Nanomaterials the element of tomorrow

Summarised from an article in ISO Focus, February 2009, by Dr Peter Hatto, Chair, ISO/TC 229, Nanotechnologies

Nanotechnology generates significant interest for its potentially groundbreaking applications in all fields. It will enable, among other things, inexpensive water purification systems, sustainable energy production, enhanced diagnostics, improved drug delivery, and next-generation bio-medical services.

Defined as 'the application of scientific knowledge to control and utilise matter at the nanoscale, where size-related properties and phenomena can emerge', nanotechnology deals with materials ranging from approximately 1 nm (one billionth of a metre) to 100 nm.

Nanomaterials make up an important part of the work of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 229, including:

  • naming and describing their forms, properties, and behaviour
  • developing test methods for measuring nanoscale phenomena and characterising the properties of nanomaterials
  • developing standard methods for evaluating and mitigating environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials
  • providing specifications for different nanomaterials.

A good deal of excitement is generated by the seemingly limitless potential applications of nanomaterials; however, the deliberate production of nanomaterials is by no means new. What is new is our ability to image, analyse, control, and engineer nano-objects and other nanomaterials to produce properties that cannot be obtained with conventional material forms.

Our new ability to manufacture materials of nanoscale dimensions requires careful consideration, and the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPNM) of the OECD is carrying out a review. One element will be the extensive study of health and environmental impacts of a representative set of 14 manufactured nanomaterials that are currently in, or about to enter, commerce.

ISO TC 229 is cooperating closely with the work of WPMN and is developing protocols for physico-chemical characterisation of nanomaterials prior to environmental and health testing, guidance on occupational exposure, and on risk assessment.

Also see:

Published in business and ICT.