There are two conflicting aspects of nanotechnology. It provides new preventative and remedial pathways to improve the environment through the research that is being carried out in the areas of sensors and actuators in addition to the direct removal of pollutants through nanofilters and nanomaterials based photocatalysis. New energy and water related applications of nanotechnology have made possible development of schemes for new materials and devices for alternate energy, hydrogen generation, etc. Yet, it is the same nanotechnology that comes under criticism for exposing the environment to materials whose toxicity and bioactivity are ever-changing and, therefore, never in control or precisely determined. Both of these conflicting aspects need to be considered equally and explored in parallel.
Although several groups in the universities in Pakistan are intensely involved in research in nanoscience, this transformation has only been due to the activities in the past 6 – 7 years. A major step in introducing the nanoscience to Pakistani scientist and bringing them in contact with the scientists of the world in general, and with the scientists of the US in particular, have been the NSF supported First Thin Film and Nanomaterials Conference in Lahore in 2006 and several Nathiagali Summer Colleges over the last few years. The first Thin Films and Nanomaterials Conference was also organized by the PI along with the Co-Chairmanship of Professor John Weaver (UIUC) and Professor Peter Varga, TU Vienna, Austria.. The workshop was partially supported by the Nationals Science Foundation. There were 12 participants from USA including 5 scientists, 6 graduate students and 1 undergraduate student. The interactions between the local scientists (Faculty and students) and the international participants lead to several concrete collaborations, follow-up visits, student and faculty exchange visits, etc. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan was instrumental in providing financial support for some of these post-conference interactions.
It has been observed that even though the nanoscience research got a kick start in Pakistan, the foci of the research are limited to a few areas including magnetism, thin film growth, theoretical condensed matter physics, etc. Many areas of contemporary needs are still not getting their due attention. Some of these areas are energy, environment and water. Additionally, the question of ethics is also not even in the picture in most of these research efforts. Not a single grant through HEC or any other organization emphasized research in any of the areas covered by ethics. It is of utmost importance for the country and for the region that the ethical aspects related to nanoscience ought to be kept in the forefront in order to not get to a point where this issue overpowers the scientific progress and suffocates it.