The safety of nanoparticles

Experts from Leeds have contributed to the first global review of active research into the environmental, health and safety risks of nanotechnology, in a report published by DEFRA.

Experts from seven institutions have examined results from 670 studies from around the world to find the gaps in research and where more work is needed. "The report is very important from DEFRA's perspective as it has highlighted areas which have received relatively little attention to date" says co-author Dr Simon Wilkins (Keyworth Institute), "This will inform the future policy of DEFRA and other institutions, both within the UK and globally."

"Like all new technologies, nanotechnology offers potentially substantial rewards in the form of dramatic societal benefits or profitable commercial applications. At the same time, possible environmental, health and safety risks cannot be ignored."

"It's vital that researchers are transparent and timely in providing their findings to society about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology. We are currently lobbying business leaders and government regulators in the EU to develop comprehensive and thorough sources of information about the properties of nanotechnology and distribute that information to all stakeholders," says co-author Professor Terry Wilkins (NanoManufacturing Institute).

One of the problems facing scientists working with nanostructured materials is that it is difficult to predict how nanoparticles will behave as they get smaller, or as they come into contact with reactive surfaces. A good example is that of gold particles: when reduced to 10nm or less in size, their melting point is halved.

The University is also doing work on the safety of this fast-developing area. Researchers from biological sciences, medicine, engineering and physical sciences are working in the field of nanotechnology.

Terry Wilkins added: "We are at the frontiers of nanoscience but we need a responsible approach. This means understanding the safety and ethical issues around nano particles -for example, we're working with the colleagues in the Ethics CETL (centre for excellence in teaching and learning) at Leeds.

"Leeds is a major centre for nanoscience and for research into the toxicity of nano particles so we wanted to be part of this work. Through the review we have identified new areas for research and potential partners."

The full report is available at:

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