The ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) announces the publication of The Big Down: Atomtech — Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale, the first comprehensive and critical analysis of nanotechnology for civil society and policymakers. The 80-page report seeks to widen civil society’s and policymakers’ focus beyond biotech and genetically engineered crops, and to catalyze widespread public debate on the societal impacts of nanotechnology.
The ability of scientists to modify matter is taking a giant step down — from genes to atoms — explains ETC Group. While society is mired in acrimonious debates on the promises and perils of genetic modification, industrial enterprises are harnessing an atomic engineering revolution that could modify all matter — both living and non-living -- and transform every aspect of work and life.
Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of atoms and molecules at the level of the nanometer, one billionth of a meter. It is at this scale that quantum physics takes over from classical physics and the properties of elements change character in novel and unpredictable ways. ETC Group prefers the more descriptive term "Atomtechnology" because the manipulation of matter will not stop at the nano-scale. Atomtechnology refers to a spectrum of new technologies that operate at the nano-scale and below — that is, the manipulation of molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles to create new products.
"The world’s most powerful emerging technology is developing in an almost-total political and regulatory vacuum," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group. "Public and private research at the nano-scale is evolving beneath the radar screen of civil society and government regulators." Because nano-scale technologies can be applied to virtually every industrial sector, explains ETC Group, no regulatory body is taking the lead. And because many of its products are nano-sized versions of conventional compounds, regulatory scrutiny has been deemed unnecessary.