Safer by Design- Is It Time?

S. Tinkle
Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI), US

Keywords: sustainable nanomanufacturing, nanoparticles


Significant research has examined the sensitive relationships of scale, composition, architecture, and functional attributes of nanomaterials in order to develop novel solutions to technical and social challenges. Scientists and engineers are intrigued by the possibility that this knowledge of relationships and the ability to precisely engineer nanomaterials will allow them to maximize a nanomaterial’s benefit in product development while minimizing the risk of adverse impact on human health and the environment. This “Safer by Design” concept makes several assumptions. Firstly, it assumes the existence of a set of crosscutting design principles that produce materials that maintain their benign status across multiple use scenarios, microenvironments, or a product life cycle. “Safer by Design” suggests that a nanomaterial’s properties, or some subset of properties, can be identified and causally related to a beneficial, benign, or adverse impact and that an adverse impact can be engineered out of the material through manipulation of physical, chemical, and functional properties while beneficial characteristics are maintained. Now, more than a decade after the “Safer by Design” term was coined, data have accumulated on nanomaterial properties, the nano-bio interface, the role of surface modifications, and biological and environmental impacts to suggest that several broad “Safer by Design” principles are emerging. The need for scientists and engineers to examine collaboratively the evidence for science-based principles to guide nanotechnology science, engineering, and manufacturing has never been stronger.