Science - October 11, 2012

Science cafe Wageningen - Nanotechnology: beyond the promises

Text:
Arno van 't Hoog

Medical applications no longer science fiction. 'Discussion about risks of nanotechnology must intensify.'

Nanotechnology focuses on the manipulation of materials and processes at the level of the individual molecule. A field that is surrounded by high expectations and debate about risks. This is the topic of the next Science Café Wageningen.
One of the guests, Twente professor of Nanofluidics Jan Eijkel, will talk about the medical applications of nanotechnology. He works in a research group which is developing nanotechnology for medical diagnostics: lab-on-a-chip. With this technology substances in the blood can quite easily be drawn into the chip, where microscopic channels are used for division and detection. The volume in which the chip takes measurements is only a couple of picolitres (one picolitre is one billionth of a litre). One of the future uses of the lab-on-a-chip will be to measure lithium levels in the blood of bipolar disorder patients. Lithium is a medicine for them and maintaining the right blood levels is very important. The test is compact and, like the blood sugar test for diabetics, can be carried out by the patients themselves.
Martien Cohen Stuart
Discussions about the risks of nanotechnology often focus on environmental pollution or undesirable exposure to nanoparticles, says Eijkel. According to the researcher, these debates should accompany the development of nanotechnology. 'That discussion about the consequences for society should actually be conducted much more intensively. It is not just a matter of particles, but also of health care and the relationship between doctor and patient. The implications are not of course unique to nanotechnology. So I prefer not to talk about impact or the broad implications of nanotechnology. Whether you see it as risky partly depends on the value you place on it.'
The other guest at this Science Café is Wageningen professor Martien Cohen Stuart, who will give an overview of the basic principles of nanotechnology. His research group, Physical Chemistry and Colloid Science, does research on soft matter such as gels and foams and the accumulation of macromolecules in living cells.
Science Café Wageningen, 25 October at 20.00 in café Loburg

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