June 10, 2016 • Volume 26, Issue 22
Will the science of atom-size objects reshape the economy?
By Patrick Marshall


A technician inspects a high-performance solar cell (AP Photo/picture-alliance/Jan Woitas)
A technician inspects a high-performance solar cell at a SolarWorld plant in Freiberg, Germany. Nanotechnology is now being used to enhance the efficiency of solar cells as well as to make products ranging from TVs and computer screens to baby formula and sunscreen. (AP Photo/picture-alliance/Jan Woitas)

Scientists are making motors tiny enough to deliver medicine from inside human cells and microfibers that are 20 times stronger than steel. The gee-whiz science of nanotechnology has grown from obscurity in the 1980s into a trillion-dollar industry that already produces ingredients for some 1,800 consumer goods, from sunscreen to baby formula, and could transform such products as computer chips, solar cells and military armor. Some experts say the nano-revolution, which draws billions of dollars in government funding, could reorder the global economy. But other experts worry about the safety of nanomaterials. They argue that government regulators — notably the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency — are not up to the task of ensuring that nanoparticles are safe for public consumption or exposure. What's more, they fear that enemies eventually could use nanomaterials to make weapons of mass destruction. The nanotechnology industry contends, however, that current regulations are more than adequate and that the field's promise far outweighs its risks.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Science Policy
Mar. 05, 2021  Expertise Under Assault
Jun. 10, 2016  Nanotechnology
Apr. 25, 2014  Synthetic Biology
Feb. 01, 2011  Globalizing Science
Jan. 11, 2008  Science in America
Sep. 01, 2006  Stem Cell Research Updated
Aug. 20, 2004  Science and Politics
Dec. 22, 1978  Technology Gap: Reality or Illusion
May 26, 1978  Politics of Science
Apr. 11, 1973  National Science Policy
Jan. 05, 1972  Technology Lag in America
May 18, 1960  National Science Policy
Oct. 23, 1945  Government and Science
Chemistry and Physics
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Medical Devices and Technology
Regulation and Deregulation