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What Is Nanotechnology?



Nanotechnology is the science of extremely small structures that generally measure less than 100 nanometers (nm). One nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and there are more than 25 million nanometers in one inch. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nm thick. Another way to conceptualize the size of nanomaterials is this: Imagine the size of a soccer ball in relation to the size of the earth. The relationship between a one (1) nm particle and the soccer ball is roughly the same.

At the nanoscale, materials can act differently or have surprising properties. For instance, at the nanoscale, gold mineral particles are not the color “gold.” Gold nanoparticles can appear red or purple. In addition to visual properties, like color, nanomaterials can take on other features not observed in larger sized materials. Chemically inert materials such as gold can become catalysts at the nanoscale, while others can conduct electricity more efficiently than non-nano forms. Those are just a few examples of useful attributes materials possess at the nanoscale that offer so many opportunities for new technologies and societal benefits.

What is the Nanotechnology Panel?

The Nanotechnology Panel of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is composed of companies that are leading the way in nanotechnology development and its applications. The Panel is committed to the responsible development of nanotechnology and scientifically sound approaches to nanotechnology policy.

As even more innovative nanotechnology applications find their way into commerce, the Panel will promote sound product stewardship and scientific integrity throughout the value chain, from the development of nanomaterials to their incorporation into products and their eventual disposal. The Panel and its members will also continue to support and conduct research into nanotechnology, including the environmental, health and safety dimensions, to make current scientific information available to further guide and support the responsible use of nanotechnology.

How is Nanotechnology Used Today?

Nanotechnology is already bringing incredible benefits in areas such as health care, the environment, energy and national security. Precision targeting of cancer cells deep within the body; removing pollutants from groundwater and soil; enhancing the performance of solar panels; improving detection of chemical and biological weapons; and preventing infections in wounds are just a few of the ways nanotechnology is enhancing our world. Nanotechnology is enabling science to do amazing things that were not possible even a few years ago. Scientists and businesses are constantly exploring new ways nanotechnology can help solve societal problems and improve products. Click here to see some of the amazing benefits of nanotechnology.

When Was Nanotechnology Discovered?

The foundations of modern nanotechnology were developed over a half century ago, and the term “nanotechnology” was first used in 1974. However, the use of nano-sized materials is certainly not new. Carbon nanotubes have been found in steel swords made in the Middle East from the 12th to 18th centuries. The vibrant colors of stained glass in the windows of Europe’s medieval cathedrals are due to metallic nanoparticles. Nano-sized materials have long been used to strengthen rubber tires and hoses. However, it is only in the past few decades that scientists have been able to intentionally observe and control matter at the nanoscale. Click here to learn more about the development of nanotechnology.

What Are Businesses Doing to Ensure Nanotechnology is Safe?

Businesses developing and employing nanotechnology follow the applicable laws and regulations of federal, state and local governments, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, for example, as well as numerous existing laws around the world concerned with the production and use of chemical substances.

Innovators and leaders in the nanotechnology field work to ensure the responsible development of nanotechnology. All participants involved in the life cycle of a product—including production, distribution, use and safe disposal—have a part in understanding and communicating possible impacts to human health and the environment.

Are Existing U.S. Laws and Regulations Adequate for Managing Nanomaterial Safety?

Nanomaterials and their applications are regulated by many federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA has exercised its authority to require reporting, testing and use restrictions on chemical substances, including nanomaterials. TSCA has been an important tool for protecting human health and the environment, and the Nanotechnology Panel is in favor of modernizing it to ensure a scientifically-disciplined, efficient and focused federal chemicals management system that strengthens consumer confidence, better enables innovation, and supports U.S. competitiveness.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) gives EPA authority to collect information about substances in pesticide products, including nanomaterials, and the agency has authority to act on nanomaterials under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and many other laws if necessary.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), FDA regulates many applications of nanotechnology, including medical devices, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products. The agency has recently provided guidance on how it will approach questions about nanotechnology in the products it regulates.

The U.S. government has championed investment in nanotechnology to stimulate growth and ensure U.S. economic competitiveness. In 2000, the first coordinated government effort dedicated to nanotechnology was established, now called the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). From 2001 to 2010, the 25 federal departments and agencies participating in the NNI have invested more than $18 billion in nanotechnology research and commercialization.

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