Elaine Attwood is the first consumer to be awarded the honour of the 2020 ISO Simon Holland Award as a joint awardee. Recognised for her outstanding contribution to the work of ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnology and acknowledged for her input and support offered to the ISO/TC 229 community and her colleagues.
Standards Australia (SA): How did you first get involved in standards development?
Elaine Attwood (EA):
Elaine was the first consumer representative on the Board of Food Standards Australia New Zealand and has served as a Council member of the Consumers’ Federation of Australia. She was the acting chair of the Women and Children’s’ Hospital Consumer Consultancy Committee and was the Vice President of the National Council of Women of South Australia. Elaine was a member of many committees including the National Enabling Technologies Strategy, the inaugural ACCC’s Consumer Consultative Committee, Office of the Gene Technology’s Community Consultative Group, NHMRC working party on food intolerance in children, S.A. Ministerial Advisory Committee on Agricultural and Veterinary chemicals and the SA Food Hygiene Implementation Committee.
In 2011 Elaine was awarded an AM in the Queen’s Birthday honours for her work within the community for women, children and the environment. Presently, Elaine is a member of Consumers South Australia’s Executive Committee, a member of SA Water’s Residential Customers Advisory Group, The Essential Services Commission of S.A. Expert Advisory Committee, Standard Australia’s NT-001 Nanotechnologies and Standards Australia’s Fine Bubble mirror group.
The short answer – through food labelling. My introduction to standards development started with my journey within food standards. My child had ADHD and I scrutinised food labelling which was far from adequate in the 1970s. I began writing to the National Food Authority as a consumer pointing out areas I felt the standards needed improving. The Authority later morphed into the Australian New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) where I made comments on many of their Proposals and Applications from a consumer viewpoint, and as a member on behalf of the Consumers SA organisation. In 2002 ANZFA was reviewed and became what is now known as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). I was nominated by the National Council of Women Australia and appointed the role of consumer advocate representing a consumer constituency to the new Board where I fulfilled my maximum two terms.
I had become aware of nanotechnology and as it happened at the time Standards Australia was in the process of facilitating a mirror group to the ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnologies in Australia. Although not knowing a great deal of the technology, I was extremely interested and put my hand up to join the NT-001 Nanotechnologies of which I am still a member representing consumers.
SA: You recently won the ISO Simon Holland award for your contribution to ISO/TC 229 nanotechnologies, what are nanotechnologies?
Nanotechnology is the science of the very small, in fact one-billionth of a meter. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) definition of nanotechnology is ‘the application of scientific knowledge to manipulate and control matter, predominately in the nanoscale, to make use of size and structure-dependant properties and phenomena distinct from those associated with individual atoms or molecules, or extrapolation from larger sizes of the same material.’
When matter is of a nano level its characteristics and properties can change dramatically. For example, when gold is at its nano level it is actually red, silver becomes an antibiotic and some metals can become super conductors. The application of nanotechnology has uses in a vast array of fields including science, medicine, semiconductors, building industry, environment, waste and waste disinfection, electrical industry, agriculture and aqua culture to name a few.
SA: Why is standardisation important within the space?
With such new technology there comes the necessity to make sure it is safe, not only for humans but also for the environment. The Technical Committee No. 229 through ISO have five main working groups to ensure this is the case. It is necessary that when people talk about or work with nanotechnology that all persons are aware of the terms and definitions along with the agreement of the methods that can be used to measure and characterise a nanoparticle. Standards ensure the industry has a level playing field and consumers can be assured that the product they purchase has been produced to the particular standards to that of the product or in some cases a service.
With technology like nanotechnology, a ‘convergent’ technology that can be used with many other technologies, it is extremely important that the standards around it are robust, fit for purpose and thoroughly debated, and agreed upon for the best possible outcome.
SA: What do think is the future of standardisation?
No matter what the standards apply to, it can only improve as new knowledge is gained and this is why standards are reviewed regularly. Even if we are unaware of the standards we live by, they are necessary for our protection and well-being. The way we raise a standard over time may change, but I sincerely hope there will never come a time when consumers are not protected by standards.