Bringing together public and private organisations across Europe to perform collaborative research and development is key for the interdisciplinary approach often needed for nanotechnology. Several research topics have been identified as being crucial, also for contributing to other policy areas in nanotechnology, such as safety of nanoparticles, pre-normative research, or research for health, security energy, information society, and environment, or for supporting less developed countries and socially disadvantaged people.
For nanotechnology, it is crucial that a favourable environment for innovation is created, in particular for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Aside from common factors that are crucial for all research and development, including functioning and competitive markets, a fiscal policy that supports innovation, financial instruments, skilled human resources, public-private partnerships and infrastructure; nanotechnology has to pay attention to three additional factors: patenting of fundamental knowledge, regulation and metrology.
World-class research infrastructure and ‘poles of excellence’ are essential for the European Union to remain competitive in nanotechnology. Europe needs an appropriate, diverse but coherent system of infrastructures that comprises both ‘single sited’ (in one location) and ‘distributed’ (networked) facilities. However, due to its interdisciplinary, complex and costly nature, the infrastructure for research and innovation in nanotechnology requires a critical mass of resources that are beyond the means of regional and often even national governments and industry.
Our capability to generate knowledge depends upon the up-to-date education, training and lifelong learning of researchers, engineers and other skilled personnel. At the same time, mobility across borders and disciplines and between academia and industry improves the quality of education and training, particularly in nanotechnology where progress is fast and interdisciplinarity plays a determinant role. For achieving these goals, it is indispensable to attract the young public to science in general and nanotechnology in particular. Special attention has to be paid to the participation of girls and women in order to increase and strengthen the human resources basis.
Nanotechnology is likely to change our lives in many ways. It is important that nanotechnology is developed in a responsible way – in a way that responds to the needs and concerns of the citizens. An open debate involving the public is indispensable. Interested people must be enabled to reach their own informed and independent judgements. This will allow a shared analysis of benefits and risks (both real and perceived) and their implications for society. Ethical issues related to nanotechnology have to be identified and to be taken into account.
The risk assessment of engineered nanomaterials has become the focus of increasing attention. The European Commission supports research into the potential impact of nanoparticles and nanotechnology based products on human health and the environment via (toxicological and ecotoxicological) studies. Many of the knowledge gaps (toxicity thresholds, test schemes etc) will need to be addressed to ensure implementation.
Regulatory frameworks are examined on their applicability to nanomaterials in order to propose adaptations of EU regulations in relevant sectors.
International co-operation is essential for the development of nanotechnology, where scientific and technical challenges are huge and a wider critical mass is beneficial. International co-operation in nanotechnology is needed both with countries that are economically and industrially advanced (to share knowledge and profit from critical mass) and with those less advanced (to secure their access to knowledge and avoid a ‘nano divide’). An international dialogue on a responsible development and use of nanotechnology is needed, as well.
Scientific committees, groups and agencies working on nanotechnology
European Group on Ethics
in Science and New Technologies EGE
Emerging health risks
Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks SCENHIR
Health and environment
Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks SCHER
Scientific Committee on Consumer Products SCCP
European Medical Agency EMEA
European Chemicals Agency ECHA
Food, food additives and contact materials
European Food Safety Authority EFSA
Scientific Committee for Occupational Exposure Limits SCOEL
European Environment Agency EEA
European Technology Platforms
Nanomedicine for nanotechnology for health
Nanoelectronics ENIAC for nanoelectronics
Sustainable Chemistry SusChem for nanomaterials
Industrial Safety ETPIS for nanosafety
Innovative Medicine for the development of new medicines, including nanotechnology approaches
International Standardisation Organization ISO: ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnologies
European Committee for Standardisation CEN: CEN/TC 352 Nanotechnologies