, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 1-10,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 25 Aug 2009

Is there a shift to “active nanostructures”?

Abstract

It has been suggested that an important transition in the long-run trajectory of nanotechnology development is a shift from passive to active nanostructures. Such a shift could present different or increased societal impacts and require new approaches for risk assessment. An active nanostructure “changes or evolves its state during its operation,” according to the National Science Foundation’s (2006) Active Nanostructures and Nanosystems grant solicitation. Active nanostructure examples include nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), nanomachines, self-healing materials, targeted drugs and chemicals, energy storage devices, and sensors. This article considers two questions: (a) Is there a “shift” to active nanostructures? (b) How can we characterize the prototypical areas into which active nanostructures may emerge? We build upon the NSF definition of active nanostructures to develop a research publication search strategy, with a particular intent to distinguish between passive and active nanotechnologies. We perform bibliometric analyses and describe the main publication trends from 1995 to 2008. We then describe the prototypes of research that emerge based on reading the abstracts and review papers encountered in our search. Preliminary results suggest that there is a sharp rise in active nanostructures publications in 2006, and this rise is maintained in 2007 and through to early 2008. We present a typology that can be used to describe the kind of active nanostructures that may be commercialized and regulated in the future.