issues important by establishing societal dimensions as one of seven program component areas (PCAs).
The unique properties of nanoscale materials make focusing on the societal implications critical. For example, the characteristics of new nanostructures require full analysis and investigation. The chemical and physical properties of nanoscale gold clusters differ greatly from those of more macroscopic metallic forms. Materials at such dimensions show unusual quantum effects that can dominate surface and electronic properties. However, the unique properties of these materials are a double-edged sword: they can be tailored for beneficial properties but also have unknown consequences, such as new toxicological and environmental effects. NNI’s strategic plan identifies the importance of societal dimensions of nanotechnologies, and also focuses on responsible development of nanomanufacturing and safety. In 2004, memos from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to federal agency heads reiterated this focus. Those memos noted that “agencies should support research on the various societal implications of the nascent technology” by placing “a high priority on research on human health and environmental issues … [and] cross-agency approaches.”
The result is that 11 federal agencies have allocated $38.5 million to R&D focused on the EHS implications of nanotechnology, and $42.6 million to R&D on ethical and legal issues and public communication. These funds represent 8 percent of all federal funds devoted to nanoscale materials and devices.
NNI is directly pursuing EHS initiatives on several fronts. First, NNI is encouraging agencies to develop data on the potential toxicity of nanomaterials. For example, in October 2003, the National Toxicology Program under the Department of Health and Human Services began to study the potential toxicological effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, single-walled carbon nanotubes, and quantum dots. NNI is further devoting $1 million to research on the toxicity of nanomaterials at such institutions as the University of Houston and the University of Rochester. The National Cancer Institute’s Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory has developed a characterization cascade for use in preclinical evaluations of nanomaterials intended for cancer therapeutics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will fund research from a competitive solicitation that addresses potentially harmful aspects of nanomaterials, whether nanomaterials bioaccumulate, and whether they pose health and environmental risks. This research will also focus on the fate, transport, and transformation of nanoscale materials after they enter the body and the environment.
In 2004, NIOSH established the Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) to coordinate nanotechnology research across the Institute. NTRC’s mission is