Reconsidering The One Thousand Nanotech Consumer Product Inventory

Last month I ignored the announcement of The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' (PEN) nanotech-enabled consumer product list. To be honest, I’ve pretty routinely ignored their yearly announcement of the ever increasing number of products that supposedly contain nano, except, of course, to make fun of the whole idea.

One nanotech blog that is no longer with us had the temerity to suggest that the cause of the spiraling number of products on the PEN list might have less to do with being able to buy nanotech-enabled product at your local retail store and more to do with PEN trying to secure a place in the government feeding trough of nanotech.

My problem with these lists has more to do with boredom. Once you’ve seen one tennis ball, stain-proof pants and improved sunscreen product list you quickly become weary of the whole enterprise (which I suppose has inspired me to admire PEN in bothering to do this inventory year after year).

So despite my hesitancy to really look into this subject, today I devoted five minutes to looking at this well-organized inventory. I immediately went to the “Electronics and Computers” category and I was met with PEN’s decision that any feature size of chips below 100nm constitutes nanotechnology. Fair enough. And then I quickly deduced that they agreed with the Nobel Prize committee that giant magnetoresistance (GMR) was “the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology”. Fair enough again.

But can’t we just then limit the inventory to sub-90nm chips and hard disk drives? Is it really necessary to list 

every PC, like the Lenovo Think Station, or assorted Macs on the market as a separate nanotech product?

Well, my five minutes were up and I really didn’t want to bother with the rest. I started to ask myself “What’s the purpose of this list again?” I went back to the press release and there it was:

“If the introduction of new products continues at the present rate, the number of products listed in the inventory will reach close to 1,600 within the next two years. This will provide significant oversight challenges for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which often lack any mechanisms to identify nanotech products before they enter the marketplace.”

So, to you FDA and CPSC bureaucrats out there, if you’re lacking the mechanisms to identify nanotech products, PEN is there to help. But just one small caveat, you may want to actually take a look at the list. I know it’s painful but it must be done.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
Editor
Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
Contributor
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY
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