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November 14, 2012
A colorful history for nanotechnology

Nanostructured materials are not a new phenomenon. NIOSH points out that in medieval times, the red and yellow hues achieved in stained glass resulted from the presence of nanometer-diameter gold and silver particles.

What’s different, however, is “the ability to probe, manipulate, understand, and engineer matter at atomic scales,” which is a relatively recent development. In a 1959 lecture titled There’s plenty of room at the bottom, Nobel laureate Professor Richard P. Feynman introduced the idea of a new field of nanotech research.

Developments, including the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope in 1981, have made nanoscale science a reality. Applications are everywhere—from nanoscale titanium dioxide in cosmetics, sun blocks, and self-cleaning windows, to nanoscale silica used as filler in dental products. Stain-free fabrics and longer-lasting tennis balls are other examples.

NIOSH continues to pursue research on nanotechnology and occupational health and safety. Questions under discussion include:

  • Are workers exposed to nanomaterials in the manufcture and use of other nanomaterials? If so, what are the characteristics and levels of exposure?
  • Are there adverse health effects involved in working with these materials?
  • What work practices, PPE, and engineering controls are available, and how effective are they?
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