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Nanotechnology: can it break through the regulation?


12 Oct 2011 0 comment(s)


The existing regulation of nanotechnology is only effective in so far as it hinders the progress of nanotechnology into society, argues Pythagoras Petratos. The existing fragmented regulation leads to significant delays, during which time nanotechnology companies can be forced out of business.

Presenting highlights from his working paper, ‘Killing it softly - regulation and nanotechnology,’ Petratos was speaking at a recent Future of Humanity Institute seminar.

According to Petratos, the diversification of nanotechnology into numerous applications - from nano circuits in ipods, anti-dust nano coating on spectacles, the use of nano electronics in drones and the use of nano material on snowboards, the use of nanos in medicine to target specific cancer cells - makes it a very difficult to area to regulate.

The problem of definition alone is a huge one. Says Petratos, “there is no common definition of nanotechnology.” He questions how you can regulate something when you have no agreement on what you are talking about? 

Comparing the different definitions of nanotechnology used by bodies like the EU, the FDA and the Royal Society, (in addition to the many bodies within these umbrella organisations), the subsequent differing approaches to regulation by these bodies is inevitably diverse. Petratos believes that this lack of definition leads to a complexity in regulation which can inhibit the development and understanding of nanotechnology.

Petratos is calling for the establishment of a common definition of nanotechnology and proposes: “the systematic application of scientific research at the nano level that advances human life.” He suggests a standardisation of definition and measurement (ISO) to be decided in collaboration with industry. He also suggests that scientific information should be given to citizens and that there should be less, but more appropriate legislation, with agreed standards and benchmarks. Said Petratos, “to a great extent, nano technology companies would be self regulating…the risk to the business of launching a nano product that had not been sufficiently tried and tested would be too great.”

Following the presentation, the respondent,  James Martin Fellow, Anders Sandberg commented that in his experience, the more you tell the public, the more polarised they become, either for or against something (like nanotechnology). “What you need is trust” he said. Another audience member asked whether there was not a case for splitting regulation into the different applications of nano technology, such as nano computers, nano medicine etc. Petratos responded that perhaps the ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation was not necessarily correct but he felt it was important to start with a general framework before looking at individual cases.  More research is needed, said Petratos.

Blog from the Future of Humanity Institute Seminar, written by Julia Banfield

Bio: Dr. Pythagoras Petratos is an economist, political scientist and engineer. He has completed postgraduate degrees at Cass Business School, City University, University of London and Oxford University. He was awarded a PhD from the University of London in 2009. He is currently a Visiting Professor at ESCP and Teaching Associate at Said Business School, University of Oxford, as well as a Visiting Fellow at Buckingham University. He has also taught in postgraduate courses at the University of London and the Universities of Thessaly, Crete and Peloponnese. His research interests are quiet diverse with a foci on private equity, health economics, innovation and finance (especially ageing), commercialization of technologies and particularly nanotechnology, the economics and policy of information security (defence economics), public private partnerships along with methods to finance projects and complex networks in politics and economics.


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