Nanotechnology refers to research at the scale of 100 nanometers or less (one nanometer being equal to one-billionth of a meter). That is approximately the diameter of a human hair, which is bigger than atoms or simple molecules, but still so tiny that many materials exhibit novel phenomena and properties than they do at the standard scales. The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the molecular level to create larger structures. Thus, with this cutting edge technology, scientists are able to create new, inexpensive materials, devices, and systems with unique properties.
The Ethics of Nanotechnology
Applications range across material science, information technologies, environmental benefits, and medicine. Scientists predict that extraordinary new devices and techniques are not far off, especially in the realms of medical treatment, power sources, and consumer electronics. Nanotechnology holds particular promise for biomedical devices including targeted drug delivery, imaging and diagnostic tools, and tissue regeneration.
With every technological advance, there will be new questions in the areas of safety and efficacy, ethics and morality. In this regard, protection of human rights and respect of human dignity must be the foremost concern. This involves a balancing act to satisfy the interests of different stakeholders: liberty of investigation of the researchers; benefit and risk assessment to ensure safety of persons and the environment; individual privacy and personal identity, informed consent, health and integrity; and correct dissemination of knowledge to the public. The precautionary principle is applied in this sense without tendency to either extremes of being too lenient or too rigorous. Accompanying many of the projected benefits will be the need, by legislators and the government, to address and develop, public and private policies that have the well being of humankind and society at heart.