When most people hear the term 'nanotechnology,' they probably think 'microscopic robots' because that is what has been popularized in the movies and television. We're not there yet. Not even close. But there are exciting developments in this new frontier that have the potential to greatly increase human comfort and improve needed products.

Some nanotech products are available today in a number of interesting applications:

  • Bumpers on cars
  • Paints and coatings to protect against corrosion, scratches and radiation
  • Protective and glare-reducing coatings for eyeglasses and cars
  • Metal-cutting tools
  • Sunscreens and cosmetics
  • Longer-lasting tennis balls
  • Light-weight, stronger tennis racquets
  • Stain-free clothing and mattresses
  • Dental-bonding agent
  • Burn and wound dressings
  • Ink
  • Automobile catalytic converters.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of very small things for practical uses. More specifically, nanotechnology is the science and technology of precisely controlling the structure of matter at the molecular level. Nanotech is widely viewed as the most significant technological frontier currently being explored. Nanoparticles are being used in a number of industries. Nanoscale materials are used in electronic, magnetic and optoelectronic, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, energy, catalytic and materials applications. A nanometer-sized particle is smaller than a living cell and can only be seen with the most powerful microscopes. A nanometer, one billionth of a meter, is about 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. The width of human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers.

A novel data storage system capable of 1015 bytes/cm2 is being explored.In this system, H atoms would be designated as 0 and F atoms as 1.A tip that can distinguish between 0 and 1 rapidly and unambiguously is being investigated.


Although nantechnology is still in the early stages of research, development and commercialization, most of the money in this area, as noted above in specific terms, is currently being made in chemical-mechanical polishing, magnetic recording tapes, sunscreens, automotive catalyst supports, biolabeling, electroconductive coatings and optical fibers. Nanotechnology was used to increase the storage space on computer hard drives.

The National Nantechnology Initiative calls it "nanotechnology" only if it involves all of the following:

1. Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer range.

2. Creating and using structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size.

3. Ability to control or manipulate on the atomic scale.

Picture: NASA


Research under way at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is pushing the limits of technology. Scientists and engineers are building atom and electron counters, single-photon turnstiles, ultracold ion and atom traps, and lasers that generate uniform pulses of light that last only a few trillionths of a second.

Of course, technology is not just of interest to scientists. Many other people are also interested in nanotechnology, including ministers, musicians, movie makers, philosophers, politicians, sociologists, builders, ethicists, engineers and psychologists, among others. Environmentalists should also embrace positive developments in the nanotech area, while maintaining intense scrutiny and oversight.

Nov 2004 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $4 million in 12 grants to dozens of universities to study the health and environmental risks posed by manufactured nanomaterials.

The federal government is spending about $1 billion per year from 2004 - 2008 to promote nanotechnology.

Among the grants being funded:

  • Absorption and toxicity of nanoparticles on skin (several cosmetic products already contain nanoparticles.
  • Effects of nanoparticles on drinking water.
  • Effects of nanoparticles on lung tissues.
  • Environmental impacts on marine and freshwater sediments and on aquatic bacteria, algae and plankton.
  • Conditions under which nanoparticles absorb and/or release environmental contaminants.

Even though there are hundreds of nano products on the market, there are currently no regulations to ensure that new nanomaterials are safe for human health and the environment.


Opponents will invoke the precautionary principle and highlight the potential dangers of this new technology, but almost every very useful technology can be used for evil. Industry and government officials must assure to the maximum extent practicable that nanotech products will be appropriately tested, certified and monitored. AAEA believes that moral and ethical caution should be taken with nanotechnology development, particularly related to human research such as cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

An engineered DNA strand between metal atom contacts could function as a molecular electronics device. Such molecules and nanostructures are expected to revolutionize electronics. Understanding the complex quantum physics involved via simulation guides design.

For NASA, devices and sensors made from such molecules and nanostructures may be particularly usefule when electrical power is limited.

Federal Funding

The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (S. 189), signed by President Bush on December 3, 2003, authorizes appropriations for fiscal years 2004 through 2008 for the National Nanotechnology Program, comprised of various nanotechnology initiatives at nine agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Heath, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Agriculture. S. 189 specifies funding levels for each of the agencies for a total of $796 million in 2004 and a total of $4.7 billion for the 2004-2008 period.


Sources: NNI, CBO

EPA Invites Public Participation in Development of Nanotechnology Stewardship Program

Oct. 18, 2006) EPA sent letters to more than 500 organizations and individuals inviting participation in the design and development of a stewardship program that will help the agency better understand the potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science of creating or modifying materials at the atomic and molecular level to develop new or enhanced materials and products. The stewardship program will complement the agency's new and existing chemical programs under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and will provide a firm scientific foundation for regulatory decisions by encouraging the development of key scientific information and any appropriate risk management practices.

By bringing people together to address this emerging technology, we can be well positioned to ensure the responsible development of nanotechnology, while at the same time, realizing its promise for a better tomorrow. Through open dialogue, public engagement and sound science, EPA hopes to establish the appropriate oversight for nanoscale materials and ensure public confidence in its safety.

EPA is inviting the public, industry, environmental groups, other federal agencies and other stakeholders to participate in the design, development and implementation of this program. These include: 1) public scientific peer consultations to discuss risk management practices and characterization for nanoscale materials; 2) an overall framework document describing the TSCA program for nanoscale materials; 3) a document on distinguishing the TSCA Inventory status of "new" versus "existing" chemical nanoscale materials; 4) a concept paper describing EPA's thinking for the Stewardship Program, as well as an Information Collection Request to collect data under the Stewardship Program; 5) workshops examining the pollution prevention opportunities for nanoscale materials; and 6) a public meeting to discuss these documents and program elements.

More information about the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program under TSCA:  http://epa.gov/oppt/nano/index.htm

Contact: Enesta Jones, (202) 564-4355 / jones.enesta@epa.gov

$5 Million Awarded to Study Health and Environmental Effects of Nanotechnology

(Washington, D.C.-March 16, 2006) Nanotechnology has the potential to transform environmental clean-up, treat serious illnesses, and improve computer technology.  EPA wants to see Americans benefit from this exciting new technology while ensuring that human health and the environment are protected. Therefore EPA has awarded 14 grants totaling $5 million to universities to investigate potential health and environmental effects of manufactured nanomaterials.  By performing research on potential adverse affects, EPA is doing what is right for both human and environmental health and technological progress. Nanomaterials are created by working at the molecular level, atom by atom, and range in size from one to 100 nanometers.  A nanometer is 80,000 times smaller than a human hair.  Because of their small size and unique properties, more research is needed to learn if nanoparticles in manufactured products can enter the human body, and if so, how long they remain.  Similarly, researchers will study the fate and transport of nanoparticles in the environment.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has a program to review and assess new chemicals prior to their entry into commerce.  The agency is also working with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a stewardship program that will allow EPA to gain a better understanding of the benefits and risks associated with nanomaterials. The nanotechnology grants were awarded through EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). To date, EPA has funded 65 grants for more than $22 million related to the environmental applications and/or implications of manufactured nanomaterials.  In addition, EPA has awarded about $2.5 million for nanotechnology research to small businesses through its Small Business Innovation Research program. For more information on the nanotechnology STAR grants, see the list below or visit the Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/nano2005

EPA Nanotechnology STAR Grants The grants funded by EPA were awarded to the following universities:

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., $375,000 Researchers will develop critical data and predictive tools needed to assess the health and environmental impacts of dendritic or highly branched nanomaterials.

CIIT Centers for Health Research, Research Triangle Park, N.C., $375,000 Scientists will develop models to predict the localized deposition of inhaled nanomaterials in the respiratory tract of rats and humans.

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Ga., $375,000 - The objective of this research is to determine whether drinking water treatment will affect certain nanoparticles called fullerenes, molecules composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid or tube.

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Ga., $375,000 - The objective of this research is to investigate the fate and transport of fullerenes in soil.

Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Albuquerque, N.M., $375,000 €“ Researchers will investigate whether the sizes and compositions of metal oxide powders influence their persistence and toxicity, and where they deposit in the body.

NYU School of Medicine, Tuxedo, N.Y., $375,000 “ Researchers will investigate the biological impacts of aggregates of nanoparticles in the lungs.

Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $375,000 Researchers will develop Life Cycle Inventory data and thermodynamics-based modules for evaluating the environmental impacts associated with the synthesis and use of nanoclays and nanofibres.

Rice University, Houston, Texas, $375,000 Researchers will determine whether the structure of nanoparticles is related to their impacts on human health.

Rice University, Houston, Texas, $375,000 This study will improve our understanding of the chemical and physical factors that control nanoparticle mobility and bioavailability and their impacts on microbial activities, diversity and community structure.

Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, Ill., $375,000 Researchers will determine whether certain nanoparticles affect the survival, growth, development, egg hatchability, and metamorphosis of the fathead minnow and a species of frog.

University of Florida-Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla., $375,000 -- The goal of this project is to develop an understanding of the potentially complex interplay between manufactured nanomaterials and the health of organisms and ecosystems.

University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $363,680 Researchers will determine whether particle size influences the bioavailability of nanosized zinc oxide and the potential for manufactured nanoparticles to be transferred through the food chain.

University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla., $375,000 Researchers will study accumulation and release of a wide range of manufactured nanomaterials in the soil, emphasizing the interactions with air/water interfaces and specific mineral surfaces.

West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va., $375,000 Scientists will determine the effects of commercially available nanomaterials on the human blood coagulation system. The grants funded by NSF totaling $911,640 were awarded to the following universities:

Houston Advanced Research Center, Houston, Texas, $300,000 Human cells will be exposed to engineered nanomaterials and their toxicity will be assessed using the innovative technology of high throughput gene expression microarrays.

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $261,640 Researchers will determine whether the toxicity mechanisms of macro-sized dissolved heavy metals are similar to that of metallic nanoparticles.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., $350,000 Researchers will explore the transport, transformation, and fate of manufactured nanomaterials in atmospheric, aquatic, and terrestrial environments.

The grants funded by NIOSH totaling more than $654,299 million were awarded to the following universities:

University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, $399,906 Researchers are seeking to assess airborne levels of nanoparticles and to assess the efficacy of respirator use in controlling nanoparticle exposure.

New York University School of Medicine, Tuxedo, N.Y., $254,393 Researchers will develop a comprehensive, practical method for sampling, quantifying, and characterizing carbon nanotube particles in air.