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Nanotechnology Research

Questions about Nanotechnology

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the science of the very small. A nanometer is 100,000 times thinner than a strand of hair. Nano scale particles (nanoparticles) are so tiny that they cannot be detected by microscopes. Nanotechnology encompasses nanoscale science, engineering and technology, and involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this very small scale.

Nanomaterials can exhibit unique optical, mechanical, magnetic, conductive and sorptive properties different than the same chemical substances in a larger size.

With these new properties, a world opens up for the development of innovative products and services that have the potential to change the world by offering new medicines, products and services.

Why is EPA studying nanotechnology?

With the use of nanotechnology in the consumer and industrial sectors expected to increase significantly in the future, nanotechnology offers society the promise of major benefits. The challenge for environmental protection is to ensure that, as nanomaterials are developed and used, unintended consequences of exposures to humans and ecosystems are prevented or minimized. In addition, knowledge is needed on how to sustainably apply nanotechnology to detect, monitor, prevent, control, and clean up pollution.

Are nanomaterials safe?

EPA's Nanotechnology research will provide information to support nanomaterial safety decisions. The key science questions described in the Nanotechnology Research Strategy are intended to help decision makers answer the following questions:

  • What nanomaterials in what forms are most likely to result in environmental exposure?
  • What particular nanomaterial properties may raise toxicity concerns?
  • Are nanomaterials with these properties likely to be present in the environment or biological systems at concentrations of concern, and what does this mean for risk?
  • Can we change properties or mitigate exposure if nanomaterials are present in the environment or biological systems?

Providing information to answer these questions will serve the public by enabling decisions that minimize potential adverse environmental impacts, and thereby maximize the net societal benefit from the development and use of manufactured nanomaterials.