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A multistakeholder dialogue providing inputs to implement the European Code of Conduct for Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies (N&N) research

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Conducting nanotechnology research responsibly

EU-funded scientists optimised a European framework called MasterPlan for ethical and safe conduct in nanoscience research. A tool called Codemeter was developed to assist in spreading awareness and better implementation of the European Commission code of conduct (EC-CoC) with regard to nanoscience research.

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Nanotechnology deals with objects with sizes that are less than 100 nanometres (nm) or one billionth of a metre. Such dimensions imbue materials with unique electrical, magnetic and optical properties not seen in bulk quantities of the same substances. Unfortunately, nano scale dimensions make it possible for foreign invaders to cross some of the body's barriers. Along with exciting potential applications comes a responsibility for ethical and safe research and development (R&D) practices. Hence, the EC-CoC was recommended for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) research. The EU-funded project NANOCODE developed a framework to facilitate the widespread implementation of and adherence to the CoC. Scientists elicited valuable input from European and international stakeholders through electronic surveys, structured interviews and focused groups. They assessed attitudes, expectations and objections with respect to the European Commission's CoC. With fine-tuning through national and international debates, NANOCODE developed a MasterPlan and the CodeMeter performance assessment tool. MasterPlan points out the level of awareness regarding the CoC, as well as the level of its implementation. It presents options and recommendations for revision and implementation of the CoC that are practical, politically feasible and compatible with current guidelines. Identification of incentives and disincentives to encourage adoption are included. CodeMeter, in the form of an easy-to-use file, contains 13 guided questions automatically marked to reflect current adherence to the CoC. Topics cover the dissemination of results (including plagiarism and falsification of data), regulatory compliance, participatory practices, intrusion of nano-objects into the human organism and much more. In the end, a score is delivered with guidelines for interpretation. NANOCODE's MasterPlan and CodeMeter are expected to have important impact on policymaking regarding ethical and safe N&N research as well as on self-reflection in relation to actual adherence to the EC-CoC’s principles and guidelines. The former will facilitate broader implementation while the latter should foster proper implementation – both of which stand to benefit research, industry and society.

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