Nanotechnology Project


Public Trust Is The ‘Dark Horse’ In Nanotechnology’s Future

Senate Testimony Highlights Needs for Commercialization of Cutting-Edge Technology

(23 minutes)

David RejeskiWashington, DC — Without an improved governance structure, the benefits of nanotechnology may never be realized because the public will not trust the cutting-edge technology. As part of major nanotechnology legislation, federal officials must bring together the best minds in the nation to develop a governance structure that will work with nanotechnology to ensure potential risks are minimized and that consumer confidence is maximized, said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, at an April 24 Senate science and technology subcommittee hearing.

“Public trust is the ‘dark horse’ in nanotechnology’s future,” said Rejeski in his testimony. “If government and industry do not work to build public confidence in nanotechnology, consumers may reach for the ‘No-Nano’ label in the future. Public perceptions can have large economic impacts. The European Union’s ban on genetically modified foods, driven largely by public concerns, is costing American farmers an estimated $300 million per year in lost sales.”

Congressional lawmakers are currently discussing amendments to and reauthorization of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research & Development Act, which helps set the federal research roadmap that is vital to ensuring the technology’s success.

Senator John KerryWith nanotechnology, industry and government are struggling to balance science, innovation, and the pressures for rapid commercialization with a need to address risks and public concerns early and proactively. This situation mirrors that of debates concerning agricultural biotechnology in the 1990s and nuclear power through the 1950s and 60s.

The recurrence of issues around risk assessment, oversight, and public dialogue – irrespective of the technology involved – indicates that these challenges have deeper origins that will not respond to quick fixes. The government is not organized for the tasks at hand, and the challenges faced will only grow more complex as nanotechnology and biotechnology increasingly converge and new scientific fields, such as synthetic biology, emerge.