Business and Nanomaterials

Business and Nanomaterials

The fourth pillar of Nanotechnology Safety is the Business Focus. The business aspect is the most important for the development and commercialization of nanotechnology.  The benefits of avoiding litigation provide businesses the incentive to implement the best practices for their workers’ safety. Establishing practices that minimize risk, creating training, developing controls, and ensuring worker safety require an established methodology based on the knowledge of the science and technology on nanomaterials.

The business aspect of the manufacture and application of nanotechnology requires an evaluation of the responsibility of the organization for the safety of its workers and products. Businesses must have procedures and plans for NANO-SAFETY. Some existing programs can be expanded and developed to provide the basis for this focus. Recommendation: NANO-SAFETY needs to be available on at least two levels.


At the corporate level, Risk Management is critical to understand the issues and concerns. There is a need for an Environmental Risk Management approach that incorporates educational efforts directed at developing educated workers.  The development of the educational curriculum is not straightforward.  It is a case of one-size does not fit all.  It is important to address the needs of the industries which will draw employees from the graduates of the program developed.   This can be difficult to accomplish if there are a number of startups.  Typically, the early stage companies do not understand what their needs are.

The next level is the development of a program for NANO-SAFETY is to create the capability of preforming reviews at companies, laboratories, and medical institutions. This program needs to build on the existing efforts at major universities, like Rice University, Texas State University, and University of Texas at Tyler.

There have been some initial efforts created to address the issue of adequately covering the various aspects of nanotechnology safety to ensure that the graduates of the program are skilled in addressing whatever situation may arise.  In many cases, organizations consider addressing these issues by focusing on the nanotechnology toxicity issues.  These are important issues, but, in my opinion inadequate to truly address the needs of the technology.  It is important to know the toxicity of the nanomaterials; however, some studies to verify effects on humans can take many years.  What is needed is a methodology to handle materials without being able to fully understand the possible impact of exposure to the materials.

The response of some individuals is that if we can’t determine the effects, then we should not work with the material.  Consider the training of firefighters. In many situations, the first responders to a fire/explosion do not know what exactly the cause was or what materials are on fire.  Using the approach suggested by the previously referred to individuals, the solution is to tell the firefighters to just let it burn because the material might be dangerous.

That is not the method employed for training firefighters.  They are given sufficient information to classify the type of fire and determine what precautions need to be taken.  The same situation is true with training in nanotechnology safety.  There are general classes of situations that can be determined and the proper procedure for addressing the issues implemented.  Currently, these procedures/guidelines do not exist.  There are developments being made under an award from the National Science Foundation to create modular courses to address the proper training of handling nanomaterials in a manner that ensures NANO-SAFETY for both people and the environment.

More on the educational developments next week.

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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