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WHAT do the following have in common: Roger Federer's tennis racket, a selfcleaning paving stone, and a pot of anti-wrinkle cream?

The answer is that they all use nanotechnology, science's version of the smallest show on earth which involves the manipulation of submicroscopic particles up to 80,000 times finer than a human hair.

Nanotechnology has already been the subject of controversy, with the Prince of Wales drawing attention to one scientist's fears that unchecked research could lead to swarms of self-replicating robots the size of bacteria - or nanobots - feeding off natural matter and turning the planet into grey goo.

Now an exhibition at the Science Museum in London is turning the spotlight on to the positive aspects of nanotechnology - and the vast array of products which use it and are already available in the shops.

The exhibition covers everything from medical sensors which test whether people are at risk of a heart attack, to socks which stop feet from smelling.

Exhibition developer Alex Gaffikin said: " Nanotechnology is going to be the next big thing. But most people have no idea what it is or how it is going to affect them."

Like most people in the scientific community, she dismissed the "grey goo" fears as no more than science fantasy.

But there are still real concerns surrounding nanotechnology, such as what happens when nano- part icles are released into the atmosphere or are used in food and medicine.

Professor Anthony Seaton of Aberdeen University said: "We must be careful about injecting loose nano-particles into the human body and the environment.

Exposure to large numbers of these particles could be harmful."

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace, said: "We are aware of the fact that the interests of those who own and control the new technologies largely determine how a new technology will be used.

"Any technology placed in the hands of those who care little about the possible environmental, health and social impacts is potentially disastrous."

In acknowledgement of the controversy, visitors to the exhibition are being asked to submit their views so they can be passed to the Department of Trade and Industry and a body of politicians and scientists organised by the British association SmallTalk. …


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