Nanotechnology in our everyday lives

We have talked about the use of nanotechnology in consumer products in this blog before. It seems that “nano” is transitioning from a catchy marketing buzzword to a long-lasting industrial sector.

To better understand how nanotechnology is continuing to grow in the marketplace, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Wilson Center developed the Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory (CPI, for short). This inventory was developed in 2005 and gathered a lot of attention from academia because it became an easy to cite, reputable testament of why we should be studying the potential environmental and health implications of nanotechnology.

The CPI is a free online resource that anyone can use if they are curious to know what kinds of consumer products are using nanotechnology to make them better, faster, stronger, or even anti-microbial. The best part about it is that you can help too! By creating an account, you can become a contributor. So, say you go to the store (whether it’s a real physical store or an online one) and you come across a consumer product that advertises to use nanotechnology. You can go to the CPI website and add that product to the inventory! It’s sort of like a Wikipedia for nano consumer products.

We just finished revitalizing this interesting inventory and we pulled a lot of data from it to analyze the growth of the nanotechnology consumer product industry. Check out the results of our research in this open access paper.

One of the main things we noticed is that while many consumer products come and go out of the market every year–sometimes because companies go out of business or change names, or product lines change seasonally–the total number of consumer products persists to grow over time.

CPI
The number of different of nanotechnology consumer products growing over time. (source: http://www.beilstein-journals.org/bjnano/single/articleFullText.htm?publicId=2190-4286-6-181)

One important caveat is that we are likely to be grossly undercounting electronics applications. The main reason for it is that even though practically every computer chip in the world has some nanoscale components, the companies do not advertise that as a major selling point. In this inventory, we are mostly counting products that actively advertise to use nanotechnology.

In my opinion, nanotechnology will grow into becoming so commonplace in the industrial world that we will start to see companies adverting it less and less. In other worlds, nanotechnology will become part of our everyday lives. A consumer product advertising the use of nanotechnology will be like looking to buy a computer and seeing that they advertise the ability to connect to the internet. Unless you are trying to buy a computer in 1995, that ad will sound a bit silly.

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For more information on this work, see this recently published paper (open access, free to read):
Vance, Marina E., Todd Kuiken, Eric P. Vejerano, Sean P. McGinnis, Michael F. Hochella Jr, David Rejeski, and Matthew S. Hull. “Nanotechnology in the real world: Redeveloping the nanomaterial consumer products inventory.” Beilstein journal of nanotechnology 6, no. 1 (2015): 1769-1780.

 

About the Author:  Dr. Marina Vance is the Associate Director for VTSuN: Virginia Tech’s Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology and a research scientist of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) at Virginia Tech.
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