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Shah. Where does the field of nanotechnology stand in the current society?
Roco. Over the last 10 to 12 years, nanotechnology has evolved from a curiosity in science to one of the most transformative technologies seen in modern times. Still in its infancy, nanotechnology has already shown its promise to society. In 2010 in the United States alone, we have more than $110 billion in product manufacturing incorporating nanotechnology as a key functional component. In several areas, nanotechnology has become a large part of the market. For example, around 60% of semiconductors and over 40% of manufactured catalysts have some form of nanotechnology involved. In addition, nanotechnology has become a main factor in discovery, innovation, and application. The technology has also shown a footprint in emerging research, with approximately 70% of energy-related proposals submitted to National Science Foundation having a basis in nanotechnology. The numbers are sig-nificant considering the variety of proposals and ideas.
Shah. How do you foresee a balance in the application and implication aspects of nanotechnology?
Roco. When talking of implication, it is important to consider which generation of nanotechnology is under discussion. Nanoparticles from the first generations were largely passive with new properties and functions but not changing during their use. In contrast, nanoparticles from the second generation change their behavior during use, and this could have significant health and safety implications. Such nanoparticles have a wide range of applications, from drug delivery, catalysts, and self-cleaning windows.
I believe that in the field of nanoparticle implications, it is important to develop a predictive approach to extrapolate the limited experiments available. New methods have to be developed in all aspects of the implications studies, as the existing methods are not fully applicable. We need to keep evaluating the human benefits from the nanotechnology and achieve the best investment possible—one having the least negative effect as much as possible. We have implemented at NSF and recommended for all NNI that, for large projects such as nano centers, one incorporates environmental health and safety, as well as ethical and legal aspects, from the early stages of research and development.
In addition, as a society, we need to develop capacity — a structural framework consisting of institutions, agencies, and organizations ready for the un-expected implications of nanotechnology. Through such a framework, we will be better prepared to combat any possible negative implications on human or environmental health, should it arise.
Shah. How can nanotechnology make society more sustainable?
Roco. Our desire to have a sustainable society is a main reason behind the growth of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology requires fewer amounts of material, water, and energy, and with the high degree of precision in nanomanufacturing, we are generating less pollution for the same functionality. I see the future trend in the production of nanoparticles will be to also become more sustainable.
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I believe that nanotechnology has the potential to influence the wider economy and society and to provide the path for attaining a high degree of social sustainability.
Shah. Looking back into the past, is there anything in the field of nanotechnology you wished would have happened differently?
Roco. Over last 10 years, I have seen a wonderful evolution in the field where core ideas have evolved into transformative technologies around the world. Nanotechnology can be used as an example of the penetration of science and engineering in society. However, I wish to point out few things that have not yet materialized in the field. The tools for measurement, simulation and predictive concepts of nanomaterials and nanosystems are still under development. This has been one of the major hurdles in advancing the goal of building “materials and systems by design”. Another limitation has been in addressing the effects of nanotechnology on sustainability in a coordinated way. A challenge is under-standing how nanotechnology will influence the human society in longer term.
Nanotechnology will improve human health through molecular medicine, improve human capacity in learning, and catalyze the development of a sustainable society without wars. My personal wish is for a future where all the development is done in convergence with other technologies in serving human dimension.
Shah. What is your message to the members of sustainable nanotechnology organization?
Roco. I am happy that we now have an organization in the field of sustainable nanotechnology. There is a need for an organization that develops a capacity in the society for the future in wider nanotechnology related disciplines including education, legislative guidance, and infrastructure and instrumentation development amongst many. I wish sustainable nanotechnology organization and its members all the success.
(Telephone interview with Dr. Roco
was conducted in June 2012 by Vishal Shah)
Fonte: Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO)