Standards for Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology relies on standards through at least three concepts:

  1. Documentary standards define agreed-upon terminology or standard language for a field of science, engineering, or technology; they are agreed-upon means for conducting measurements; agreed-upon performance characteristics of instruments or commercial products; and particularly, they are documented agreements on means to facilitate trade and commerce.
  2. Standards often refer to standard reference materials, materials that are certified by a national standards laboratory to have specified characteristics traceable to an international system of the fundamental system of physical units of measurement.
  3. Standards generally refer to the fundamental physical realization of the units of measurement defined in the International System of Units (SI).

The SI's base units of standards are widely accepted in science and technology and set measurement standards agreed to through the Convention of the Meter, a diplomatic treaty between fifty-four nations. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), located in Sèvres near Paris, France, has the task of ensuring world-wide uniformity of measurements and their traceability to the SI basic units.

There are seven base quantities: length, mass, time, electric current, thermodynamic temperature, amount of substance, and luminous intensity. Although these seven quantities are by convention regarded as independent, their respective base units—the meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, mole, and candela—are in a number of instances interdependent. In nanotechnology all the base units have relevance to the instruments used and the measurements performed by researchers in academia, government, and industry. These base units also form the foundation for commerce and business. In particular, the unit of length at the nanoscale, the nanometer, is derived from the base unit meter by subdividing the meter by a factor of one billion. Another unit derived from the base units that is of particular use in nanotechnology is the unit of force, the Newton. The force exerted by the cantilevers used in atomic force microscopes is typically specified in terms of nanoNewtons or one-billionth of a Newton.  (For reference, a Newton is force about equal to the weight of an apple.)

The SI globally accepted nanotechnology standards are vital to continued progress in the field’s research and development, and for safe, secure, and responsible commercialization of nanotechnology in the years ahead. Standards are important to businesses, consumers, and researchers.

Around the world, there are numerous nanotechnology standards-setting groups. Some of the leading standards setting organizations and their relevant nanotechnology committees are:

These groups develop voluntary standards. Standards that are the best formulated, with the strongest basis in science, are most likely to be adopted by the global community. U.S. leadership and participation in the international standards-setting process allows the United States to help shape the strategic and technical direction of nanotechnology development everywhere.

U.S. Federal research related to measurement within science and technology is led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The standards community is actively involved in nanotechnology standardization, including ASTM International’s Committee E56 on Nanotechnology and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO TC 229, Nanotechnologies. ANSI now hosts a Nanotechnology Standards Database.

ANSI administers the U.S. TAG to ISO TC 229, which is responsible for formulating positions and proposals on behalf of the United States with regard to ISO standardization activities related to nanotechnology. The United States holds the leadership of the ISO/TC 229 Working Group on health, safety, and environment.