Potential Ethical Concerns in Nanotechnology

Potential Ethical Concerns in Nanotechnology

Chi Anyansi-Archibong (North Carolina A&T State University, USA) and Silvanus J. Udoka (North Carolina A&T State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-006-7.ch016

Abstract

Nanotechnology is science at the size of individual atoms and molecules. At that size scale, materials have different chemical and physical properties than those of the same materials in bulk. Research has shown that nanotechnology offers opportunities to create revolutionary advances in product development. It also has the potential to improve assessment, management, and prevention of environmental risks. There are however, unanswered questions about the impacts of nanomaterials and nanoproducts on human health and the environment. This chapter describes state-of the-science review, exposure assessment and mitigation, and potential macro ethical issues that must be considered to mitigate risk implications of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology.
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Background

What is Nanotechnology? Frequently used in science and electronics, the prefix nano means one-billionth of a measure, such as a second or a meter. Nanoscience and nanotechnology generally refer to the world as it works on the nanometer scale, ranging from approximately one to one hundred nanometers (Bell, 2007). Nanotechnology is science at the size of individual atoms and molecules, with objects and devices measuring in billionths of a meter. At that size scale, materials have different chemical and physical properties than those of the same materials in bulk. Nanotechnology has potential applications across various sectors of the global economy, including consumer products, health care, transportation, energy and agriculture. The technology also promises new opportunities to improve how we measure, monitor, manage, and minimize contaminants in the environment (Bello, 2009).

One of the first to articulate a future with possibilities of nanotechnology was Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate who died in 1988. He presented a lecture entitled “There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” in December 29, 1959 at the California Institute of Technology. In this lecture, he was talking about nanotechnology before the word existed. Feynman discussed the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale, a staggeringly small world, a technological vision of extreme miniaturization (IWGN, 1999, p. 4). Extrapolating from known physical laws, Feynman argued it was possible to write all 24 volumes 1959 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in an area the size of a pin head. He calculated that a million such pinheads would amount to an area of about a 35 page pamphlet. According to Feynman: “All of the information which mankind has ever recorded in books can be carried in a pamphlet in your hand, not written in code, but a simple reproduction of the original pictures, engravings and everything else on a small scale without loss of resolution” (Feynman, 1960).

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