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Home > Press > Rice University expert calls for coordination in nanotechnology research

In House testimony, Vicki Colvin says nano community needs 'research harmonization'

Rice University expert calls for coordination in nanotechnology research

Houston, TX | Posted on October 31st, 2007

Nanotechnology holds great promise for the future of cancer therapy and water treatment, but concerns about the safety of nanoproducts may limit these important technological developments, Vicki Colvin said today in comments to the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

Colvin, director of Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) and executive director of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), was an expert witness at the hearing "Research on Environmental and Safety Impacts of Nanotechnology." The hearing relates to the current direction of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

Colvin told the committee she was providing her individual opinions, which have been informed by ICON's work with diverse international stakeholders on nanotechnology research needs in the areas of environment, health and safety (EHS). ICON also hosts a free, searchable database of EHS research papers.

"There is an urgency to nano-EHS research that affects the entire NNI investment," she said. "Innovation in nanotechnology is being threatened by the uncertainty about its risks. We need this innovation more than ever right now."

She called on the National Nanotechnology Initiative to release a detailed strategy for nano-EHS research no later than fall 2008.

"Going from a climate of uncertainty to one of confidence in managing nanotechnology risk is a massive undertaking that will take years to fully develop," Colvin said. "It will also take careful planning and coordination among agencies in this government and abroad. The ultimate plan would be most effectively organized by two, maybe three, overarching outcomes that stakeholders agree will give us more confidence in managing risks."

Colvin emphasized the importance of unifying "researchers' languages, methods and materials," which she referred to as "research harmonization" tools.

"If you fund five teams to help understand nanotube toxicity and they get five different answers, you are actually worse off because your research creates uncertainty rather than combat it," she said.

Colvin said there is a real need for government intervention.

"If left to ourselves, we might harmonize as a community in five to 10 years -- too long to wait for nanotechnology's innovation. The good news is that the U.S. government can, if it is thoughtful about the mechanisms, help researchers fix this problem quickly and for relatively low cost."

To read the full text of Colvin's remarks, visit .

To interview Colvin about her testimony, contact David Ruth at 713-348-6327 or .


About Rice University
Rice University is consistently ranked one of America’s best teaching and research universities. It is distinguished by its: size—2,850 undergraduates and 1,950 graduate students; selectivity—10 applicants for each place in the freshman class; resources—an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 6-to-1, and the fifth largest endowment per student among American universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines, integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate work. Rice’s wooded campus is located in the nation’s fourth largest city and on America’s South Coast.

For more information, please click here

David Ruth


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