be based on different sets of analytic measurements that make direct comparisons difficult. Because no one measurement can describe a nanomaterial completely, an informatics approach will need to synthesize the information from multiple techniques to describe the material. Given the number of gaps in the data on the nanomaterials described in the literature, most materials are now incompletely described and will probably remain so unless incentives are developed to characterize them. Finally, whereas biopolymers can be readily described by reference to their primary sequence and a series of letter codes or by a defined three-dimensional structure determined with x-ray crystallography, the different types of measurements (for example, images, histograms, optical spectra, and elemental composition) that are used to define nanomaterials are difficult to reduce to code.
Those complexities will result in barriers to the development of nanoinformatics unless they are addressed through close interaction with the scientists who are producing and characterizing the new nanomaterials. One barrier is the relatively onerous process of data entry for nanomaterials. If the materials cannot be described as single structures or sequences, as is possible for biopolymers, describing their dispersity makes the process more time-consuming. In addition, uploading raw data that are in a wide array of nonstandard formats presents a barrier to those who might contribute to the database of materials. But it is important to have access to the raw data because producing a numerical descriptor from them often involves considerable interpretation.
Who will generate the data for informatics, and what are the incentives for them to participate? From one perspective, the information used to populate the databases for nanoinformatics efforts will be developed by specialists using standard protocols and working with defined reference materials. That approach is relatively slow—working with one painstakingly produced and characterized material at a time. More rapid progress could be made if information on all materials produced and characterized could be captured in the databases regardless of who produces the materials. The presence of such data would encourage biologists and toxicologists to study the materials, but what is the incentive for the nanomaterials chemist to contribute this information?
Recommendations for addressing barriers to informatics
Provide incentives to nanomaterials innovators to characterize and report sufficient analytic data to define materials for comparison with other materials, including error, uncertainty and sensitivity data. For example,
• Journals could require the data for publication.
• Agencies could make collecting and sharing the data conditions for funding, perhaps through National Science Foundation data-management plans (see discussion in Chapter 6) or more specifically in nanotoxicology grants.