U.K. Nanotech Study Panel Urges Caution

A publicly funded scientific panel in the U.K. convened to study the dangers and benefits of nanotechnology — the manipulation of particles less than 100 nanometers (0.0001 millimeters) in diameter — issued its report yesterday, and the results are, well, ambiguous. The scientists at Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering debunked some of the most extreme fears and hopes around the technology. For instance, the “gray goo” scenario, whereby self-replicating nanoparticles cover the world and suffocate all life, is “science fiction,” as one panel member put it. But so too is the hope that nanotechnology will eliminate cancer. The panel warned against using massive colonies of nanoparticles for environmental cleanups, and urged that the particles be treated, studied, and labeled as chemicals, with all the attendant safety reviews. Most important, it recommended that more money be put toward research and that open debate ensue.