Tag Archives: European Parliament

Technical University of Munich: embedded ethics approach for AI (artificial intelligence) and storing a tv series in synthetic DNA

I stumbled across two news bits of interest from the Technical University of Munich in one day (Sept. 1, 2020, I think). The topics: artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Embedded ethics and artificial intelligence (AI)

An August 27, 2020 Technical University of Munich (TUM) press release (also on EurekAlert but published Sept. 1, 2020) features information about a proposal to embed ethicists in with AI development teams,

The increasing use of AI (artificial intelligence) in the development of new medical technologies demands greater attention to ethical aspects. An interdisciplinary team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) advocates the integration of ethics from the very beginning of the development process of new technologies. Alena Buyx, Professor of Ethics in Medicine and Health Technologies, explains the embedded ethics approach.

Professor Buyx, the discussions surrounding a greater emphasis on ethics in AI research have greatly intensified in recent years, to the point where one might speak of “ethics hype” …

Prof. Buyx: … and many committees in Germany and around the world such as the German Ethics Council or the EU Commission High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence have responded. They are all in agreement: We need more ethics in the development of AI-based health technologies. But how do things look in practice for engineers and designers? Concrete solutions are still few and far between. In a joint pilot project with two Integrative Research Centers at TUM, the Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MSRM) with its director, Prof. Sami Haddadin, and the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), with Prof. Ruth Müller, we want to try out the embedded ethics approach. We published the proposal in Nature Machine Intelligence at the end of July [2020].

What exactly is meant by the “embedded ethics approach”?

Prof.Buyx: The idea is to make ethics an integral part of the research process by integrating ethicists into the AI development team from day one. For example, they attend team meetings on a regular basis and create a sort of “ethical awareness” for certain issues. They also raise and analyze specific ethical and social issues.

Is there an example of this concept in practice?

Prof. Buyx: The Geriatronics Research Center, a flagship project of the MSRM in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is developing robot assistants to enable people to live independently in old age. The center’s initiatives will include the construction of model apartments designed to try out residential concepts where seniors share their living space with robots. At a joint meeting with the participating engineers, it was noted that the idea of using an open concept layout everywhere in the units – with few doors or individual rooms – would give the robots considerable range of motion. With the seniors, however, this living concept could prove upsetting because they are used to having private spaces. At the outset, the engineers had not given explicit consideration to this aspect.

Prof.Buyx: The approach sounds promising. But how can we avoid “embedded ethics” from turning into an “ethics washing” exercise, offering companies a comforting sense of “being on the safe side” when developing new AI technologies?

That’s not something we can be certain of avoiding. The key is mutual openness and a willingness to listen, with the goal of finding a common language – and subsequently being prepared to effectively implement the ethical aspects. At TUM we are ideally positioned to achieve this. Prof. Sami Haddadin, the director of the MSRM, is also a member of the EU High-Level Group of Artificial Intelligence. In his research, he is guided by the concept of human centered engineering. Consequently, he has supported the idea of embedded ethics from the very beginning. But one thing is certain: Embedded ethics alone will not suddenly make AI “turn ethical”. Ultimately, that will require laws, codes of conduct and possibly state incentives.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper espousing the embedded ethics for AI development approach,

An embedded ethics approach for AI development by Stuart McLennan, Amelia Fiske, Leo Anthony Celi, Ruth Müller, Jan Harder, Konstantin Ritt, Sami Haddadin & Alena Buyx. Nature Machine Intelligence (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s42256-020-0214-1 Published 31 July 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Religion, ethics and and AI

For some reason embedded ethics and AI got me to thinking about Pope Francis and other religious leaders.

The Roman Catholic Church and AI

There was a recent announcement that the Roman Catholic Church will be working with MicroSoft and IBM on AI and ethics (from a February 28, 2020 article by Jen Copestake for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news online (Note: A link has been removed),

Leaders from the two tech giants met senior church officials in Rome, and agreed to collaborate on “human-centred” ways of designing AI.

Microsoft president Brad Smith admitted some people may “think of us as strange bedfellows” at the signing event.

“But I think the world needs people from different places to come together,” he said.

The call was supported by Pope Francis, in his first detailed remarks about the impact of artificial intelligence on humanity.

The Rome Call for Ethics [sic] was co-signed by Mr Smith, IBM executive vice-president John Kelly and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

It puts humans at the centre of new technologies, asking for AI to be designed with a focus on the good of the environment and “our common and shared home and of its human inhabitants”.

Framing the current era as a “renAIssance”, the speakers said the invention of artificial intelligence would be as significant to human development as the invention of the printing press or combustion engine.

UN Food and Agricultural Organization director Qu Dongyu and Italy’s technology minister Paola Pisano were also co-signatories.

Hannah Brockhaus’s February 28, 2020 article for the Catholic News Agency provides some details missing from the BBC report and I found it quite helpful when trying to understand the various pieces that make up this initiative,

The Pontifical Academy for Life signed Friday [February 28, 2020], alongside presidents of IBM and Microsoft, a call for ethical and responsible use of artificial intelligence technologies.

According to the document, “the sponsors of the call express their desire to work together, in this context and at a national and international level, to promote ‘algor-ethics.’”

“Algor-ethics,” according to the text, is the ethical use of artificial intelligence according to the principles of transparency, inclusion, responsibility, impartiality, reliability, security, and privacy.

The signing of the “Rome Call for AI Ethics [PDF]” took place as part of the 2020 assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which was held Feb. 26-28 [2020] on the theme of artificial intelligence.

One part of the assembly was dedicated to private meetings of the academics of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The second was a workshop on AI and ethics that drew 356 participants from 41 countries.

On the morning of Feb. 28 [2020], a public event took place called “renAIssance. For a Humanistic Artificial Intelligence” and included the signing of the AI document by Microsoft President Brad Smith, and IBM Executive Vice-president John Kelly III.

The Director General of FAO, Dongyu Qu, and politician Paola Pisano, representing the Italian government, also signed.

The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, was also present Feb. 28.

Pope Francis canceled his scheduled appearance at the event due to feeling unwell. His prepared remarks were read by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Academy for Life.

You can find Pope Francis’s comments about the document here (if you’re not comfortable reading Italian, hopefully, the English translation which follows directly afterward will be helpful). The Pope’s AI initiative has a dedicated website, Rome Call for AI ethics, and while most of the material dates from the February 2020 announcement, they are keeping up a blog. It has two entries, one dated in May 2020 and another in September 2020.

Buddhism and AI

The Dalai Lama is well known for having an interest in science and having hosted scientists for various dialogues. So, I was able to track down a November 10, 2016 article by Ariel Conn for the futureoflife.org website, which features his insights on the matter,

The question of what it means and what it takes to feel needed is an important problem for ethicists and philosophers, but it may be just as important for AI researchers to consider. The Dalai Lama argues that lack of meaning and purpose in one’s work increases frustration and dissatisfaction among even those who are gainfully employed.

“The problem,” says the Dalai Lama, “is … the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies. … Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.”

If feeling needed and feeling useful are necessary for happiness, then AI researchers may face a conundrum. Many researchers hope that job loss due to artificial intelligence and automation could, in the end, provide people with more leisure time to pursue enjoyable activities. But if the key to happiness is feeling useful and needed, then a society without work could be just as emotionally challenging as today’s career-based societies, and possibly worse.

I also found a talk on the topic by The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, first here’s a description from his bio at the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values webspace on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website,

… an innovative thinker, philosopher, educator and a polymath monk. He is Director of the Ethics Initiative at the MIT Media Lab and President & CEO of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Venerable Tenzin’s unusual background encompasses entering a Buddhist monastery at the age of ten and receiving graduate education at Harvard University with degrees ranging from Philosophy to Physics to International Relations. He is a Tribeca Disruptive Fellow and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Venerable Tenzin serves on the boards of a number of academic, humanitarian, and religious organizations. He is the recipient of several recognitions and awards and received Harvard’s Distinguished Alumni Honors for his visionary contributions to humanity.

He gave the 2018 Roger W. Heyns Lecture in Religion and Society at Stanford University on the topic, “Religious and Ethical Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence.” The video runs over one hour but he is a sprightly speaker (in comparison to other Buddhist speakers I’ve listened to over the years).

Judaism, Islam, and other Abrahamic faiths examine AI and ethics

I was delighted to find this January 30, 2020 Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Ethics and Religion event as it brought together a range of thinkers from various faiths and disciplines,

New technologies are transforming our world every day, and the pace of change is only accelerating.  In coming years, human beings will create machines capable of out-thinking us and potentially taking on such uniquely-human traits as empathy, ethical reasoning, perhaps even consciousness.  This will have profound implications for virtually every human activity, as well as the meaning we impart to life and creation themselves.  This conference will provide an introduction for non-specialists to Artificial Intelligence (AI):

What is it?  What can it do and be used for?  And what will be its implications for choice and free will; economics and worklife; surveillance economies and surveillance states; the changing nature of facts and truth; and the comparative intelligence and capabilities of humans and machines in the future? 

Leading practitioners, ethicists and theologians will provide cross-disciplinary and cross-denominational perspectives on such challenges as technology addiction, inherent biases and resulting inequalities, the ethics of creating destructive technologies and of turning decision-making over to machines from self-driving cars to “autonomous weapons” systems in warfare, and how we should treat the suffering of “feeling” machines.  The conference ultimately will address how we think about our place in the universe and what this means for both religious thought and theological institutions themselves.

UTS [Union Theological Seminary] is the oldest independent seminary in the United States and has long been known as a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship.  JTS [Jewish Theological Seminary] is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism and a major center for academic scholarship in Jewish studies. The Riverside Church is an interdenominational, interracial, international, open, welcoming, and affirming church and congregation that has served as a focal point of global and national activism for peace and social justice since its inception and continues to serve God through word and public witness. The annual Greater Good Gathering, the following week at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs, focuses on how technology is changing society, politics and the economy – part of a growing nationwide effort to advance conversations promoting the “greater good.”

They have embedded a video of the event (it runs a little over seven hours) on the January 30, 2020 Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Ethics and Religion event page. For anyone who finds that a daunting amount of information, you may want to check out the speaker list for ideas about who might be writing and thinking on this topic.

As for Islam, I did track down this November 29, 2018 article by Shahino Mah Abdullah, a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia,

As the global community continues to work together on the ethics of AI, there are still vast opportunities to offer ethical inputs, including the ethical principles based on Islamic teachings.

This is in line with Islam’s encouragement for its believers to convey beneficial messages, including to share its ethical principles with society.

In Islam, ethics or akhlak (virtuous character traits) in Arabic, is sometimes employed interchangeably in the Arabic language with adab, which means the manner, attitude, behaviour, and etiquette of putting things in their proper places. Islamic ethics cover all the legal concepts ranging from syariah (Islamic law), fiqh ( jurisprudence), qanun (ordinance), and ‘urf (customary practices).

Adopting and applying moral values based on the Islamic ethical concept or applied Islamic ethics could be a way to address various issues in today’s societies.

At the same time, this approach is in line with the higher objectives of syariah (maqasid alsyariah) that is aimed at conserving human benefit by the protection of human values, including faith (hifz al-din), life (hifz alnafs), lineage (hifz al-nasl), intellect (hifz al-‘aql), and property (hifz al-mal). This approach could be very helpful to address contemporary issues, including those related to the rise of AI and intelligent robots.


Part of the difficulty with tracking down more about AI, ethics, and various religions is linguistic. I simply don’t have the language skills to search for the commentaries and, even in English, I may not have the best or most appropriate search terms.

Television (TV) episodes stored on DNA?

According to a Sept. 1, 2020 news item on Nanowerk, the first episode of a tv series, ‘Biohackers’ has been stored on synthetic DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) by a researcher at TUM and colleagues at another institution,

The first episode of the newly released series “Biohackers” was stored in the form of synthetic DNA. This was made possible by the research of Prof. Reinhard Heckel of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and his colleague Prof. Robert Grass of ETH Zürich.

They have developed a method that permits the stable storage of large quantities of data on DNA for over 1000 years.

A Sept. 1, 2020 TUM press release, which originated the news item, proceeds with more detail in an interview format,

Prof. Heckel, Biohackers is about a medical student seeking revenge on a professor with a dark past – and the manipulation of DNA with biotechnology tools. You were commissioned to store the series on DNA. How does that work?

First, I should mention that what we’re talking about is artificially generated – in other words, synthetic – DNA. DNA consists of four building blocks: the nucleotides adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Computer data, meanwhile, are coded as zeros and ones. The first episode of Biohackers consists of a sequence of around 600 million zeros and ones. To code the sequence 01 01 11 00 in DNA, for example, we decide which number combinations will correspond to which letters. For example: 00 is A, 01 is C, 10 is G and 11 is T. Our example then produces the DNA sequence CCTA. Using this principle of DNA data storage, we have stored the first episode of the series on DNA.

And to view the series – is it just a matter of “reverse translation” of the letters?

In a very simplified sense, you can visualize it like that. When writing, storing and reading the DNA, however, errors occur. If these errors are not corrected, the data stored on the DNA will be lost. To solve the problem, I have developed an algorithm based on channel coding. This method involves correcting errors that take place during information transfers. The underlying idea is to add redundancy to the data. Think of language: When we read or hear a word with missing or incorrect letters, the computing power of our brain is still capable of understanding the word. The algorithm follows the same principle: It encodes the data with sufficient redundancy to ensure that even highly inaccurate data can be restored later.

Channel coding is used in many fields, including in telecommunications. What challenges did you face when developing your solution?

The first challenge was to create an algorithm specifically geared to the errors that occur in DNA. The second one was to make the algorithm so efficient that the largest possible quantities of data can be stored on the smallest possible quantity of DNA, so that only the absolutely necessary amount of redundancy is added. We demonstrated that our algorithm is optimized in that sense.

DNA data storage is very expensive because of the complexity of DNA production as well as the reading process. What makes DNA an attractive storage medium despite these challenges?

First, DNA has a very high information density. This permits the storage of enormous data volumes in a minimal space. In the case of the TV series, we stored “only” 100 megabytes on a picogram – or a billionth of a gram of DNA. Theoretically, however, it would be possible to store up to 200 exabytes on one gram of DNA. And DNA lasts a long time. By comparison: If you never turned on your PC or wrote data to the hard disk it contains, the data would disappear after a couple of years. By contrast, DNA can remain stable for many thousands of years if it is packed right.

And the method you have developed also makes the DNA strands durable – practically indestructible.

My colleague Robert Grass was the first to develop a process for the “stable packing” of DNA strands by encapsulating them in nanometer-scale spheres made of silica glass. This ensures that the DNA is protected against mechanical influences. In a joint paper in 2015, we presented the first robust DNA data storage concept with our algorithm and the encapsulation process developed by Prof. Grass. Since then we have continuously improved our method. In our most recent publication in Nature Protocols of January 2020, we passed on what we have learned.

What are your next steps? Does data storage on DNA have a future?

We’re working on a way to make DNA data storage cheaper and faster. “Biohackers” was a milestone en route to commercialization. But we still have a long way to go. If this technology proves successful, big things will be possible. Entire libraries, all movies, photos, music and knowledge of every kind – provided it can be represented in the form of data – could be stored on DNA and would thus be available to humanity for eternity.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Reading and writing digital data in DNA by Linda C. Meiser, Philipp L. Antkowiak, Julian Koch, Weida D. Chen, A. Xavier Kohll, Wendelin J. Stark, Reinhard Heckel & Robert N. Grass. Nature Protocols volume 15, pages86–101(2020) Issue Date: January 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41596-019-0244-5 Published [online] 29 November 2019

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for ‘Biohackers’, it’s a German science fiction television series and you can find out more about it here on the Internet Movie Database.

Oldest periodic table chart and a new ‘scarcity’ periodic table of elements at University of St. Andrews (Scotland)

The University of St. Andrews kicked off the new year (2019) by announcing the discovery of what’s believed to the world’s oldest periodic table chart. From a January 17, 2019 news item on phys.org

A periodic table chart discovered at the University of St Andrews is thought to be the oldest in the world.

The chart of elements, dating from 1885, was discovered in the University’s School of Chemistry in 2014 by Dr. Alan Aitken during a clear out. The storage area was full of chemicals, equipment and laboratory paraphernalia that had accumulated since the opening of the chemistry department at its current location in 1968. Following months of clearing and sorting the various materials a stash of rolled up teaching charts was discovered. Within the collection was a large, extremely fragile periodic table that flaked upon handling. Suggestions that the discovery may be the earliest surviving example of a classroom periodic table in the world meant the document required urgent attention to be authenticated, repaired and restored.

Courtesy: University of St. Andrews

A January 17, 2019 University of St. Andrews press release, which originated the news item, describes the chart and future plans for it in more detail,

Mendeleev made his famous disclosure on periodicity in 1869, the newly unearthed table was rather similar, but not identical to Mendeleev’s second table of 1871. However, the St Andrews table was clearly an early specimen. The table is annotated in German, and an inscription at the bottom left – ‘Verlag v. Lenoir & Forster, Wien’­ – identifies a scientific printer who operated in Vienna between 1875 and 1888. Another inscription – ‘Lith. von Ant. Hartinger & Sohn, Wien’ – identifies the chart’s lithographer, who died in 1890. Working with the University’s Special Collections team, the University sought advice from a series of international experts. Following further investigations, no earlier lecture chart of the table appears to exist. Professor Eric Scerri, an expert on the history of the periodic table based at the University of California, Los Angeles, dated the table to between 1879 and 1886 based on the represented elements. For example, both gallium and scandium, discovered in 1875 and 1879 respectively, are present, while germanium, discovered in 1886, is not.

In view of the table’s age and emerging uniqueness it was important for the teaching chart to be preserved for future generations. The paper support of the chart was fragile and brittle, its rolled format and heavy linen backing contributed to its poor mechanical condition. To make the chart safe for access and use it received a full conservation treatment. The University’s Special Collections was awarded a funding grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT) for the conservation of the chart in collaboration with private conservator Richard Hawkes (Artworks Conservation). Treatment to the chart included: brushing to remove loose surface dirt and debris, separating the chart from its heavy linen backing, washing the chart in de-ionised water adjusted to a neutral pH with calcium hydroxide to remove the soluble discolouration and some of the acidity, a ‘de-acidification’ treatment by immersion in a bath of magnesium hydrogen carbonate to deposit an alkaline reserve in the paper, and finally repairing tears and losses using a Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste. The funding also allowed production of a full-size facsimile which is now on display in the School of Chemistry. The original periodic table has been rehoused in conservation grade material and is stored in Special Collections’ climate-controlled stores in the University.

A researcher at the University, M Pilar Gil from Special Collections, found an entry in the financial transaction records in the St Andrews archives recording the purchase of an 1885 table by Thomas Purdie from the German catalogue of C Gerhardt (Bonn) for the sum of 3 Marks in October 1888. This was paid from the Class Account and included in the Chemistry Class Expenses for the session 1888-1889. This entry and evidence of purchase by mail order appears to define the provenance of the St Andrews periodic table. It was produced in Vienna in 1885 and was purchased by Purdie in 1888. Purdie was professor of Chemistry from 1884 until his retirement in 1909. This in itself is not so remarkable, a new professor setting up in a new position would want the latest research and teaching materials. Purdie’s appointment was a step-change in experimental research at St Andrews. The previous incumbents had been mineralogists, whereas Purdie had been influenced by the substantial growth that was taking place in organic chemistry at that time. What is remarkable however is that this table appears to be the only surviving one from this period across Europe. The University is keen to know if there are others out there that are close in age or even predate the St Andrews table.

Professor David O’Hagan, recent ex-Head of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, said: “The discovery of the world’s oldest classroom periodic table at the University of St Andrews is remarkable. The table will be available for research and display at the University and we have a number of events planned in 2019, which has been designated international year of the periodic table by the United Nations, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the table’s creation by Dmitri Mendeleev.”

Gabriel Sewell, Head of Special Collections, University of St Andrews, added: “We are delighted that we now know when the oldest known periodic table chart came to St Andrews to be used in teaching.  Thanks to the generosity of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the table has been preserved for current and future generations to enjoy and we look forward to making it accessible to all.”

They’ve timed their announcement very well since it’s UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019). My January 8, 2019 posting offers more information and links about the upcoming festivities. By the way, this year is also the table’s 150th anniversary.

Getting back to Scotland, scientists there have created a special Periodic Table of Elements charting ‘element scarcity’, according to a January 22, 2019 University of St. Andrews press release,

Scientists from the University of St Andrews have developed a unique periodic table which highlights the scarcity of elements used in everyday devices such as smart phones and TVs.

Chemical elements which make up mobile phones are included on an ‘endangered list’ in the landmark version of the periodic table to mark its 150th anniversary. Around ten million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone. The European Chemical Society (EuChemS), which represents more than 160,000 chemists, has developed the unique periodic table to highlight both the remaining availability of all 90 elements and their vulnerability.

The unique updated periodic table will be launched at the European Parliament today (Tuesday 22 January), by British MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody. The event will also highlight the recent discovery of the oldest known wallchart of the Periodic Table, discovered last year at the University of St Andrews.

Smartphones are made up of around 30 elements, over half of which give cause for concern in the years to come because of increasing scarcity – whether because of limited supplies, their location in conflict areas, or our incapacity to fully recycle them.

With finite resources being used up so fast, EuChemS Vice-President and Emeritus Professor in Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, Professor David Cole-Hamilton, has questioned the trend for replacing mobile phones every two years, urging users to recycle old phones correctly. EuChemS wants a greater recognition of the risk to the lifespan of elements, and the need to support better recycling practices and a true circular economy.

Professor David Cole-Hamilton said: “It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements.

“There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

“Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?”

Catherine Stihler, Labour MEP for Scotland and former Rector of the University of St Andrews, said: “As we mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, it’s fascinating to see it updated for the 21st century.

“But it’s also deeply worrying to see how many elements are on the endangered list, including those which make up mobile phones.

“It is a lesson to us all to care for the world around us, as these naturally-occurring elements won’t last forever unless we increase global recycling rates and governments introduce a genuine circular economy.”

Pilar Goya, EuChemS President, said: “For EuChemS, the supranational organisation representing more than 160,000 chemists from different European countries, the celebration of the International Year of the Periodic Table is a great opportunity to communicate the crucial role of chemistry in overcoming the challenges society will be facing in the near future.”

The new Periodic Table can be viewed online.

‘The Periodic Table and us: its history, meaning and element scarcity’ takes place at The European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium on 22 January 2019. The two-hour session features speakers from the chemical sciences as well as representatives from the European Parliament and the European Commission.

This year (2019) is the United Nations International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) and the 150th anniversary of scientist Dmitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the periodic system as we now know it. Natalia Tarasova, Past-President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), will present the IYPT2019.

The Periodic Table of chemical elements is one of the most significant scientific achievements and is today one of the best-known symbols of science, recognised and studied by people around the globe.

EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, coordinates the work of 48 chemical societies and other chemistry related organisations, representing more than 160,000 chemists. Through the promotion of chemistry and by providing expert and scientific advice, EuChemS aims to take part in solving today’s major societal challenges.

Here’s what the ‘new’ periodic table looks like:

Courtesy: University of St. Andrews and EuChemS

European Commission (EC) responds to a 2014 petition calling for a European Union (EU)-wide ban on microplastics and nanoparticles

Lynn Bergeson’s July 12, 2016 posting on Nanotechnology Now features information about the European Commission’s response to a petition to ban the use of microplastics and nanoparticles throughout the European Union,

On June 29, 2016, the European Commission (EC) provided a notice to the European Parliament regarding its response to a 2014 petition calling for a European Union (EU)-wide ban on microplastics and nanoparticles. … In its response, the EC states that nanoparticles “are ubiquitous in the environment,” and while some manufactured nanomaterials may potentially be carcinogenic, others are not. The EC states that the general regulatory framework on chemicals, along with the sectoral legislation, “are appropriate to assess and manage the risks from nanomaterials, provided that a case-by-case assessment is performed.” The EC notes that the need to modify the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation to include more specific requirements for nanomaterials was identified. According to the EC, a final impact assessment of the proposed changes is being prepared, and the modification of technical REACH Annexes to include specific considerations for nanomaterials is planned for early 2017. The EC states that it created a web portal intended to improve communication regarding nanomaterials, and that this web portal will soon be superseded by the EU Nano Observatory, which will be managed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

I was imagining the petition was made by a consortium of civil society groups but it seems it was initiated by an individual, Ludwig Bühlmeier. You can find the notice of the petition here and the petition itself (PDF) here. I believe the still current EC portal “… intended to improve communication regarding nanomaterials …” is the JRC (Joint Research Centre) Web Platform on Nanomaterials.

Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (part three of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

A May 14, 2014 news release on EurekAlert announced the release of volume 1 (in a projected 2-volume series) from the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in response to a request from President Barack Obama regarding the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative,

Bioethics commission plays early role in BRAIN Initiative
Calls for integrating ethics explicitly throughout neuroscience research ‘Everyone benefits when the emphasis is on integration, not intervention’

Washington, DC— Calling for the integration of ethics across the life of neuroscientific research endeavors, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released volume one of its two-part response to President Obama’s request related to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society, includes four recommendations for institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research including government agencies and other funders.

You can find volume one: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society here. For those who prefer the short story, here’s more from the news release,

“Neurological conditions—which include addiction, chronic pain, dementia, depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, among other conditions—affect more than one billion people globally. Neuroscience has begun to make important breakthroughs, but given the complexity of the brain, we must better understand it in order to make desired progress,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Bioethics Commission Chair. “But because research on our brains strikes at the very core of who we are, the ethical stakes of neuroscience research could not be higher. Ethicists and scientists should be together at the table in the earliest stages of research planning fostering a fluent two-way conversation. Too often in our nation’s past, ethical lapses in research have had tragic consequences and derailed scientific progress.”

President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to play a critical role in ensuring that neuroscientific investigational methods and protocols are consistent with sound ethical principles and practices. Specifically the President asked the Bioethics Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

“Our rapidly advancing knowledge of the nervous system – and ability to detect disease sometimes even before symptoms begin – has not yet led to much needed breakthroughs in treatment, repair, and prevention; the BRAIN initiative will hopefully accelerate the trajectory of discoveries against terrible neurologic maladies,” Commission Member and neuroimmunologist Stephen Hauser, M.D., said.

In its report the Bioethics Commission noted that when facing the promise of neuroscience, we are compelled to consider carefully scientific advances that have the potential to alter our conception of the very private and autonomous nature of self. Our understanding of the mind, our private thoughts, and our volition necessitates careful reflection about the scientific, societal, and ethical aspects of neuroscience endeavors. Integrating ethics explicitly and systematically into the relatively new field of contemporary neuroscience allows us to incorporate ethical insights into the scientific process and to consider societal implications of neuroscience research from the start. Early ethics integration can prevent the need for corrective interventions resulting from ethical mishaps that erode public trust in science.

“In short, everyone benefits when the emphasis is on integration, not intervention,” Gutmann said. “Ethics in science must not come to the fore for the first time after something has gone wrong. An essential step is to include expert ethicists in the BRAIN Initiative advisory and review bodies.”


In its report the Bioethics Commission noted that although ethics is already integrated into science in various ways, more explicit and systematic integration serves to elucidate implicit ethical judgments and allows their merits to be assessed more thoughtfully. The Commission offered four recommendations.

  1. Integrate ethics early and explicitly throughout research: Institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research should integrate ethics across the life of a research endeavor, identifying the key ethical questions associated with their research and taking immediate steps to make explicit their systems for addressing those questions. Sufficient resources should be dedicated to support ethics integration. Approaches to ethics integration discussed by the Bioethics Commission include:a. Implementing ethics education at all levels
    b. Developing institutional infrastructure to facilitate integration
    c. Researching the ethical, legal, and social implications of scientific research
    d. Providing research ethics consultation services
    e. Engaging with stakeholders
    f. Including an ethics perspective on the research team
  2. Evaluate existing and innovative approaches to ethics integration: Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that evaluates existing as well as innovative approaches to ethics integration. Institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research should take into account the best available evidence for what works when implementing, modifying, or improving systems for ethics integration.
  3. Integrate ethics and science through education at all levels: Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that develops innovative models and evaluates existing and new models for integrating ethics and science through education at all levels.
  4. Explicitly include ethical perspectives on advisory and review bodies: BRAIN Initiative-related scientific advisory and funding review bodies should include substantive participation by persons with relevant expertise in the ethical and societal implications of the neuroscience research under consideration.

Next the Bioethics Commission will consider the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly – ethical implications that a strongly integrated research and ethics infrastructure will be well equipped to address, and that myriad stakeholders, including scientists, ethicists, educators, public and private funders, advocacy organizations, and the public should be prepared to handle.

Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society is the Bioethics Commission’s seventh report. The Commission seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure that scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted by the United States in a socially and ethically responsible manner. The Commission is an independent, deliberative panel of thoughtful experts that advises the President and the Administration, and, in so doing, educates the nation on bioethical issues. To date the Commission has:

  • Advised the White House on the benefits and risks of synthetic biology;
  • Completed an independent historical overview and ethical analysis of the U.S. Public Health Service STD experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s;
  • Assessed the rules that currently protect human participants in research;
  • Examined the pressing privacy concerns raised by the emergence and increasing use of whole genome sequencing;
  • Conducted a thorough review of the ethical considerations of conducting clinical trials of medical countermeasures with children, including the ethical considerations involved in conducting a pre-and post-event study of anthrax vaccine adsorbed for post-exposure prophylaxis with children; and
  • Offered ethical analysis and recommendations for clinicians, researchers, and direct-to-consumer testing companies on how to manage the increasingly common issue of incidental and secondary findings.

David Bruggeman offers a few thoughts on this volume of the series in a May 14, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

Of specific application to the BRAIN Initiative is the need to include professionals with expertise in ethics in advisory boards and similar entities conducting research in this area.

Volume Two will focus more on the social and ethical implications of neuroscience research,  …

While it’s not mentioned in the news release, human enhancement is part of the discussion as per the hearing in February 2014. Perhaps it will be mentioned in volume two? Here’s an early post (July 27, 2009) I wrote in 2009 on human enhancement which provides some information about a then recent European Parliament report on the subject. The post was part of a series.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part two: BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (May 19, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

Summary of EHS studies on nanotechnology funded through Europe’s 7th Framework Programme

I was a little shocked to see how many EHS (environment, health, and safety) projects focussed on nanotechnology that the European Union (EU) funded as part of its overarching science funding efforts, the 7th Framework Program, due to be superseded in the near future (2013)) by the Horizon 2020 program. The June 18, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article submitted by NanoTrust, Austrian Academy of Sciences provides the reasoning for the EU  effort (Note: I have removed footnotes.),

The Action Plan, presented by the EU Commission in 2004, envisioned integrating “the social dimension into a responsible technology development” and strengthening efforts related to “health, safety, environmental aspects and consumer protection“.

This encompassed (1) the systematic study of safety-relevant aspects at the earliest possible date, (2) integrating health- and environment-relevant aspect in research and development, (3) conducting targeted studies on toxicology and ecotoxicology and, finally, (4) adapting risk assessment approaches to nano-specific aspects in all phases of product life-cycles.

The primary goal was to improve the competitiveness of European industry. The draft presented in mid-2011 for the planned research priorities continues this strategic focus.

The EU Parliament had already discussed the Nano Action Plan developed by the Commission before the start of the current Framework Program. From the onset, the relevant parliamentary resolution called for an improved coordination with the Member States and more risk research, consideration of the precautionary principle and a deepened dialogue with citizens.

The EU Parliament clearly felt that the rules require urgent adaptations in order to adequately consider nano-risks: In the resolution of April 2009 the parliamentarians underlined the existence of a considerable “lack of information about the use and safety of nanomaterials that are already on the market”.

The overall scope of the projects on nanotechnology, materials and production (NMP) funded by the 7th RP is listed at about 3.475 mill. €. According to EU sources, about 102 mill. € were earmarked for safety aspects (nanosafety research).The comparison with the much more modest Nano-EHS-budget in the past clearly shows the change here (5th RP: about 2.5 mill. €, 6th RP 6 about 30 mill. €).

The publication from where this information was drawn is no.30 in the NanoTrust Dossier series. It was published in May 2012 (from pp. 2-6),


Title: Engineered Nanoparticle Impact on Aquatic Environments: Structure, Activity and Toxicology

Coordinator: Andrew Nelson,
Centre for Molecular Nanosciences (CMNS), School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, UK
Duration: July 2009 to July 2012
Project costs: 3,655 mill. €
EU funding: 2,816 mill. €
Homepage: www.ennsatox.eu

The goal of ENNSATOX is to investigate the environmental effects of various synthetic nanoparticles from the time of their release to their potential uptake by organisms, particularly in rivers and lakes. …


Title: Risk Assessment of Engineered Nanoparticles

Coordinator: Lang Tran,
Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), Edinburg, UK
Duration: July 2009 to July 2012
Project costs: 5,13 mill. €
EU funding: 3,7 mill. €
Homepage: www.enpra.eu

ENPRA is examining the impacts of selected and commercially used nanomaterials, whereby the different target organs (lungs, cardiovascular system, kidneys etc.) and different mechanisms of damage (see Nano Trust-Dossier 012en) are being determined. …


Title: Health Impact of Engineered Metal and Metal Oxide Nanoparticles Response, Bioimaging and Distribution at Cellular and Body Level

Coordinator: Sergio E. Moya,
Centro de Investigación Cooperativa en Biomateriales (Spanien)
Duration: October 2009 to October 2012
Project costs: 2.93 mill. €
EU funding: 2.3 mill. €
Homepage: www.hinamox.eu

HINAMOX deals with the impacts of several metal-oxide nanoparticles – TiO2, ZnO, Al2O3, CeO2 etc. – on human health and on biological systems. …


Title: Intestinal, Liver and Endothelial Nanoparticle Toxicity – development and evaluation of a novel tool for high-throughput data generation

Coordinator: Martha Liley,
CSEM (Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique SA)
Duration: May 2009 to July 2012
Project costs: 3.42 mill. €
EU funding: 2.4 mill. €
Homepage: www.inlivetox.eu

In InLiveTox, an improved in-vitro model is being developed to describe the effects of nanoparticles taken up via food, especially effects on the gastrointestinal tract and the liver.  …


Title: Managing Risks of Nanomaterials

Coordinator: Lang Tran,
IOM (Institute of Occupational Medicine) Edinburgh, UK
Duration: November 2011 to November 2015
Project costs: 12.48 Mio. €
EU funding: 9.0 mill. €
Homepage: www.marina-fp7.eu and http://www.iom-world.org

A total of almost 50 industrial companies (including BASF) and scientific facilities are combined in the very large joint project MARINA, coordinated by the Institute of Occupational Medicine of the University of Edinburgh; other organizations that are involved in employee protection and occupational safety are also participating (FIOH/Finland, IST/Switzerland, RIVM/The Netherlands). …


Title: Modelling nanoparticle toxicity: principles, methods, novel approaches Toxicology

Coordinator: Eugenia Valsami-Jones,
Natural History Museum, London, UK
Duration: November 2011 to November 2013
Project costs: 1.28 mill. €
EU funding: 1.0 mill. €
Homepage: (under construction) lib.bioinfo.pl/projects/view/32734

The goal of ModNanoTox is to develop welldocumented models on the long-term behavior of synthetic nanoparticles in organisms and in the environment. …


Title: Development of Exposure Scenarios for Manufactured Nanomaterials

Coordinator: Martie van Tongeren,
Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), Edinburgh UK
Duration: December 2009 to November 2010
Project costs: 1.01 mill. €
EU funding: 0.95 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanex-project.eu, lib.bioinfo.pl/projects/view/12016

In NanEx, a catalog of realistic scenarios is being developed for potential impacts of synthetic nanoparticles at industrial workplaces, of various uses by consumers as well as of delayed releases into the environment. …


Title: Modelling Novel Concepts, Methods and Technologies for the Production of Portable, Easy-to-Use Devices for the Measurement and Analysis of Airborne Nanoparticles in Workplace Air

Coordinator: Kai Savolainen,
Finnish Institute for Occupational Health (FIOH), Finland
Duration: April 2009 to April 2013
Project costs: 12.28 mill. €
EU funding: 9.49 mill. €
Homepage: www.nano-device.eu

Due to the lack of robust and inexpensive instruments, the nanoparticle concentrations in the air at the workplace cannot be measured at the present time. NANODEVICE is devoted to studying innovative concepts and practicable methods for identifying synthetic nanomaterials, methods that can also be used at the workplace. …


Title: Nanoparticle Fate Assessment and Toxicity in the Environment

Coordinator: Klaus Svendsen,
NERC (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology),
Wallingford, UK
Duration: April 2010 to April 2014
Project costs: 3.25 mill. €
EU funding: 2.50 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanofate.eu

NanoFATE is devoted to systematically deepening our knowledge about the behavior and the fate of synthetic nanoparticles that enter the environment. …


Title: Towards a method for detecting the potential genotoxicity of nanomaterials

Coordinator: Anses – French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety
Duration: March 2010 to March 2014
Project costs: 6.0 mill. € EU funding: 2.90 mill. € (as co-funding though the program
EU-Health & Consumers)
Homepage: www.nanogenotox.eu/

Nanogenotox is not directly a part of the 7th RP but rather a Joint Action, about half of which is funded by the participating European states. The task of this project is to study the gene toxicity (i.e. the damaging effect on the genetic material of organisms) of selected nanomaterials. …


Title: Cycle of Nanoparticle-Based Products used in House-Coating

Coordinator: Francois Tardif,
CEA (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives), Grenoble, Frankreich
Duration: January 2010 to July 2013
Project costs: 3.1 mill. €
EU funding: 2.4 mill. €
Homepage: www-nanohouse.cea.fr

The task of NanoHouse is to comprehensively evaluate environmentally relevant and health-related effects of nanoproducts used in house construction; the focus is on paints and coatings with TiO2- and nanosilver components, whose impacts and fates are being more closely examined. …


Title: The European Network on the Health and Environmental Impact of Nanomaterials

Coordinator: Michael Riediker,
Institut universitaire romand der Santé au Travail, Schweiz (IST)
Duration: April 2008 to April 2012
Project costs: 3.19 mill. €
EU funding: 2.0 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanoimpactnet.eu

This large network of partner institutes from numerous countries is designed mainly to exchange information about new knowledge as well as knowledge gaps in the health- and environment-related impacts of nanoparticles. …


Title: Nanoparticles in Food: Analytical Methods for Detection and Characterisation

Coordinator: Stefan Weigel,
RIKILT – Institute of Food Safety, Niederlande
Duration: January 2010 to October 2013
Project costs: 4.05 mill. €
EU funding: 2.95 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanolyse.eu

The goal of NanoLyse is to develop approved methods for analyzing synthetic nanomaterials in food and drinks. …


Title: Comprehensive Assessment of Hazardous Effects of Engineered Nanomaterials on the Immune System Toxicology

Coordinator: Bengt Fadeel,
Karolinsk  Institutet, Stockholm
Duration: September 2008 to September 2011 (completed)
Project costs: 4.31 mill. €
EU funding: 3.36 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanommune.eu

NANOMMUNE examined the influence of synthetic nanomaterials on the immune system and their potential negative health effects. …


Title: Toxicological impact of nanomaterials derived from processing, weathering and recycling of polymer nanocomposites used in various industrial applications

Coordinator: Socorro Vázquez-Campos,
LEITAT Technological Centre, Barcelona, Spain
Duration: May 2010 to May 2013
Project costs: 3.30 mill. €
EU funding: 2.43 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanopolytox.eu

NanoPolyTox is tasked with determining the changes in the physical and toxic properties of three different nanomaterials (nanotubes, nano-clay minerals, metal-oxide nanoparticles) that are used in combination with polymers as filling materials.  …


Title: The reactivity and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles: risks to the environment and human health

Coordinator: Eugenia Valsami-Jones,
Natural History Museum, London, UK
Duration: December 2008 to December 2012
Project costs: 5.19 mill. €
EU funding: 3.19 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanoretox.eu

NanoReTox is designed to better describe the EHS-risks of synthetic nanomaterials based on new research results. …


Title: Development of sustainable solutions for nanotechnology-based products based on hazard characterization and LCA

Coordinator: Rudolf Reuther,
NordMilijö AB, Sweden
Duration: May 2010 to May 2013
Project costs: 3.2 mill. €
EU funding: 2.5 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanosustain.eu

NanoSustain is designed to develop innovative solutions for all phases in dealing with nanotechnology products – up until the landfill or recycling stage. Four nanomaterials are being examined in greater detail: nano-cellulose, CNT, nano-TiO2, as well as nano-ZnO. …


Title: Modelling basis and kinetics of nanoparticle interaction with membranes, uptake into cells, and sub-cellular and inter-compartmental transport

Coordinator: Kenneth Dawson,
University College, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: November 2011 to November 2014
Project costs: 1.3 mill. €
EU funding: 0.99 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanotranskinetics.eu

The aim of NanoTransKinetics is to substantially improve the models used to describe biological (and therefore also toxic) interrelationships between nanoparticles and living organisms.  …


Title: Development of reference methods for hazard identification, risk assessment and LCA of engineered nanomaterials

Coordinator: Rudolf Reuther,
NordMiljö AB, Sweden
Duration: November 2011 to November 2015
Project costs: 13.4 mill. €
EU funding: 9.6 mill. €
Homepage: www.nanovalid.eu

The aim of NanoValid is to develop reference methods and materials to identify and assess the risks of synthetic nanomaterials in close cooperation with the similarly oriented project MARINA (see above). …


Title: Nanomaterials-related environmental pollution and health hazards throughout their life-cycle

Coordinator: EKOTEK S.L. (Spanien)
Duration: September 2009 to September 2012
Project costs: 3.1 mill. €
EU funding: 2.5 mill. €
Homepage: www.nephh-fp7.eu

NEPHH seeks to better estimate the environmental and health-related risks of nanostructures over the course of their use. …


Title: Do nanoparticles induce neurodegenerative diseases? Understanding the origin of reactive oxidative species and protein aggregation and mis-folding phenomena in the presence of nanoparticles

Coordinator: Kenneth Dawson,
University College, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: February 2009 toFebruary 2012
Project costs: 4.8 mill. €
EU funding: 2.5 mill. €
Homepage: www.neuronano.eu

To date, the full details on the factors that allow nanoparticles to pass the blood-brain barrier are unknown15. NeuroNano examines the effect of nanoparticle size, shape and composition, along with the role of the adsorbed corona of biomolecules (see above). …


Title: A pan-european infrastructure for quality in nanomaterials safety testing

Coordinator: Kenneth Dawson,
University College, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: February 2011 to February 2015
Project costs: 9.2 mill. €
EU funding: 7.0 mill. €
Homepage: www.qnano-ri.eu

Rather than being devoted to a separate research topic, QNano is designed to interlink and support facilities that provide the necessary infrastructure for investigating and characterizing nanosubstances. …

That’s quite the list, eh?

Nanomaterial regulatory frameworks: what’s all the fuss?

I’ve dug up more information on nanomaterials and regulatory frameworks but before I launch off into the discussion I think it might be interesting to take a look at this graphic of a plant’s potential uptake of various nanomaterials as it illustrates some of the reasons why there’s so much interest in this topic.

Downloaded from the June 7, 2011 article, Nano & The Food Chain: Another Puzzle by Gwyneth K. Shaw for the New Haven Independent (the graphic was originally published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry),


Shaw’s article is about a study (Interaction of Nanoparticles with Edible Plants and Their Possible Implications in the Food Chain [this is behind a paywall]) by researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso, which reviews current studies in the field and suggests that as nanoparticles enter the food chain we need to consider cumulative effects.

Meanwhile, the discussion about developing regulatory frameworks and whether or not we need to have a definition for nanomaterials before setting a regulatory framework continues. From the June 7, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union organized a high level event on September 14, 2010, bringing together representatives of various associations (consumers, environmental protection, workers, industrial federations), scientists, regulatory experts as well as national and European regulatory bodies, in order to review the legislative initiatives in progress with regard to nanomaterials and to establish an operational framework for the management of incidents in the short term and to achieve improved risk management in the long term.

Initially I confused this meeting with the March 2011 meeting mentioned in my April 14, 2011 posting but I gather there are a number of meetings (some of which seem remarkably similar) on the topic with various European Union groups and subgroups. The September 2010 meeting was under the auspices of the European Union and the March 2011 meeting was under the auspices of the European Commission (which I believe is part of the European Union bureaucracy). In any event, the September 2010 meeting resulted in a set of objectives being set (from the news item),

THE [European Union] PRESIDENCY CONCLUDES THAT, IN ORDER TO protect the workers, consumers health and the environment, and at the same time guarantee the development of a secure and sound economy based notably on innovation and societally acceptable industrial applications that create quality jobs, THE FOLLOWING OBJECTIVES MUST BE REACHED, IN RELATION TO NANOMATERIALS, PRODUCTS CONTAINING NANOMATERIALS AND NANOTECHNOLOGIES:


  • to effectively address their potential risks and uncertainties, at the earliest, and thus ensure a high level of environment and health protection;
  • to consider their challenges transversally, across sectors, disciplines and regulations;
  • in parallel, to implement specific regulatory measures to deal with their particularities;
  • to appropriately inform and consult consumers, workers and citizens;


  • to develop the necessary scientific knowledge in a global, coordinated and open manner;
  • to be proactive and to anticipate when dealing with the risks and uncertainties of new technological developments.


  • to take up responsibilities at the Member States level and, during a transitory period, draw up coordinated and integrated national strategies and concrete measures in favour of risk management, information and monitoring;
  • to develop urgently a regulatory definition for nanomaterials that must include nanomaterials all along their lifecycle, including into substances, products, articles, wearing residues and waste; [emphasis mine]
  • to consider nanotechnology as a priority into a future 2nd Environment and Health Action Plan, including inter alia basic and applied research related to them, their specific potential risks, their traceability and the link between innovation, environment and health safety;
  • to clarify the various issues that remain presently unaddressed in the Commission proposals to adapt REACH to the nanomaterials and, in addition to the adaptations to the guidances to include significant modifications into the REACH 2012 review, including the lowering of the tonnage triggers for nanomaterials, modifications to data requirements in REACH annexes, consideration of nanomaterials as new substances, annexes V (exemptions) and XIII review (PBT, vPvB) and the inclusion in REACH of a definition of nanomaterials and articles containing nanomaterials;
  • to increase public and private resources, especially the financial inputs to the OECD WPMN, with the goal of obtaining results to be used for regulatory purposes as soon as possible;
  • to develop harmonized compulsory databases of nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials;
  • such databases must be the base for traceability, market surveillance, gaining knowledge for better risk prevention and for the improvement of the legislative framework;
  • to take into account, in the design of such databases, the need for providing information to the citizens, workers and consumers regarding nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials as well as the industry’s need for data protection;
  • claims made on labels of products containing nanomaterials must be regulated and the requirements to inform the consumer of the presence of nanomaterials in consumer products must be defined;
  • to consider sustainability, societal benefits, demands for public participation, and ethical considerations in the public investments in innovative technologies;
  • to establish a systematic, balanced and appropriate link between on the one hand the assessment of risk, early warnings and uncertainties and on the other hand the public investments in innovative technologies in general and nanotechnologies in particular, including financing mechanisms that take such a link into account;
  • to consider research in toxicology and ecotoxicology of nanomaterials, as well as their fate along the whole lifecycle as a high priority.

There is a school of thought that a regulatory framework can be put in place without establishing a definition beforehand as per my April 15, 2011 posting where I mentioned Dr. Andrew Maynard’s proposal and expressed some hesitation. I see Dexter Johnson (of the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), after interviewing Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Research & Innovation for the European Commission at the EuroNano Forum 2011 in Budapest, Hungary, has weighed in with this in his May 31, 2011 posting,

Below is an audio recording I made of my exchange with Mr. Strohmeier. Interestingly, according to him, the definition was necessary for educating EU citizens as much as for developing regulations. …

In fairness, I didn’t really get a chance to follow up with Mr. Strohmeier to see if he could see the problems that arise when you arbitrarily arrive at a definition that may not always reflect the latest science on the topic. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that a definition that is as much about mollifying the public as it is about good science has inherent risks itself. [emphases mine]

I take Dexter’s and Andrew’s point about the potential problems that creating a definition for what I’m going to call ‘public relations purposes’ could cause but I still haven’t grasped how one would create a regulatory framework without a definition of some kind (but maybe that’s just the writer in me).

All of this certainly puts the Canadian situation into perspective. There’s an interim definition in place. As for a regulatory framework, it appears that the government (Health Canada) favours a case by case approach as per their plans to investigate nanosunscreens (noted in my June 3, 2011 posting).

Europeans to label engineered nano-scale ingredients in food

According to a news item on Nanowerk,

The European Parliament has demanded mandatory labelling of all products containing nano ingredients and acknowledged that specific methods to test the safety of nanomaterials are needed. Until these methods are available, food containing nanomaterials should not enter the EU market.

More specifically, Members of the European Parliament voted on this measure July 7, 2010,

The European Parliament agreed that nano-sized ingredients and food from nanotech processes should be subject to novel foods regulations. They furthermore called for a moratorium until specifically-designed risk assessment of nanotechnology processes or nano-ingredients can prove them to be safe, expressing concerns that nanotechnology is already being used in food and food packaging. Any approved nano-ingredients should be mentioned on food labels.

I wonder what impact this legislation will have elsewhere including Canada.

Europe’s definition of nanomaterials for regulatory purposes? Maybe not so much.

The European Commission has just released a reference report for a definition of nanomaterials which will set the base for a regulatory framework in Europe. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Despite the growing utilisation of engineered nanomaterials in consumer products and innovative technological applications, there is at present no widely accepted definition of the term “nanomaterial” that is suitable as a basis for legislation on their safe use. Responding to a request of the European Parliament, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) published today a reference report entitled “Considerations on a definition of nanomaterial for regulatory purposes” (pdf download).

The report discusses possible elements of a definition aiming at reducing ambiguity and confusion for regulators, industry and the general public. It recommends that the specific term “particulate nanomaterial” should be employed in legislation to avoid inconsistencies with other definitions and that size should be used as the only defining property. [emphases mine]

I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed, especially so after reading (very quickly) the report. The best I can say about the report is that it provides a good summary of the definitions for nanomaterials that have been proposed by various international organizations, government entities, and countries in Europe, as well as, including the US, Canada, and Australia. (I have my fingers crossed that one day there’ll be a report that mentions some other jurisdictions as well.)

Here’s the definition as recommended in the report,

For a definition aimed for regulatory purposes the term ‘nanomaterial’ in its current general understanding is not considered appropriate. Instead, the more specific term ‘particulate nanomaterial’ is suggested.

The term ‘material’ is proposed to refer to a single or closely bound ensemble of substances at least one of which is a condensed phase, where the constituents of substances are atoms and molecules.

For a basic and clear definition of ‘particulate nanomaterial’, which is broadly applicable and enforceable, it is recommended not to include properties other than size.

For the size range of the nanoscale, a lower limit of 1 nm and an upper limit of 100 nm or higher should be chosen.

The questions of size distribution, shape, and state of agglomeration or aggregation, may need to be addressed specifically in subsequently developed legislation. It is also likely that certain particulate materials of concern that fall outside a general definition might have to be listed in specific legislation.

Additional qualifiers, like specific physico-chemical properties or attributes such as ‘engineered’ or ‘manufactured’ may be relevant in the scope of specific regulations. (p. 31 print version, p. 33 PDF)

Given the work in the report, this seems a remarkably modest recommendation that could almost have been written prior. It’s almost as if they made a survey of the current recommendations and pulled together the most commonly occurring and least contentious versions to create a relatively innocuous definition.