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New nanotechnology white paper

Coordinated by researchers of the University of Barcelona, through CCiTUB and IN2UB, and the Catalan Society of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Coordinated by researchers of the University of Barcelona, through CCiTUB and IN2UB, and the Catalan Society of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.



The presentation of the Libro blanco de las nanotecnologías. Una visión ético-social ante los avances de la nanociencia y la nanotecnología (Aranzadi, 2021) took place today. It is coordinated by researchers of the University of Barcelona, through the Scientific and Technological Centres (CCTiUB) and the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology of the UB (IN2UB) and the Catalan Society of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. This is a position paper on the multidisciplinary field of nanotechnologies and their impact on ethical, social, legislative, economic, and educational aspects. Leading researchers and academics from national and international universities, as well as public institutions, have worked on it. The presentation took place during the multisectoral conference Nanoday 2021, organised by the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI).

Nanotechnology is one of the so-called disruptive technologies, one of the pillars of the new industrial revolution. Also, it lies halfway, not only between living and inert entities, but also between the quantum and macroscopic worlds. The positive impact of nanotechnology is undeniable, but it can have risks and side effects too, especially in three key areas: health, safety and the environment.

In this context, the book addresses the most important aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnologies, but from a broad perspective, beyond the purely scientific-technical side. The educational community, the public administration, the business sector, the scientific community, and civil society organisations are represented in the book. Although there are other white papers on the field of nanotechnologies, this is the first with such a broad and transversal approach: beyond research and transfer, it analyses more than a dozen different topics related to the world of nanotechnology, and it includes cases of good practices in several Latin American countries.

Ethics and bioethics

The first chapter of the book focuses on what defines nanotechnology and what calls for an ethical view beyond that already applied to new technologies: "properties of a quantum nature" and the fact that they produce new effects on which such ethical reflection should be focused. The ethical aspects that can be derived from transhumanism are also highlighted. This is a philosophical and social movement that advocates the use of technology to enhance the physical, cognitive, and even moral capacities of humans, and it is analysed in a separate chapter.

The second chapter on bioethics analyses the potential of nanotechnologies in order to anticipate the implications of manipulating matter on such a small scale. The creation of non-living entities that endanger ecosystems, neurotechnology, control of human thought or will are scenarios that belong to science fiction. However, the book says that "the possibility that advances in disruptive technologies will cause a hecatomb in the history of life on our planet is real”. For this reason, “more and more attention is being paid to such experiments, aiming to anticipate any scenario, despite how unlikely it may seem”, it concludes.

Gender perspective, education and communication

The multidisciplinary character of this area causes a lack of gender-segregated data. The researchers, in the fourth chapter, present an analysis where women are not only the subject of knowledge but also “objects of knowledge and receptors of social changes” generated by these technologies. Among these other aspects are also how choosing a bachelor’s degree “can represent a gender bias from early ages”.

In this direction, on October 18, the UB, in collaboration with the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists in Catalonia (AMIT-CAT), will host the session “Gender perspective in education and scientific communication”, with the participation of some authors of the book (UB researchers) and with the support of the Vice-Rector's Office for Equal Opportunities and Gender.

On education, the paper mentions the need for cutting-edge educational programmes linked to the productive sector and with institutional strategies. Those countries that opted for them have increased their competitiveness and attracted investment for the development of technological companies, with the capacity to hire specialized staff trained in these educational programmes. Given the strong social implications of these technologies, communication and dissemination are necessary tools "to transmit new knowledge and empower society". Chapter 10 includes success stories in this task, among which different programmes and networks coordinated by the CCiTUBs stand out.

Other conclusions of the book point to the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration between academic disciplines, research centres and industry in the debate on nanotechnologies. The book also analyses aspects related to occupational safety and health of workers handling nanomaterials and the toxicity of nanomaterial-based products and their effects on the environment.

Also, it analyses existing tools for responsible research and innovation, as well as legislation, regulations and best practice guidelines for research and innovation. Other relevant aspects are related to the transfer of basic research results to the market, investments and governance.

According to the researchers, thinking about nanoscience from all these aspects "will help to provide concrete visions of what direction nanotechnology development should take in the coming years".

"With the book, we wanted to create a meeting and debate point on the present and future of nanotechnologies, with a special focus on the ethical and social aspects", say two of the coordinators and promoters of the book, Joan Mendoza and Jordi Díaz-Marcos, members of the CCiTUB.

The editorial team is formed by of María Casado (OBD-UB), Joan Mendoza (CCiTUB) and Jordi Díaz (CCiTUB-IN2UB), Pedro A. Serena (IMM-CSIC) and María Teorio (SCNN), Roger Ponce (SCNN) and Gerard Guimerà (UB-SCNN).

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