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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Citizens' jury to tackle nanotech
Artist's concept of nano-engineered material used in running shoes (Sheffield Hallam)
An artist's concept of a nano-engineered material used to make springy running shoes
A panel made up of ordinary members of the public is to debate the pros and cons of emerging nanotechnologies.

The citizens' jury, called NanoJury UK, will spend five weeks from 25 May exploring the big issues around the tiny science, to help inform policy.

The UK government ordered a review of how the science, the fine control of materials, might impact our future.

Science minister, Lord Sainsbury, said the review, announced in February, should involve public consultations.

He explained the review was needed to ensure current regulations that safeguard the environment and people's health were robust, as the science evolves.

Deliberate and cogitate

The 20 members of the citizens' jury, which will be based in Halifax, will hear evidence from a range of experts, "witnesses", about future potential applications, risks and benefits of the developing science.

The witnesses will be chosen by a panel of experts who will oversee the jury's activities, and a science advisory panel. Both comprise a mix of academic, industry, government, and not-for-profit, representatives.

The jury will discuss the pros and cons, and agree on a "verdict". Their thoughts will then be fed back into the government's Nanotechnology Co-ordination Group.

"We aim to promote transparency and ensure that our world-beating science is carried out in an environment where the broader societal issues surrounding technology exploitation are fully explored," said Professor Mark Welland from the University of Cambridge Nanoscience Centre.

How nanotechnology is building the future from the bottom up

He added that it was crucial that public understanding of complex scientific issues was based on fact and accurate information.

Government and nanotechnology experts are keen to avoid political and public conflicts over high-tech developments, which happened with genetically modified organisms (GMO).

"So many questions about GM technology went unasked in the early stages," explained Doug Parr from Greenpeace.

"We want to provide an opportunity for people to give their perspectives on nanotechnology at a time when we hope they can still make a difference.

"We may be able to harness nanotechnology for environmental and social good, not harm, but it will depend on decisions now."

Money spinner

Nanotechnology and nanoscience involves the manipulation of molecules, and even atoms, to make new materials, like coatings.

Precision engineering means scientists can exploit unusual electrical, optical and other properties that occur at the nano-scale.

Nanotechnologies are a promising source of money for companies and countries that are striving to encourage their development.

Applications of the science are expected to generate trillions of dollars in terms of products and applications by 2015.

They also have the potential to help solve the most desperate issues facing under-developed and developing nations. Some applications include better drug delivery systems and cheap, more efficient nano-coated water filtration systems.

The tiny science has already started to be used in developing new suncreams, paints, coatings for self-cleaning windows, computing, defence, food, and healthcare.

A report in July 2004 by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers recommended tighter UK and European regulation over some aspects of nanotechnologies.

NanoJury UK has been set up by the IRC (Interdisciplinary Research Centre) in Nanotechnology, University of Cambridge, Greenpeace UK, the Guardian; and the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre of the University of Newcastle.

Nanotechnology in our lives
1 - Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) for displays
2 - Photovoltaic film that converts light into electricity
3 - Scratch-proof coated windows that clean themselves with UV
4 - Fabrics coated to resist stains and control temperature
5 - Intelligent clothing measures pulse and respiration
6 - Bucky-tubeframe is light but very strong
7 - Hip-joint made from biocompatible materials
8 - Nano-particle paint to prevent corrosion
9 - Thermo-chromic glass to regulate light
10 - Magnetic layers for compact data memory
11 - Carbon nanotube fuel cells to power electronics and vehicles
12 - Nano-engineered cochlear implant

Nanotech promise for global poor
11 Apr 05 |  Science/Nature
UK orders another nanotech review
25 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature
Small science to be big in 2005
20 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature
Lecture sings praises of nanotech
27 Apr 05 |  Technology
Myths and realities of nano futures
28 Jul 04 |  Science/Nature

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