The UK government yesterday commissioned an independent study to examine in detail the benefits and risks of nanotechnology.
There is growing controversy over the science, which involves working with materials 80,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Initiated by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, and conducted by the Royal Society together with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the results of the study will be used to help draw up legislation regulating the use of nanotechnology.
The research aims to summarise the current scientific knowledge on the subject, identify applications, and consider regulatory, environmental, health and safety, ethical and social issues.
Lord Sainsbury said: "Nanotechnology has the potential to create huge benefits in many areas, but we need to understand whether it raises new ethical, health and safety, or social issues which are not covered by current regulations.
"I have therefore commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to look at current and future developments in nanotechnology and report on whether we need to introduce new regulations. This report could then be the basis for a wider public debate."
The study will be chaired by Ann Dowling, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge University.
A working group will be appointed shortly to reflect the wide range of disciplines required to consider the questions which have been posed, including ethical, social and regulatory considerations as well as science and engineering.
The group will also approach wider stakeholder groups for input including academia, industry, interest groups and the public.
Public engagement will be included in the form of focus groups, a questionnaire and an online discussion forum to ensure that public concerns are addressed.
The final report of the study will be put into the public domain and made freely available on the Royal Society's website.
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