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Technology (general)

(CNN) -- A South Korean scientist says he has come up with an inexpensive way to produce nanoparticles on a large scale without harming the environment.

The breakthrough may help to address concerns about the safety of nanotechnology -- the engineering and use of materials at an atomic or molecular scale.

Taeghwan Hyeon, associate professor at Seoul National University's School of Chemical Engineering, claims he and a group of fellow researchers had come up with a safe and easy way to acquire a large amount of monodisperse nano-crystals using non-toxic salts.

Nanotechnology -- the "nano" refers to the nanometer, a measurement of a millionth of a millimeter -- has potential applications in a wide range of industries, from medical diagnostics and treatment to data storage and cleaner energy.

But many scientists say it is too early to assess the possible risks to health and the environment of releasing nanoparticles into the ecosystem.

In the first study into the possible impact of nanotechnology, a UK-government commissioned report published in July called for further research into the environmental implications and possible toxicity to humans of manufactured nanoparticles.

The results of Taeghwan's research were published in the December issue of the Nature Materials journal.

He said he was extremely excited about the breakthrough, which had been four years in the making.

South Korea is one of the world's leading investors in nanotechnology, after setting aside $2 billion for research and development in the field last year.

One of the greatest challenges for nanoscientists is coming up with a way to produce large quantities of nanoparticles without using expensive toxic chemicals.

Mark Welland, professor of nanotechnology at Britain's Cambridge University said the most significant thing about the South Korean scientists' work was that it addressed two major issues regarding nanotechnology, by making it commercially accessible and environmentally friendly.

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