Is the Number of Nanomaterials Growing Too Fast?

Earlier this month, I raised the point that perhaps not all nano hype is related to business and market forecasts but is perhaps generated just as much from the research community.

Not a particularly original idea and I had the good fortune of having Eric Drexler’s blog lead me into considering it as a possibility.

But what are some of the effects of this torrent of nanotechnology research that seems to have gone free from its peer-review moorings?

The inaugural column over at Materials Views from Professor Geoffrey Ozin at the University of Toronto, suggests that we are reaching a saturation point with nanomaterials and we will need to step back and take stock of what we have before we are likely to reap any benefit from them.

Ozin even offers 10 recommendations that are so common sense one feels perplexed that this is not the state of things already.

 1. Learn how to make them more perfect and elucidate means to define the degree of perfection

2. Delineate metrics that demarcate the boundaries between molecular, nanoscale and bulk forms of matter

3. Establish situations when perfection is beneficial and when imperfection can be tolerated

4. Understand better their surface and bulk chemistry

5. Devise synthetic methods and characterization techniques for composition tuning and doping

6. Control and characterize surface and bulk defects

7. Improve control over their self-assembly and disassembly

8. Report information on their shelf-life in dry and humid air and under vacuum, their colloidal stability in different solvents, and how long they live when stimulated thermally, electrically and photolytically

9. Reduce-to-practice prototype devices, products or processes for your pet nanomaterial, and if successful, figure out how to scale up its production to industrial proportions in an economical and safe manner, and

10. Facilitate the transition of your idea to innovation that works and helps humankind.

The commercialization of nanotech long ago reached the point where pundits and businessmen were complaining about nanotech hype. However, the research community after agreeing to get to get on the nanotech bandwagon has been slow to cut off the gravy train. And who could blame them?

But as Ozin seems to imply if researchers don’t start taking care of this themselves, people from the outside will start correcting it for them, i.e. cut of funding.



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain