PORTLAND, Ore. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is co-developing a collaborative Web site aimed at establishing standard methods for minimizing the environmental, health and safety risks of nanotechnology.
Nanoscale materials have alternatively been shown to offer promising new cancer therapies while at the same time causing cancer when not properly handled. Those concerns prompted NIST and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to create a Wikipedia-style community to establish safe nanotechnology development techniques.
NCI recently began demonstrating a prototype Wiki aimed at creating and sharing technical details about nanotechnology safety. Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, called the Web site "very promising" as a means of enabling sustained cooperation among researchers.
Market researcher Lux Research said the nanotechnology market could reach $3 trillion by 2015. New applications range from ultra-fine materials to molecular-sized electronic devices, but standards organizations have been hard pressed to keep up. The International Standards Organization has so far issued only two specs covering workplace health and safety practices and another covering nanotechnology terminology and definitions.
Critics argue that the standards process is too slow, and a Wikipedia-style international collaborative effort is needed to address all health issues simultaneously. NCI and NIST hope the Wiki will attract scientists in an effort to speed the appraisal and adoption of safety standards.
Contributors will initially focus on characterizing engineered nanoscale materials with feature sizes up to 100 nanometers. Since health and biomedial standards involve many approval cycles, NIST said standard reference materials will be agreed upon by consensus.