The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering today (Wednesday 30 November 2005) welcomed the publication of the Government’s research programme into the potential risks of nanoparticles but encouraged the government to earmark new money for research into potential health impacts.

The Government’s research programme, ‘Characterising the potential risks posed by engineered nanoparticles’, reveals that no money has been specifically set aside for important research into, for example, how nanoparticles – ultra small pieces of material – might penetrate the skin. Sufficient money also needs to be set aside for research into the potential environmental impacts of nanoparticles.

Professor Ann Dowling, who chaired the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report into nanotechnologies, said: “The Government has identified sound priorities for the research needed to develop safety regulations which will ensure that we fully and responsibly realise the benefits of this exciting science. But we are concerned that its approach to funding this research is rather ad hoc. Rather than strategically building a programme, with a dedicated pot of money, to explore any potential health and environmental risks associated with nanoparticles it is primarily relying on individual research teams to come forward with proposals and compete against other research areas for funding. This approach leaves it to chance that the right research will be undertaken and runs the risk that the Government will ultimately miss its research objectives as set out in today’s report.”

Last year’s report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering showed that most nanotechnologies pose no new risks, but highlighted uncertainties about the potential effects if nanoparticles were released into the environment.

The two academies today warned that the research needed to underpin safety regulations must keep pace with the rapid development of the science. Under current plans, the amount of funding for research is unlikely to be reviewed prior to the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

An additional benefit of earmarked funding would be to encourage the necessary expansion of the UK nanotechnology research community working on safety issues. The report into nanotechnologies by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, recommended that a dedicated centre be set up to act as a focal point for such a research community to develop around. The Government needs to expand on its research programme to make clear how scientists working in the UK will coordinate and collaborate with those undertaking similar work internationally.

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering expressed their concern about the apparent lack of collaboration between Government and industry to develop safety testing or public dialogue activities.

The two academies welcomed the £4 million that has been set aside for the measurement and characterisation of nanoparticles. This research will underpin the assessment of their risks.

The academies also welcomed the Government’s commitment to engaging the public in a dialogue concerning the development of nanotechnologies and looks forward to assessing whether these activities have influenced the development of policy.

The academies praised the cross government approach taken to produce this research programme.

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. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. 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. 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.

For more information please contact

Sue Windebank/Bob Ward, The Royal Society on tel. 020-7451 2514/6
Tom McLaughlan, The Royal Academy of Engineering