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UK plans nanotechnology future

The Government has published a new strategy to support the development of the nanotechnologies industry.

The industry has a number of automotive application including developing new more energy-efficient batteries, diesel engines and even solar cells.

The technology has numerous other applications and could also be used to produce a new breed of sophisticated medicines, improve water purification systems and produce more powerful computers.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating molecules and atoms to apply new uses to them, which can mean anything from developing smart inks that function as batteries to developing lightweight and flexible solar cells or producing electricity through artificial photosynthesis.

As the Government expects the global market in nanotechnologies grow from $2.3 billion in 2007 to $81 billion in 2015, it wants to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in its research and development.

Of course the technology is not without its controversies, little is known of the potential environmental impacts of altering molecules for industrial purposes. However there is already considerable body of research being undertaken on the environmental health and safety aspects of nanotechnologies both in the UK and globally.  For example, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) launched the National Nanotoxicology Research Centre in late 2009, and Food Standards Agency (FSA) has commissioned research projects looking at nanoparticles in food.  The UK Nanotechnologies Strategy-published today- will aim to focus UK work in this area to add to the growing evidence base.

The strategy has been developed by five Government departments and agencies, and follows a period of consultation with industry and consumer groups. Key actions included as part of the strategy include developing a website to keep the public abreast of developments, using Chief Scientific Advisers to review coordination of nanotechnology research and launching a new Nanotechnologies Collaboration Group to facilitate ongoing communication and collaboration between Government, academia, industry and other interested parties.

Commenting, Dan Norris, Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment said: "Nanotechnology is an exciting science. Not only can it bring real benefits to the economy and society but also, potentially, to the environment. Research has shown that it may be able to help detect environmental pollutants and even remove them from contaminated sites. However we must be aware of and understand the potential risks and know how to manage them."

The strategy was informed by the evidence gathering exercise ‘Nanotechnologies: Influence and Inform the UK Strategy’, which ran from July 2009-October 2009. The data collected was analysed and considered during the development, has lead to the publication today of the ‘UK Nanotechnologies Strategy: Small Technologies, Great Opportunities’.

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Faye Sunderland

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