How to Describe Nanomaterials – an ICSU workshop in Paris

In response to requests from several groups involved in preparing standards for nanotechnology, the International Council for Science and CODATA, the ICSU Committee on Data For Science and Technology, organized a workshop on 23-24 February 2012 to consider standards for describing materials on the nanoscale. A total of 51 international experts attended, including representatives of ten international unions, ISO Technical Committee 229 on Nanotechnology, industry, government and academia, national standards development organizations and the OECD.


Materials with dimensions on the nanoscale (approximately 1 nm to 100 nm) have structure, properties, and interactions that can be quite different from macroscopic materials. Participants agreed that a discipline-independent descriptive system was needed for many purposes, including informed interaction among interested stakeholders.

It was recognised that ICSU is uniquely positioned to bring a broad scientific perspective to this issue.

The workshop defined principles for guiding the development of a robust description system. These included the need for a well defined governance system for a project open to international collaboration, incentives and mechanisms to enable contributions by researchers in many disciplines, and inclusion of the needs of ‘user’ groups, such as engineers,  public authorities and the general public.

It was decided to develop a pre-normative project as soon as possible to determine more thoroughly the requirements for a description system. Such a project could be led by CODATA on behalf of ICSU.