An interesting and potentially revolutionary development in magnetic storage of data was announced a couple of weeks ago. Researchers at I.B.M. have reported the development of a new class of nanomaterials that could lead to the development of new, significantly smaller memory chips and disk drives that will both hold vast amounts of information and use less power than the current class of silicon chips. The report (Loth, Baumann, Lutz, Eigler, and Heinrich, Bistability in Atomic-Scale Antiferromagnets) appears in the journal Science at Vol. 335, no. 6065, pp. 196-99 (Jan. 13, 2012), and has been widely reported in the news media. There is much excitement over this development, both for its inherent promise for data storage and for its potential in other areas. Analysts have suggested that other new nanomaterials may be forthcoming using some of the same general methodologies and approaches of these researchers.
Among other media sources, this development has been reported in the New York Times:
John Markoff, “New Storage Device is Very Small, at 12 Atoms,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 12, 2012, available at
So while we are wowed by such progress, it only begs the same old question of what should be done to determine the hazards that the technology might pose to workers, the general public, and the environment. As with so many of the technological developments using nanomaterials, there is little discussion of potential hazards at this juncture. But when will we give some serious thought to them? After the products are developed and marketed? After adverse effects are manifested? So maybe there won’t be any adverse effects. But do we know that as we continue to be dazzled by the potential technological developments in the nanoworld? At the risk of sounding very non-technological, maybe we need to refer back to that old adage – better to be safe than sorry.