Update on ISO nanotechnology standards activities


The rapidly building need for standards is driving increased committee activity and frequency of meetings

By David S. Ensor, PhD, IEST Fellow and director of IEST SPC 7: Nanotechnologies

In 2005, Technical Committee (TC) 229, Nanotechnologies (ISO/TC 229), was established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) with the British Standards Institute (BSI) serving as the secretariat and Dr. Peter Hatto of the United Kingdom as the chairman. The formation of this ISO technical committee was in response to the extraordinary worldwide growth of the nanotechnology field.

In 2004, the expenditures for nanotechnology research and development were estimated to exceed $4 billion USD. Forecasts indicate that, in the foreseeable future, nanotechnology will experience significantly accelerating worldwide activity. It is clear that international standards tailored specifically to nanotechnology are needed to support commerce.

The United States, represented by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), joined ISO/TC 229 as a charter participating country. The Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) joined the ANSI-sanctioned U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 229 as a charter member to represent the fields of contamination control and environmental testing. The role of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 229 is to develop and represent the position of the United States in the ISO process. I have had the pleasure of serving as IEST’s representative since its inception.

Because of the rapidly building need for standards, the committee activity and frequency of meetings have been greater than most standards committees. ISO/TC 229 has been meeting biannually and national advisory groups have been meeting much more frequently. The U.S. TAG has been meeting bimonthly.

ISO/TC 229 currently has 28 “Participating” countries and 8 “Observer” countries. The inaugural plenary meeting was held in London, England, in November 2005. The United States delegation at this and the following plenary meetings was led by Dr. Clayton Teague, director to the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and chairman of the United States TAG. At the London meeting, the scope of ISO/TC 229 was established as follows:

Standardization in the field on nanotechnologies that includes either or both of the following:

  1. Understanding and control of matter and processes at the nanoscale, typically but not exclusively below 100 nanometers in one or more dimensions where the onset of size-dependent phenomena usually enables novel applications.
  2. Utilizing the properties of nanoscale materials that differ from the properties of individual atoms, molecules and bulk matter, to create improved materials, devices and systems that exploit these new properties. Specific tasks include developing standards for: terminology and nomenclature; metrology and instrumentation, including specifications for reference materials; test methodologies; modeling and simulation; and science-based health, safety and environmental practices.

At the meeting in London, the following working groups were established:

  • Working Group 1-Terminology and Nomenclature, with the convenorship held by Canada.
  • Working Group 2-Measurement and Characterization, with the convenorship held by Japan.
  • Working Group 3-Health, Safety and Environment, with the convenorship held by the United States.

One principle established at the first meeting was that the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology will require liaison and coordination with a large number of other ISO technical committees and other international standards bodies. For example, I was elected to represent ISO/TC 229 as liaison to ISO/TC 209, Cleanrooms and Associated Controlled Environments.

As the nanotechnology industry matures, facility requirements will need to be defined for the development and production of the wide range of potential products containing nanomaterials. It should be noted that at the national level, IEST, in anticipation of the need for information on designing, constructing and operating nanotechnology facilities, organized in 2005 a new working group, IEST-WG-CC210: Forum for Nanoscale Research Facilities. This IEST working group is lead by Ahmad Soueid of HDR Architecture, Inc. and Hal Amick of Colin Gordon and Associates.

The second plenary meeting of ISO/TC 229 was held in Tokyo, Japan, in June 2006. The emphasis of the Tokyo meeting was on organizing the work of the committee. For example, because the effort in TC 229 is expected to become quite large, a Chairman’s Advisory Group (CAG) was organized to work on policy issues. The CAG consists of the chairman, working group convenors, and other national members elected by region.

At the working group level, the priority in Japan was to develop “road maps,” structures or strategies so that appropriate standards are developed on a timely basis. Development of a structure is particularly important in the area of ISO/TC 229 Working Group 1-Terminology and Nomenclature. Because of the wide range of disciplines involved in nanotechnology, vocabularies are currently being developed in a haphazard manner. This may lead to imprecision and confusion as the field matures, thereby adversely affecting commerce and safety considerations. The principle activity within the TC at this point is the definition and writing of work item proposals for the development of documents. These work item proposals are championed by various national organizations and submitted to the TC for a formal vote by the participating member countries for approval by ISO. Upon approval, these proposals become work items within specific working groups. The first approved work item within ISO/TC 229 was ISO/AWI TS 27687 Nanoparticle-Terminology and Definitions, submitted and lead by the United Kingdom in Working Group 1. This document will be derived from BSI Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 71:2005 Vocabulary-Nanoparticles.

The third plenary meeting of ISO/TC 229 was held in Seoul, Korea, in December 2006. The primary purpose of the meeting was to refine working group strategic plans. A survey conducted during the last six months was used to support working-group planning sessions. Work was continued on the second approved work item, Health and Safety Practices in Occupational Settings Relative to Nanotechnologies, lead by the United States in Working Group 3.

The national bodies of Japan, Korea and the United States within Working Group 2 were encouraged to submit work item proposals on the measurement of carbon nanotubes. Further development of liaisons with other organizations was an important item of business. For example, plans for coordination by ISO/TC 229 with the newly organized International Electromechanical Commission (IEC), a standards committee on nanotechnology related to electrical and electronic products and systems, are currently being developed.

The next planned plenary meetings of ISO/TC 229 will be held in Berlin, Germany, in June 2007 and in Singapore, Malaysia, in December 2007.

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David S. Ensor is the director of the Center for Aerosol Technology and an RTI senior fellow. Dr. Ensor received his PhD in engineering from the University of Washington. He has conducted contamination control, aerosol and indoor air quality research for over 30 years, and is a founding editor of Aerosol Science and Technology. Dr. Ensor has served as President of the American Association for Aerosol Research and the International Aerosol Research Assembly, and he is the convenor of ISO/TC 209 WG 7. Dr. Ensor is a Fellow of the IEST and of the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

About IEST

IEST is an international technical society of engineers, scientists, and educators that serves its members and the industries they represent (simulating, testing, controlling, and teaching the environments of earth and space) through education and the development of recommended practices and standards. IEST is the Secretariat for ISO Technical Committee 209, Cleanrooms and associated controlled environments, charged with writing a family of international cleanroom standards. IEST is also an ANSI-accredited standards-development organization. For more information, contact IEST at or visit the IEST Web site at

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