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With nanotechnology's burgeoning reputation, companies jumped on the bandwagon by tagging their non-nanotechnology products and services with a "nano" name. When infatuation turned to fear and the public cooled on nanotechnology, nanotech companies retracted the nano brand. True nanotech companies now have the added complexity of how, when, and where they associate their products with nanotechnology.
December 29th, 2009
Nano is Not a Four-Letter Word
Over the last two decades, nanotechnology became one of the hottest areas in scientific research, pulling in billions of dollars in government, corporate and foundation cash. Nanotechnology represents a breakthrough technology in fields ranging from medical devices to anti-terror efforts to civil engineering. The consumer marketplace exploded with "nanotechnology enhanced" products - hundreds of them in a wide range of categories including sporting equipment, car wax, skin care, clothing, consumer electronics and wound care.
Recognizing a hot marketing buzz word, non-nanotechnology related products began hitting the market place: Apple's iPod Nano, Tata Nano, Elmer's Nano glue and marketing concepts such as nano-campaigning and nano niching.
Recently the term nano or nanotech, which still refers to nanotechnology - the controlling of matter on an atomic and molecular scale, has gone out of favor. Although nanotechnology has been deemed one of the foremost innovations of the 21st century, concerns about possible health and safety hazards posed by nanomaterials are being raised among labor unions and environmentalists. Indeed, a study published in Nature Nanotechnology suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities.
Experts say that materials manipulated at the nanoscale behave differently than their larger counterparts. For example, Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Smalley discovered carbon nanotubes and fullerenes which are legally categorized as graphite, yet they behave in ways unlike graphite. Environmental studies show brain damage to fish exposed to fullerenes, even at moderate doses and for a very short period of time. While the human body has defenses for natural particles it encounters, the danger of nanotechnology is in introducing new types of particles that are potentially toxic.
Negative toxicological assessments of manufactured nanoparticles that have been made public coupled with the society's lack of knowledge about nanotechnology have lead to fear, in some cases, to near panic. While nanotechnology involves possible safety risks, there are blatant myths. Reports of nano-weapons and grey goo have done little to alleviate public fear.
The controversy surrounding nanotechnology led many manufacturers to remove any mention of nanomaterials from their products. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that top-selling cosmetic companies are omitting nano from their labels.
Good or bad, nanotechnology is moving forward. True nanotech companies now have the added complexity of how, when, and where they associate their name with nanotechnology.
Patti Glaza, CEO of Small Times, suggests that the industry compartmentalize itself so positives and negatives of nanotechnology don't become lumped together.
Lux Research analyst Ted Sullivan has issued a warning about universal ‘nanotechnology premium' for companies branding themselves as ‘nano.' Just as any other company who competes in a particular space, companies utilizing nanotechnology will be viewed favorably if their use of technology can demonstrate a unique differentiator and increase competitiveness.