Arizona State University's College of Law has secured a federal grant to write new regulations for an emerging science that dabbles with the tiniest of tiny things.
ASU law professors and students will use the $314,000 Department of Energy grant to build a regulatory model for bioenergy products that use nanotechnology.
The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law also will create a comprehensive public database of local, national and international regulations dealing with the technology
Nanotechnology describes the science of building and manipulating things at the "nanoscale" level, or one billionth of a meter. The technology is used to make consumer products such as stain-resistant pants, cholesterol-busting canola oil and sunscreens.
The emerging science is largely unregulated, and several groups have called for tighter oversight to prevent consumer harm.
"There is an urgent need to find some way to do this," said Gary Marchant, executive director of ASU's Center for the Study of Law, Science & Technology, which received the grant. "Everybody is scrambling to figure out how to do this."
In addition to the database, ASU researchers will evaluate proposed and existing regulations dealing with nanotechnology and whether those regulations are evenly applied. They will propose ways to regulate the science on an international level and coordinate national regulatory strategies.
Proposed regulations will need to be flexible because the science is growing so fast, Marchant said. Yet, the regulations are pivotal to ensure research companies and investors are comfortable spending money on research without the fear that rules will be changed later on. Marchant cited a 2006 report that indicated the uncertain regulatory framework is impeding investment in nanotechnology.
Joining Marchant in the study will be Kenneth Abbott, School of Global Studies professor, and Douglas Sylvester, who specializes in intellectual-property law. The law school's science and technology center has about 20 student researchers who are familiar with the technology.