The world of nanotechnology has received a lot of attention from the media in recent years. However, a new paper at the Conference on Genomic Engineering suggests that the focus should be more on understanding the science and applying it to humanity’s health and well-being. Dr. Hans Pouwels, Associate Professor of Nanotechnology and Biotechnology, MIT, stated in his introductory remarks that all the advancements in the area are not very well publicized. In addition, he suggested that the current focus on using nanotechnology for creating treatments is quite important but that the world’s current lack of understanding regarding nanotechnology should be a large factor in determining the next direction.
Dr. Pouwels began by stating that he did not enjoy being in the same room as those who work on nanotechnology. Indeed, he felt like the entire conference centered around the industry and that it was easy to miss what was happening. He hoped the next time around the conference would allow those in the industry to share their stories with others and that a true discussion would take place.
There was plenty of discussion about the flaws in the way nanotechnology is being used today. Much of the discussion focused on safety and how the more that is learned about the industry, the better for everyone. However, Dr. Pouwels stated that while the science was important, the industry had made few uses of the technological advances that could have been created had the science was applied to greater things. Instead, the technology was used for very small goals which seemed to be disconnected from the actual process.
Dr. Pouwels discussed the several issues he felt were leading to a lack of focus on the entire conference. The first issue centered on the problem of easy accessibility. Dr. Pouwels stated that the more knowledge of the current state of nanotechnology was shared, the better.
The second issue was that the conversation led people to believe that the focus should only be on the health implications of nanotechnology. In fact, the fact that the technologies were available to help solve a wide range of problems created a false sense of security among those in attendance. Rather than focusing on the environmental issues that came with the use of these technologies, Dr. Pouwels stated that the focus should have been on how to better understand the benefits and potential pitfalls. Dr. Pouwels concluded by reminding those in attendance that they could have easily avoided some of the issues by educating themselves on the topic.
The third issue, which Dr. Pouwels described as the future emphasis, focused on the safety aspect of nanotechnology. Dr. Pouwels shared his experience speaking to students who did not seem to fully grasp the potential issues. Therefore, he said that a much stronger focus should be placed on the safety issues rather than focusing on the positive aspects of the technology.
Dr. Pouwels suggested that the future focus on the safety issues would have a huge impact on how the next generation views nanotechnology. For instance, most students probably will not be able to comprehend how a single nanometer is equal to one trillionth of a meter. Although the use of nanotechnology has helped create products that we cannot live without, Dr. Pouwels suggested that this awareness should be developed through word of mouth rather than through an abundance of books. Although technology had allowed humanity to improve on existing products, the future was yet to come.
Dr. Pouwels stated that future conferences should consider the future focus. It was quite clear to him that there was a lack of awareness among those in attendance. Dr. Pouwels emphasized that the focus should be on understanding how the field would be best applied to better humanity’s health and well-being. While it was clear that some people had come to the conference without any knowledge of the importance of nanotechnology, those in attendance should consider the future focus and follow through with the discussions regarding the health impact of nanotechnology.