Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Prince Charles slams nanotechnology


Britain's Prince Charles has fired a new broadside at the scientific community, warning them of the dangers of the breakthrough science of nanotechnology.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, the heir to the throne welcomes the "triumph of human ingenuity" working with extremely small particles -- a nano is a measurement of a billionth of a meter, or 1/80,000 the diameter of a human hair.

But Prince Charles, who is a committed environmentalist, also shares the concerns of John Carroll, retired professor of engineering at Cambridge University, who has given evidence to a Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering study on nanotechnology.

"Referring to the thalidomide disaster, he [Carroll] says it `would be surprising if nanotechnology did not offer similar upsets unless appropriate care and humility is observed,'" wrote Prince Charles.

Thalidomide was once used as a morning sickness treatment for pregnant women in the 1960s, but it was removed from the market when it was found to lead to birth defects.

Prince Charles's scientific salvos -- in the past he has warned of the "disastrous consequences" of genetically modified crops and supported the use of alternative medicine -- have not always been well received by scientists.

In 2000 Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, dismissed Charles' intervention on genetically modified food, advising him to go back to school.

Last week Michael Baum, a professor emeritus of surgery at University College London, said the heir to the throne "may have overstepped the mark" by promoting unproven therapies for cancer such as coffee enemas and carrot juice.

Unbowed, Prince Charles insisted scientists must listen to the worries of interested parties like himself.

"He [Carroll] hopes that the investigation will `consider seriously those features that concern non-specialists and not just dismiss those concerns as ill-informed or Luddite.' There will also, I believe, have to be significantly greater social awareness, humility and openness on the part of the proponents of emerging nanotechnologies than we have seen with other so-called `technological advances' of recent years."

Nanotechnology has fascinated scientists with its possibilities to develop minuscule computers and tiny medical devices.

But it has also inspired fears about the dangers of nanoparticles and a fictional account of a plague of self-replicating robots turning the world into grey goo.

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