nano 3On November 30, 2010, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), in commenting on the draft 2010 strategic plan of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), recommended that nanomaterial safety be incorporated in graduate curricula.  AIHA lamented that many recent American graduate school degree recipients are ill-equipped to effectively assess the industrial health and safety risks of nanomaterials in industrial settings.  And, as AIHA pointed out, many recent grads have already had significant exposures to nanomaterials.

 The beginnings of a solution are relatively simple.  AIHA has recommended that the consortium of federal agencies involved in implementing the NNI strategic plan develop guidelines for graduate research programs.  The draft plan itself contains suggestions for actions by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), such as investigation of a broad spectrum of nanomaterials and recommendation of safe exposure limits.

 The full solution may be much more complex, however.

 This issue reminds me of a broader concern that receives news coverage from time to time.  Maybe not often enough.  We frequently hear that the United States continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world in student science performance.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the United States is a member, keeps track of such things.  In the most recent rankings of science performance among OECD nations (updated rankings due soon), the United States continued to be below average and ranked 22.

 The bar is being set a little higher for science performance in the schools with the proliferation of nanotechnologies and their highly sophisticated use in many products and medical procedures.  AIHA has said that many newly minted scientists “are unaware of the fundamentals of nanomaterial safety.”  Beyond assuring that nanomaterial safety fundamentals are taught and implemented in graduate programs, nanotechnology and nanomaterial safety should become a part of the basic science curriculum at every relevant level of American education.


Greg Hellman, Industrical Hygienists Say Nanomaterial Safety Should be Part of Graduate Curriculums, BNA Chemical Regulation Rptr, Nov. 30, 2010

 Some information on OECD rankings is available at