The UK Government has launched a study to look at the benefits and risks of nanotechnology.
The more over-hyped applications see tiny machines roaming the body to cure disease
Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating atoms and molecules on the nanoscale - 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
It promises to be as big a business as the biotech industry and is emerging as equally controversial.
"Nanotechnology has the potential to create huge benefits in many areas but we need to understand whether it raises new ethical, health and safety or social issues," said Science Minister Lord Sainsbury.
Revolution in medicine
The government has commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to look at current and future developments in nanotechnology and report back on whether it will require new regulations.
The public will also be asked to give their views via focus groups, an online discussion and a survey.
Nanotech promises to revolutionise medicine, electronics and chemistry.
Future applications will likely make use of new materials. The very precise way in which atoms and molecules are arranged by nanoengineers makes it possible to give these materials unusual electrical, and other, properties.
Possibilities down the road might include food wrappers that can detect bacterial contamination, smart bandages and military uniforms that can mend themselves and adapt to conditions.
Nanotech also offers the possibility of very much smaller computers that can hold and access vast amounts of data.
Experts say, however, that many of the ideas touted for the field are pure fantasy; it is a science which has witnessed considerable hype.
The London Centre of Nanotechnology - a joint venture between University College London and Imperial College - is due to open in 2004.
Research into nanotechnology is still in its infancy. But spending on the science is growing fast.
In the US it jumped up from $432m in 1997 to $604m by 2002 and rose in Japan from $120m to $750m over the same period.
The Royal Society study will be chaired by Professor Ann Dowling. She said: "Some unease about nanotechnology was expressed earlier this year with suggestions that plagues of self-replicating nano-bots could turn the world into "grey goo".
"A key role of the project will be to separate the hype and hypothetical from the reality.
"The working group will determine where research is now, where it might be in 10 or 20 years' time, and where it could be further into the future."