IoP invites prince to meet 'grey-goo' experts

May 2, 2003

The Institute of Physics is planning to invite Prince Charles to a seminar on nanotechnology.

The organisation is keen to encourage an informed discussion following reports that the prince has asked to meet scientists from the Royal Society to discuss the "enormous environmental and social risks" of the technology.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation and manufacture of devices at the atomic level. The Prince of Wales is anxious that emerging nanotechnologies are receiving considerable government funding even though they may not be adequately regulated.

But scientists dismiss the so-called "grey goo" catastrophe - the fear that millions of tiny molecular nano-robots designed to share intelligence might replicate themselves and take over the planet.

Mervyn Miles, who is on the editorial board of the IoP's Nanotechnology journal, told The THES : "This is just science fiction. It's all very far-fetched. And nature already does these things. We have bacteria which exist to scavenge and clear up and we haven't turned into grey goo."

Professor Miles is concerned that such speculation will affect public opinion.

He said: "We're going to end up having a debate about something that isn't really happening. It's very frustrating."

The chair of the Commons science and technology committee, Ian Gibson, has warned that a high-profile figure such as Prince Charles should be careful not to give credence to science scare stories.

Instead, the Institute of Physics is keen to promote the "enormous potential" of nanotechnology. It says work in this area will result in new materials; smaller, more powerful computers; more efficient and non-invasive medical diagnoses and treatments; and a reduction in energy waste.

Its seminar will discuss the UK's participation in defining nanotechnology and the potential for exploiting it commercially.

Nanotechnology web debate hosted by chemistry Nobel laureate Harry Kroto:
www.thes.co.uk/commonroom

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