Through the concurrence of a number of events, I am now wondering if we are not seeing a minor shift developing in the way that nanotechnology development is being approached that may in fact lead to a more fundamental one.
The shift that I see developing is one that moves away from simply developing new nanomaterials but to seeing how these nanomaterials may in fact enable new products. Of course, that has always been the idea supposedly, but it has not been clear through funding and research whether this has been encouraged and pursued.
I commented recently on the work of Professor Geoffrey Ozin at the University of Toronto, who has offered a set of recommendations for continued research into nanomaterials that may allow us to actually reap some benefit from them rather than simply stockpiling in an effort to retain research funding.
And now I have read over at Andrew Maynard’s 20/20 Science blog his eloquent preamble in his response to National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan 2010; Request for Information (FR Doc. 2010–16273) Submitted August 15 2010.
While Maynard’s points are well made, I wonder whether eloquence may be lost on bureaucrats, even of the most enlightened variety. Maynard describes a “changing of context” from the time the NNI was formed 10 years ago when it was supporting research and development to now where nanotechnology is heading towards being “…a significant driver of economic growth and social progress.”
This change leads Maynard to ask whether the institution that has asked the questions is in fact a hindrance or assistance in the further development of nanotechnology.
“With this changing context, it is necessary to consider whether the concepts and expectations embedded within the NNI are still valid, or whether they have become an impediment to progress,” asks Maynard “This is a tough question to ask of such a well-established and influential initiative. But it is one that needs to be addressed if the efforts of the past ten years are to bear fruit.”
I am not sure that urging the leaders of the NNI to undergo some kind of existential questioning of their institution will lead to much more than a shrug and dismissal when it appears that not asking those questions, or at least not understanding the answers, is part of their modus operandi.
Let's hope they're ready to listen.