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Nanotech's grand challenge is sustainable development

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The developing world stands to gain most from nanotechnology through its advances in energy storage and production, according to a report. In a poll of 63 experts in the field, nanotechnology's potential to transform food production was also highlighted.

The Canadian Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB) asked the panel of specialists which areas would benefit most, in the next ten years, from advances in nanotechnology. It used the responses to draw up a list of the ten most beneficial areas of research.

It says that it has ordered potential application according to how useful they will be in addressing questions of sustainable development, as outlined at the 2002 UN Johannesburg Summit. The report's authors argue that no one has tried to do this before.

To put their list together, the researchers asked panellists to consider each technology in context: What kind of impact will a technology have; will it address the most pressing needs; can it be made ready within ten years; is it socially and politically acceptable and are there any indirect benefits?

Top of their list were technologies that could improve hydrogen storage, or up the effeciency of solar cells. Power-related advances were followed by new applications for agriculture, such as nanosensors to monitor the quality of the soil. Water treatment was next, followed by disease diagnosis and screening, drug delivery systems and food storage technology.

"Our results can provide guidance to the developing countries themselves to help target their growing initiatives in nanotechnology," the report states.

The authors also using the top ten list to form the basis of a nanotechnology Grand Challenge, much like Hilbert’s Grand Challenges in Mathematics. ®

You can read the full report here (pdf).

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