The UK Government's leading advisers on science and technology fear that Britain is falling behind in its engagement with nanotechnologies and that it hasn't made the progress it promised in encouraging research into the possible risks.
These are the main conclusions of the Council for Science and Technology (CST) in its "Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies Review" published today.
Professor Sir John Beringer, who chaired the CST sub-committee which carried out the review said: "There is a pressing need for a strategic programme of central Government spending into the toxicology, health and environmental effects of nanotechnologies. Without a substantial home research endeavour, the UK risks being left out in the cold in future international collaborations
"Although Government has made good progress in many areas, in research the progress has been less satisfactory. The past two years have shown responsive mode funding alone will not fill the knowledge gaps. To put it bluntly, the safe development of a new technology should not depend on whether an academic wins a highly competitive research grant.
"In 2004 the UK was seen as a world leader in its engagement with nanotechnologies. It is now widely believed to have lost that leading position and CST urges Government to take the swift and committed action necessary to regain it."
Main points of the review included:
• Lack of progress on research into toxicology, health and environmental effects of nanomaterials.
• However the current risk of exposure to workers or the public is extremely low.
• The Government has done well in setting standards and metrology.
• It has developed a valuable dialogue with industry on minimising the presence of nanomaterials in waste streams and in workplace exposure.
• A number of good public engagement initiatives have been conducted but the Government needs to engage more deeply as the field develops.
• The UK has played a strong role in the international organisations concerned with nano-technology - in ISO, the OECD and the EU – but there are concerns that future engagement may be jeopardised without a strong UK home research effort to bring to the table.