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Nanotechnology, shaping our future

Nanotechnology will provide new process technologies but first industry needs to help society accept the technology. PACE interviewed the minister for innovation, industry, science and research, Senator Kim Carr, on his views.

Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive technologies provide the key to a more equitable society through improving manufacturing and control processes, according to the minister for innovation, industry, science and research, Senator Kim Carr. Carr is calling for the government, industry, researchers, community groups and non-government organisations together to map out how they might best engage with each other and the wider community in support of developing this new technology.

“Industry and researchers recognise that new technologies can face opposition if the community is not involved in their development — as happened with genetically-modified foods. They also recognise the commercial advantages of consulting consumers about potential new products,” Senator Carr told PACE.

“The government’s objectives for the management of nanotechnology are to protect the health and safety of humans and the environment, to foster informed community debate, and to achieve economic and social benefits.”

Nanotechnology will make a huge difference to manufacturing and process engineering, says Senator Carr, also claiming that “change is already happening”.

“Stronger, lighter, and more functional nano-materials are being incorporated into a variety of processes and products. To take just one example, nano-titanium dioxide is being used as a photocatalyst to create self-cleaning building materials. In future we will see new techniques, new products and even whole new industries based on the special properties of nano-materials. The technology will be especially important to environmental management and energy production.”

According to Senator Carr, our community as a whole will become to rely on nanotechnology — however for this to happen we need to establish rules to ensure that the new technology is properly developed and used responsibly.

In the next 10 to 30 years, nanotechnology will have a significant impact on our economy, providing the basis for developing new materials, new ways to produce clean energy, new medicines, new computers, and “new ways to unlock the potential of human beings”, said Senator Carr.

Carr will be spearheading the plan to maximise the benefits of nanotechnology under a Commonwealth framework established earlier this year for the responsible management of nanotechnology.

The framework is intended to guide both how nanotechnology is studied and how it is applied, and is based on three guiding principles:

• one, to protect the health and safety of humans and the environment

• two, to foster informed community debate

• and three, to achieve economic and social benefits from the responsible adoption of nanotechnology.

According to Senator Car, the Australian Government supports nanotechnology research through several programs. The Australian Research Council awarded over $60 million to nanotechnology-related research projects in 2007-08. The characterisation and fabrication capabilities developed under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy directly support nanotechnology research, and the CSIRO does a great deal of work on nanotechnology, including through its Future Manufacturing Flagship.

But to reap the benefits that Senator Carr promises through using nanotechnology in the manufacturing and process industries, our industry must help spearhead the cause and raise awareness about the possibilities.

“Industry must engage constructively in the community debate about nanotechnology. It needs to be open about what it is doing, it needs to take the lead in minimising risks, and it needs to explain the economic, consumer and environmental benefits the technology will bring,” he said.

“Firms that are unsure what nanotechnology might mean for them should be talking to the research community. Enterprise Connect, Cooperative Research Centres and the Future Manufacturing Industry Innovation Council all exist to promote the exchange of ideas.”

*Senator Kim Carr

Minister for innovation, industry, science and research

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