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Big talk on nanotechnology

Forum for the Future

Nanologue project

New report says society needs to talk about nanotechnology now and decide how to maximise the benefit from this disruptive technology

Riots on the street, polluted drinking water and mass fish deaths? Or a sources of carbon free energy, enabling the EU to meet its Kyoto targets while powering our homes and business?.

These are just some of the features of three scenarios developed through the Nanologue project, a 21-month EU project looking at the social, ethical and legal implications of nanotechnology.

The three scenarios for 2015 have been developed to assist people interested in nanotechnology to think about its place in society in a structured way.

"It's important that we learn the lessons from the introduction of GM," says Hugh Knowles, senior sustainability advisor at Forum for the Future and one of the authors of the report.

"In that instance there was a total lack of forward thinking while the science was being developed and people weren't consulted on the issues that really mattered.

"The results are all too well known".

Knowles believes that, if managed appropriately, nanotechnology could play an important role in developing a more sustainable society.

The report is just one of the deliverables from the Nanologue project.

Another is a web-based tool - the NanoMeter - that allows researchers and product developers to understand the societal impacts of their applications during product research and development in a quick and easy way.

Speaking about the project as a whole, Volker Turk, project co-ordinator from the Wuppertal Institute said: "The tools we have developed show that we have a choice in how the technology develops - but the choices we make now will have considerable consequences for the future.

"The deliverables from the Nanologue project inform the debate and help us weigh up the choices that we must make".

The report 'The future of nanotechnology: We need to talk' contains three scenarios exploring possible futures in the development of nanotechnology.

In the first scenario, Disaster Recovery, a lack of regulation results in a major accident.

Public concern about nanotechnology is high and technology development is slow and cautious.

In the second scenario, Now We're Talking, strong regulation and accountability systems are in place.

The technology has been shaped by societal needs and strong health and safety concerns.

In the last scenario, Powering Ahead, scientific progress has been faster than expected.

Nanotechnology is making a real impact, particularly in energy conversion and storage.

The scenarios were developed through consultation with scientists and other experts in the field of nanotechnology.

The report is just one of the outcomes of the Nanologue project, which aims to facilitate dialogue on these issues.

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