Chemists make the case for nano nomenclature

Katharine Sanderson/San Diego, US

An ABC of nanotech is urgently needed if nanoscience is to be properly regulated, says a leading US nanotechnologist.

Vicki Colvin of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University, US, presented her nano-nomenclature suggestions at the American Chemical Society’s 229th national meeting in San Diego.

The number of papers published about all things nano has increased from zero in 1990 to almost 20 000 a year.

Terminology has so far been at the author’s whim, which makes literature searches tricky, says Colvin. ’If you want to pull up all the papers about anisotropic nanoparticles it’s hard to do. They’re called nanorice, nanorods or nanotriangles,’ she complains.

Confusion often occurs, especially for risk assessments. Different risks are posed by single walled carbon nanotubes and diesel particles, for example: one is a controlled, lab-engineered particle, and the other an incidental particle with known toxicity from a vehicle’s exhaust.

This isn’t the only consideration. ’It is pretty clear that nano is not equal to bulk for many biological effects,’ Colvin added.

Colvin suggests that a system like the one already in use for polymers could be developed. She feels it is important to begin with the surface chemistry of a particle and use those properties to define the particles.

For risk assessment, a comprehensive naming system will be invaluable, Colvin says. To get involved in deciding what this system is, she is urging people to join ASTM International’s technical committee E56 on nanotechnology (see link below). Colvin wants as many interested parties as possible to join the committee to vote on the terminology. ’Think about it as joint authorship of a paper with many authors,’ she said.