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03 November 2011

Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology?
Nor Azaruddin Husni bin Haji Nuruddin
Fellow Kanan

01/11/2011 | The Star
On 23 Sept 2011, I was invited to attend "Bengkel Kajian Hala Tuju Strategik Nanoteknologi Kebangsaan" at G-Tower, Kuala Lumpur. The title has opened up my interest to participate in the workshop because it is relevant to my Phd(s) research areas on the Development and Characterization of Nanocomposites under Polymer Engineering as well as on Islamic World Views on Science and Technology under Islamic Philosophy. I hope by this attending this workshop, I will be able to contribute some ideas for the development of Nanotechnology for Malaysia.

The email I received from MOSTI, indicated the workshop was scheduled to start at 8.30am, however it was only started at 9.00am.

The paper on "Nanotechnology Made In Malaysia from 1 Small Part to 1 Big Success" entails the national's strategic policy and support, to be given to the various sectors as market players. It also defines the implementation approach and policies that will support and nurture the vibrant development of nanotechnology in the country. Nanotechnology is also an aspiration for Malaysia to be the top ten nanotechnology nation in this world. It will transform the nation to create the new source of economic growth for our country and the well being of the future generations. Nanotechnology may be the right technology appearing at the right time.

In general, Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make the complete, high performance products.

Country like USA, Japan, Korea, Germany and the UK have invested huge financial resources to harmless the potential of nanotechnology for the nation future. In determining the strategic direction of science and technology, the efforts to combine science and technology with religion are also important, especially in bringing together the role of science and Islam.

In this workshop, we were briefed that in a market driven approach, few sectors will be given priority as jumpstarting Malaysia's Entry into the nanotechnology business. These areas are oil and gas, palm oil, electronic, ICT and agriculture food.

Despite of many advantages about nanotechnology, a consideration about disadvantage on nanotechnology should take into account. First about disruption of the basis of economy is a strong possibility. The purchaser of a manufactured product today is paying for its design, raw materials, the labor and capital of manufacturing, transportation, storage, and sales. Additional money usually a fairly low percentage goes to the owners of all these businesses. If personal nanofactories can produce a wide variety of products when and where they are wanted, most of this effort will become unnecessary. This raises several questions about the nature of a post-nanotech economy. Will products become cheaper? Will capitalism disappear? Will most people retire or be unemployed?

Second, Nano-built products may be vastly overpriced relative to their cost, perpetuating unnecessary poverty. By today's commercial standards, products built by nanofactories would be immensely valuable. A monopoly would allow the owners of the technology to charge high rates for all products. The price of a product usually falls somewhere between its value to the purchaser and its cost to the seller. Molecular manufacturing could result in products with a value orders of magnitude higher than their cost. It is likely that the price will be set closer to the value than to the cost;

Thirdly, Society could be disrupted by the availability of new "immoral" products. New products and lifestyles may cause significant social disruption. For example, medical devices could be built into needles narrower than a bacterium, perhaps allowing easy brain modification or stimulation, with effects similar to any of a variety of psychoactives.

Fourthly, Nanotech weapons would be extremely powerful and could lead to a dangerously unstable arms race. Molecular manufacturing raises the possibility of horrifically effective weapons. As an example, the smallest insect is about 200 microns; this creates a plausible size estimate for a nanotech-built antipersonnel weapon capable of seeking and injecting toxin into unprotected humans. The human lethal dose of botulism toxin is about 100 nanograms, or about 1/100 the volume of the weapon. As many as 50 billion toxins carrying devices theoretically enough to kill every human on earth.

Fifth, Collective environmental damage is a natural consequence of cheap manufacturing, as are health risks. Molecular manufacturing allows the cheap creation of incredibly powerful devices and products. How many of these products will we want? What environmental damage will they do? The range of possible damage is vast, from personal low-flying supersonic aircraft injuring large numbers of animals to collection of solar energy on a sufficiently large scale to modify the planet's albedo and directly affect the environment.

Competing nanotech programs increase the danger the existence of multiple programs to develop molecular manufacturing greatly increases some of the risks listed above. Each program provides a separate opportunity for the technology to be stolen or otherwise released from restriction. Each nation with an independent program is potentially a separate player in a nanotech arms race.

The report highlighted several "potential military uses of nanotechnology that occurs between 2005-2010" with "potential for causing health hazards or environmental pollution" including:-

Nanomaterials (e.g., nanotubes) in uniforms and equipment that could break off and enter the body and environment.

Nanoparticles as surface coatings that may erode and be inhaled by military staff and the general population.

Artificial blood cells injected to enhance human athletic performance could cause overheating of the body, bio-breakdowns, and their excretion could add to the environmental load.

Large quantities of smart weapons with intelligent, target-seeking ammunition could lead to unexpected injury to combatants and civilians, destruction to infrastructure, and environmental pollution.

In 2011 the nanotechnology market could hit the US$1 trillion mark and so the possible negative effects of nanotechnology, such as those mentioned, could easily be overlooked. The problems of health vs. wealth were summed up in a March 2004 paper prepared for the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive's chief scientist, Paul Davies, wrote: "In the absence of complete and robust evidence of the risks HSC/E must work with stakeholders to promote and assure risk management of this technology without unnecessarily stifling innovation and wealth creation." What is the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) approach towards addressing this issues? What is the Islamic approach on nanotechnology and will/can nonotechnology change the Islamic syariah law?

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