When Science Gets Down to Business

If adolescence must come between infancy and maturity, then nanotechnology's maturity is perhaps on the waybecause adolescent behavior is already starting to emerge. Scamsters and rip-off artists may already be entering the nanomaterials marketplace: Anecdotal reports have described, for example, the shipment of ordinary carbon soot to buyers who thought they were getting nanotubes, or the receipt of high-priced nanotube shipments containing tube-growth catalyst making up as much as one-third of the volume.

There are indications that the materials most prone to customer complaint are those, such as carbon nanotubes and fullerenes, in which precise molecular structure is everything. Other items, such as nanoporous materials, whose value is better approximated by statistically measurable behaviors, appear to be less of a problem. This suggests that precise measurements, standardized and reliable tests, and mutually agreed-upon standards for characterizing and verifying nanomaterial quality will be needed to make nanomaterials ready for full-time employment.

Another adolescent aspect of nanotechnology is the question of product safety. Nanoscale particles may be able to bypass many of the human body's long-standing defenses, such as the skin and the circulatory vessels' walls; toxicity issues may therefore arise. Car exhaust, toner particles from xerographic copiers, and drug molecules are already produced and used in many environments without dramatic ill effects being observed, but nanotechnology adopters must exercise responsibility and manage public relations to address both legitimate and exaggerated concerns.[H]



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