Delineating the emergence of nanotechnologies that offer new functionalities is an important element in an anticipatory approach to the governance of nanotechnology and its potential impacts. This paper examines the transition to next generation active nanotechnologies which incorporate functions that respond to the environment or systems concepts that combine devices and structures that are dynamic and which may change their states in use. We develop an approach to identifying these active nanotechnologies and then use bibliometric analysis to examine the extent of research papers and patents involving these concepts. We also examine references to environmental, health, and safety concepts in these papers, given that these next generation nanotechnologies are likely to have risk profiles that are different from those of first-generation passive nanomaterials. Our results show a steady growth overall in focus on active nanotechnologies in the research literature and in patents over the study period of 1990-2010. We also find an increase in consideration given to environmental, health, and safety topics. While gaps are highlighted in our understanding of research and innovation in active nanotechnologies, the results suggest that there is beginning to be a shift to active nanotechnologies, with the implication that governance processes need to be conscious of this shift and to prepare for it.
- Active nanotechnology
- Environmental, health, and safety
- Science and technology survey
- Systems of nanotechnology