Defining Nanotechnology

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Let's pretend that you are a nanotech tycoon, a nanotech lawyer or a US Congressman trying to make a contract or legislation on Nanotechnology. What is the first problem that pops in your mind? Oh yes, for a legal or contract drafter, the most important of all is the problem of Definition. That definition covers the whole thing.

Multiple definition in an emerging field is something normal. I tend to categorize definitions into three types: legal, scientific and political. What I meant by "Legal" is the definition provided by either (i) certain legislation, (ii) directive or (iii) supported by government agencies. What I meant by scientific is the definition proposed by expert at their respective fields. Expert opinion could be important during testimonies in trials.

# "Legal" Definition

The US Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, Section 2(5):
The term `nanotechnology' means science and engineering aimed at creating materials, devices, and systems at the atomic and molecular level;

The US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) website:
"Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.

# Scientific Definition

From Zyvex:

When it's unclear from the context whether we're using the specific definition of "nanotechnology" (given here) or the broader and more inclusive definition (often used in the literature), we'll use the terms "molecular nanotechnology" or "molecular manufacturing." Whatever we call it, it should let us, (i) Get essentially every atom in the right place. (ii) Make almost any structure consistent with the laws of physics that we can specify in molecular detail, and (iii) Have manufacturing costs not greatly exceeding the cost of the required raw materials and energy.

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology:
Nanotechnology is the engineering of tiny machines—the projected ability to build things from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, highly advanced products.

K.E. Drexler from his Paper, "Nanotechnology: From Feynman to Funding"
Although now used more broadly, the term nanotechnology has been used since the mid-1980s to label a vision first described by Richard Feynman in his classic talk, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” (R. Feynman, 1961). The Feynman vision (and rhetoric echoing it) motivated the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). An early NNI document (National Science & Technology Council [NSTC], 2000) stated under “Definition of Nanotechnology” that “the essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures with fundamentally new molecular organization.” An NNI promotional brochure (NSTC, 1999) spoke of “Feynman’s vision of total nanoscale control,” calling it “the original nanotechnology vision.” In his speech proposing the NNI, President Clinton (2000) invoked this vision on Feynman’s home ground: "My budget supports a major newNational Nanotechnology Initiative, worth $500 million. Caltech is no stranger to the idea of nanotechnology —the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level."

Now, which definition will you choose? Or, do you happens to know any other definition from governmental agencies like EPA, FDA or the EU's REACH? Please let me know by a leaving a comment here and a link to your site. Thanks!

Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani