Is adaptation or transformation needed? Active nanomaterials and risk analysis

  • Jennifer KuzmaEmail author
  • John Patrick Roberts
Research Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Focus on Anticipatory Governance of Next Generation Nanotechnology


Nanotechnology has been a key area of funding and policy for the United States and globally for the past two decades. Since nanotechnology research and development became a focus and nanoproducts began to permeate the market, scholars and scientists have been concerned about how to assess the risks that they may pose to human health and the environment. The newest generation of nanomaterials includes biomolecules that can respond to and influence their environments, and there is a need to explore whether and how existing risk-analysis frameworks are challenged by such novelty. To fill this niche, we used a modified approach of upstream oversight assessment (UOA), a subset of anticipatory governance. We first selected case studies of “active nanomaterials,” that are early in research and development and designed for use in multiple sectors, and then considered them under several, key risk-analysis frameworks. We found two ways in which the cases challenge the frameworks. The first category relates to how to assess risk under a narrow framing of the term (direct health and environmental harm), and the second involves the definition of what constitutes a “risk” worthy of assessment and consideration in decision making. In light of these challenges, we propose some changes for risk analysis in the face of active nanostructures in order to improve risk governance.


Biotechnology Genetic engineering Nanotechnology Risk analysis Governance Regulation 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Award to the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (Guston) and Ndnano at Notre Dame (Eggleson) #1235693 and by the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University ( The findings and observations contained in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public and International Affairs and Genetic Engineering and Society CenterNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.School of Public and International AffairsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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