Mark your calendars for an upcoming town hall meeting on nanotechnology and related issues. Northwestern University will host a follow-up meeting to the first one held in mid-December. More information on the next meeting, and results of the first, after the jump.
The first town hall meeting allowed Northwestern researchers to present recent data on nanotechnology research and give the public a chance to ask questions. Dr. Chad Mirkin, director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology, lead the meeting and addressed the positive and negative potential for nanotechnology. However, reports indicate that Dr. Mirkin stressed the positives more than the negatives.
One interesting statement from Dr. Mirkin touched on the regulatory efforts surrounding nanotechnology, "Nanotechnology is a renaissance of science and engineering, a new way of thinking. It’s going to impact everything we do. You can regulate sub-disciplines influenced by nanotechnology, but to speak of regulating nanotechnology itself is silly." He went on to explain that agencies like FDA and EPA need to "hire smart people who understand the new devices" being created and then consider the consequences.
While Dr. Mirkin’s comments are not wholly surprising, I am concerned at his apparent dismissive stance on general nanotechnology regulation, and his view of technology and regulatory development. While there is healthy disagreement over the extent to which nanotechnology should be regulated, and Dr. Mirkin seems to think that application specific regulation is possible, the idea of no general regulation seems to be losing steam. Regulation helps to provide certainty to the market and provides consumers and industry workers with confidence that products and manufacturing products are safe. In addition, much can be gained towards those ends by agencies creating general regulations applicable to nanotechnology (as EPA and FDA are presumably considering given recent statements and studies) and then regulating on an application basis as more is learned. While I agree with my read of the core of Dr. Mirkin’s thoughts, dismissing general regulation as "silly" is, well, silly. In addition, his comment that consequences should be considered after the devices and therapies are created is similarly concerning. In my view, consequences should be considered while the technology and applications are being developed. Responsible development is only possible if the consequences of our actions are considered during creation.
The second town hall meeting is scheduled for January 8 at the McCormick Tribune Center on Northwestern’s campus. It will start at 4:30 P.M, and will feature Dr. Mark Ratner, co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly (Dr. Mirkin is the director). I look forward to hearing what Dr. Ratner has to say on January 8th.