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September 3rd, 2009

Instant insight: A calculated risk

How safe are nanoparticles? Amanda Barnard, at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Clayton, Australia, reveals how computation can help to identify and prevent nanohazards.

For the move from nanoscience to nanotechnology to be sustainable, it is important that issues surrounding the risks be addressed before commercialisation, both in terms of exposure and potential nanohazards. Since we (as a society) are diligently producing more and more biodegradable and recyclable products, it is inevitable that any nanoparticles in them will be introduced into the natural world. Since we currently have no efficient way of extracting nanoparticles once released, we must assume that the duration of exposure is indefinite.

The hazards associated with nanomaterials are another story. We already have the expertise required to assess and mitigate potential nanohazards. If done correctly, the overall risk can be significantly reduced - or even prevented entirely. But how do we move from hazard to prevention, and where do we start?


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