nanoscience are high up on the EU's research agenda, granting this area a specific budget of over 700 million euro in its
6th Research Framework Programme.Critics however have been calling for more research into the dangers of nanotechnology and a better public debate on its societal and environmental implications (seeEURACTIV 31 July 2003).
Renzo Tomellini, DG Research's head of the nanotechnology unit, concedes that more in-depth research is needed. "Studies are now launched to assess possible risks. Several studies are ongoing at EU and Member States level, see e.g. the initiative of the Royal Society in the UK," he told EURACTIV. "The Commission is already funding three projects on the impact of nanoparticles on the human body and also in the future a high priority will be given to risk assessment in this area."
There have also been calls for clear and universally accepted guidelines and research restrictions to prevent 'bad' applications of nanotechnology, for example for terrorist purposes. "It is not the technology per se that is critical, but the use of the technology. This may well be subject to regulations in the future, when needed", said Mr Tomellini. However, he emphasised that a the moment, comprehensive research and transparency were essential to gather all the necessary information.
Mr Tomellini has high hopes for the commercial implications of nanotechnology. "The long-term potential commercial success of nanotechnology applications is huge. Market values for nanotechnology are estimated in the order of 1.000 billion euro between 2010 and 2015." In particular, surfaces sciences, particles and powders, electronics and portable or wearable systems are considered to be promising applications. There are also good prospects for applications in medical treatments.
There is a strong sense that public acceptance is key for the success of the technology. Mr Tomellini thinks that this will be dependent on two elements: Is nanotechnology useful? Is it dangerous? "We are doing our job to provide appropriate knowledge and science-based elements to respond to these two questions," he reassured EURACTIV.
This interview represents the opinion of Renzo Tomellini and not necessarily that of the European Commission. Please click
<em>herefor the full interview.