The Government must commit adequate funding to improve the understanding of any potential risks to human health and the environment from nanotechnologies said the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in reaction to the publication of a Government report into the science of the very small, today (Friday 25 February 2005).

While the report, a response to the two academies’ study into nanotechnologies, commits the Government to taking forward the regulation of these novel technologies, it does not dedicate any new money for the research which will be essential to support the development of robust regulations.

Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the working group that produced the academies’ report said: “The Government is taking the regulatory implications of nanotechnologies seriously and has committed to acting on our concerns that, for example, until we know more about the effects of manufactured nanoparticles, their release into the environment should be minimised and people working with these materials, such as in university laboratories, should be properly protected.

“However we are disappointed that there is no new money for the research that will be needed to underpin appropriate regulations. Many nanotechnologies are still in their initial stages of development and there are still gaps in our knowledge about what opportunities, and potential risks, they hold. Properly funded research is essential if we are going to ensure that these exciting technologies develop in a responsible way.”

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering welcome the Government’s recognition that some materials in nanoparticle form have special properties, which are different from those of the same material on a larger scale, and which might create potential risks along with their clear benefits. The academies are encouraged that the Government is committed to working with European bodies to ensure that consumers are properly protected. The academies welcome its commitment to work with industry to improve the transparency of safety tests for products containing ‘free’ nanoparticles and nanotubes.

The academies also welcome the Government’s commitment to a public dialogue on nanotechnologies which will inform both the direction of research and development and progress on such regulation as might be necessary.

If it is to do this successfully, it is important that the Government consults with relevant stakeholders, including industry and non governmental organisations, in developing a strategic public dialogue programme. The academies await a detailed plan of how this will be achieved and funded.

Lord Robert May, President of the Royal Society, said: “In commissioning this report, the UK has shown international leadership on the responsible development of nanotechnologies. It must not squander this by failing to properly fund the research which will underpin appropriate regulation.”

Lord Alec Broers, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said: “Both academies welcome the Government’s positive initial response to our report. We will be scrutinising, in light of our recommendations, the detailed plans that the Government has committed to publish later in the year on research to support the development regulation and public dialogue.“

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. The Society’s objectives are to:
    - strengthen UK science by providing support to excellent individuals
    - fund excellent research to push back the frontiers of knowledge
    - attract and retain the best scientists
    - ensure the UK engages with the best science around the world
    - support science communication and education; and communicate and encourage dialogue with the public
    - provide the best independent advice nationally and internationally
    - promote scholarship and encourage research into the history of science
  2. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  3. The Office of Science and Technology commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in July 2003 to carry out a study to:
    - define what is meant by nanoscience and nanotechnology;
    - summarise the current scientific knowledge on nanotechnology;
    - identify applications of nanotechnology, both currently and potentially, with indications of when they might be developed;
    - consider environmental, health and safety, ethical and social implications of the technology, both now and in the future; and
    - suggest areas where additional regulation should be considered.

For more information please contact

Sue Windebank/Bob Ward at The Royal Society tel. 020-7451 2514/6
Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering