Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls in Nanotech

Tim Harper has been covering what he describes as the “Death of UK Nanotech” over at his TNTLog and I hope it serves as a cautionary tale to other regions of the world on the pitfalls of certain nanotechnology development strategies.

Harper quotes a recent assessment of UK Science Minister David Willets who commented that it would be “most unlikely” that the UK’s 24 nanotech centers will still be open in 18 months.

The problem appears to be one of politics. In an effort to allow every region of England to be part of the economic transformative power of “the next big thing”, they built 24 separate nanotech centers rather than focusing their resources into one or two large labs, like France did with their Grenoble innovation cluster.

While the US nanotechnology initiative has been far less diluted in its focusing of resources, just taking into account just the dimensions of the two countries, there is still that troubling catering to constituencies that you get in representative democracies.

Evidence of this was seen at the President’s Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) meeting to examine innovation frameworks for nanotechnology in which the story was related of how the National Science Foundation with just a couple of million dollars set aside was looking to develop new instrumentation technologies, and splitting that money between 13 bids. The likely result being that not one of the projects will be able to progress very far in developing any new instruments but it may satisfy some notion of spreading the wealth.

That said, whether the demise of these research facilities is new or old news there are lessons to be learned from their unraveling.


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