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Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

ISSN Print: 1050-6934
ISSN Online: 1940-4379

Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

DOI: 10.1615/JLongTermEffMedImplants.v17.i3.90
pages 271-280

Ethical Issues in Nanotechnology

Stephen J. Florczyk
Materials Science and Engineering Department, University of Washington,Seattle, Washington


Nanotechnology is a rapidly developing area in science involved with manipulating matter at the atomic or molecular level. Nanotechnology is typically defined at a scale on the order of less than ∼ 100 nm. Matter possesses unique properties at these size levels that are neither Newtonian nor quantum, but between the two regimes. These unique properties have created significant interest and excitement, sparking numerous research investigations. Nanotechnology is a very broad field with many current and potential applications. Some important examples of applications include battlefield activated dynamic armor clothing for soldiers, additives to sunscreens, and diagnostic laboratories on a chip to monitor general personal health. Groundbreaking capabilities often raise new questions. Any new scientific or technological development has the usual concomitant associated ethical issues, specifically regarding containment and regulation. These ethical issues are more pronounced with nanotechnology due to the sharp divide between those who see its great potential and opponents who express fears. Nanotechnology supporters believe that it has the potential to transform our lives dramatically, while opponents of nanotechnology fear that self-replicating “nanobots” could escape from laboratories and reduce all life on earth to “gray goo.” These fears have swayed generally uninformed public opinions via the media and sensational entertainment. A critical discussion of ethical issues surrounding nanotechnology, including the interaction of nanotechnology with the body and the environment—nanobiotechnology—and regulation of nanotechnology, is presented. We advocate strong, uniform regulations for nanotechnology, but only the use of regulations as needed. The limited use of regulations prevents the regulations from becoming burdensome and inhibiting research in the field.