US Moving Backwards in Nanotech

A new report from Lux Research – usually all sunny optimism in contrast to our more measured and cautious approach – does the old scaremongering trick of ranking countries according to a variety of metrics, but in this case common sense doesn’t seem to be one of them.

According to the PR “U.S., Japan, Germany, and South Korea remain leading countries, but China, India, and Russia begin to close the gap” which is akin to claiming that the US is the world’s largest economy but the Democratic Republic of the Congo is catching. Let’s not forget that 100% of India’s nanotech budget for last year was surrendered unspent which must mean that the US is moving backwards.

The Chinese situation is more complex, but our office there and my frequent discussions with policy makers indicate that while there is some good work going on, most of the scientific activity is derivative rather than ground breaking (see for instance this report illustrating that Chinese output per researcher is actually falling) and most of the Chinese companies producing nanomaterials tend to be at the low value bulk material end of the spectrum.

Still, its good to have a choice of opinions – hopefully one of them will be more or less right.

Comments 2

  1. Nanoguru

    While I agree with you that we MAY be crying wolf on China, India, and Russia, we must be mindful of the PPP (Puchasing-Power-Parity) of these countries and their education systems, which crank out more scientists and engineers than the rest of the world combined.

    Furthermore, you, of all the people, should know that nanomaterials and nanotechnology are nothing new in that they are fundamentally based on chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, etc., wherein these countries have exceptionally skilled personnel. Unlike a semiconductor fab, nanotechnology does not really need a lot of exotic pieces of equipment to manufacture. These are just my thoughts. Hopefully, I am utterly wrong!



  2. Post

    Agreed, but the real value in nanotechnology comes from the applications, not the materials, and it is access to the market for those applications where the real value is created.

    In that sense you can view many nanomaterials as analogous to a primary industry, coal or steel perhaps, with the real value being added later. That is not to say that many of the BRIC economies will not catch up, but using simple metrics such as publications or research funding doesn’t tell the whole story. You also need to look at the other factors needed to get an economic result – quality rather than quantity of engineers, access to capital etc.

    Still, claiming that there is a threat from the Russians/Chinese/Aliens always goes down well in some quarters.

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