Why are scientists interested in nanomaterials?

A laboratory worker examining a test tube

 

Nanomaterials are of great interest because they have a lot of potential to create new and innovative products across many areas. By more directly steering the reactions and interactions between atoms at the nanoscale, nanomaterials can be produced and their properties can be steered in unusual ways. For example, this could result in better medicines,  cosmetics, and construction materials or greener energy.

This can have a significant, positive impact on the life of European citizens. Several scientists have won the Nobel prize for work related to nanomaterials, the latest being in 2016, when three European researchers were awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on nanomaterials.

At the same time as having better technical functions, the change in properties of nanomaterials may also mean that these materials might influence humans and the environment differently compared to chemicals that are not in nanoform.

Scientists and regulators want to understand how nanomaterials may impact human health and the environment, and whether the current ways of assessing the safety of chemicals are applicable to nanomaterials, or whether modifications are needed.

The EU has funded many research projects aimed at both unlocking the promise of nanomaterials, as well as ensuring that these new materials are safe for people and the environment. This work takes place in collaboration with the chemical industry as well as regulators around the world.

To date, EU-funded research projects on the environmental health and safety of nanomaterials have resulted in over 500 articles published in peer reviewed journals. A partial listing of such publications can be found at NanoSafety cluster publications and Open Science publications pages.