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 November 2006
Tech News

Nanotechnology Committee Approves First Standard

ASTM International Committee E56 on Nanotechnology has approved its first standard, E 2456, Terminology for Nanotechnology. The new standard is under the jurisdiction of Subcommittee E56.01 on Terminology and Nomenclature. Because of the great need for a terminology document that is globally recognized and because of the cooperation of several organizations in making the document a reality, Terminology E 2456 will be available free of charge from the ASTM International Committee E56 Web site.

Developing a globally relevant nanotechnology terminology standard driven by multiple stakeholder needs has been an early priority for Committee E56, which was formed in 2005. Research into the properties, synthesis, and applications of nanostructures has been growing at an exponential rate, and has outpaced the development of a language to describe the chemical compositions and physical forms of these new materials.

Without a precise and widely accepted terminology, communications about nanotechnology’s risks and benefits are riddled with generalizations. For example, the term “carbon nanoparticles” often is used to describe in one phrase a range of very diverse nanomaterials such as carbon-60, single-walled carbon nanotubes, and even diesel exhaust. Documents such as the E56 terminology standard define more precisely the language for nanotechnology, and thus ensure effective technical communication within the myriad fields involved in nanotechnology, as well as outreach to the public at large as products containing nanomaterials enter the marketplace.

“This ASTM terminology standard will change how I communicate with policymakers, teachers and my neighbors,” says Vicki Colvin, chair, Committee E56. “For the first time I can use a critical term like ‘nanoparticle,’ confident my language is precise and shared with other nanotechnologists across the globe. Even better is that the document is freely available. Now teachers and students interested in nanotechnology can access this dictionary and learn for themselves the nuances of our field.”

In order to facilitate the development of a terminology standard, ASTM International initiated and signed partnership agreements with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, NSF International, Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineering. These agreements contain several unique provisions that pertain specifically to Committee E56 and Terminology standard E 2456.

In addition to the terminology standard being available at no charge online, technical experts (named by the partner organizations) can participate in E56 without fee and will have all membership voting privileges. Finally, the partner organizations’ cooperation in the development of the terminology document has been noted within the document with the partners’ corporate logos affixed to the approved standard.

ASTM believes that the partnership agreements will eliminate redundant resource allocation among a variety of standards organizations, provide for the pooling of technical experts in a single standards development venue and, consequently, help create a truly global terminology document in terms of input as well as application. Some of the terms defined in the new standard include nanotechnology, nano-, nanoscale and nanostructured.

Nanotechnology has been described as the ability to build products (of any size) with atomic precision and the projected ability to make things from the bottom up, using techniques and tools that are being developed today to place every atom and molecule in a desired place. If this form of materials engineering is achieved it will result in a manufacturing revolution. It also has significant economic, social, environmental, and military implications.

Terminology standard E 2456 will be available through the main page
of ASTM International’s Web site (, although at some point it will be moved to the homepage for Committee E 56. //


Technical Information: Vicki Colvin, Rice University, Houston, Texas Phone: 713/348-5741

ASTM Staff: Pat Picariello Phone: 610/832-9720

Upcoming Meeting: Nov. 13-15, November Committee Week, Atlanta, Ga.

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