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NSF misses the point on nanotechnology

A recent report published by the U.S. National Science Foundation highlights their systematic failure to address the most important issues raised by nanotechnology. By ignoring the societal impacts of molecular manufacturing, they miss the major significance of the technology.

First described by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, programmable nanoscale manufacturing systems are expected to slash the cost of manufacturing while greatly increasing product performance. Tiny supercomputers, rapid medical advances, self-contained automated desktop factories, and advanced weapons are only a few of the consequences.

“Molecular manufacturing needs to be addressed, and the NSF report is a big distraction,” says Mike Treder, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN). “They present themselves as asking the right questions, but the answers are worse than wrong: they are simply off-topic.”

In June 2004, the National Science Foundation convened a meeting of science policy representatives from 25 countries and the European Union to discuss how to carry out nanotechnology research and development “in a responsible manner.” Unfortunately, they addressed only near-term nanoscale technologies such as nanoparticles. The most important long-term consequences of nanotechnology were ignored.

As an example, a question in the report about whether nanotechnology will be “inherently continuous or inherently disruptive” leads to a digression about “novel properties that only become evident at the nanoscale.”
In fact, nanotechnology will be disruptive because of molecular manufacturing.

“Molecular manufacturing is an inevitable consequence of advanced nanotechnology,” says Chris Phoenix, CRN's Director of Research. “This is not acknowledged in the NSF report. We need to prepare for revolutionary changes, not just incremental improvements like new nanoparticles.”

CRN urges the National Science Foundation
and other organizations to correct this error, and begin addressing the long-term consequences of nanotechnology.

For more information, see CRN’s web page on U.S. Nanotechnology Policy.

CRN is a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


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