2009 May See Reprioritization of Nanotech Concerns

The news cycle for nanotechnology in 2008 is pretty easy to sum up: environmental, health and safety concerns. Wiki projects, websites, blogs were created last year and all were strictly focused on combating the unknown, and largely unproven, dangers of nanotechnology.

But this year as a friend noted to me as the year turned, â''There will be far fewer hippies this year.â'' Unsure of exactly what he meant, he further explained that all those people who had the time and the luxury to concern themselves with the plight of the polar bear will find that much more of their energy will be occupied with their own survival. In other words, setting up think tanks and government-funded research projects to combat threats that donâ''t exist and may never exist will become a little harder to sell when people are facing foreclosure and unemployment.

So if saving the polar bear or defending our privacy from nanobots falls a little down the priority list of concerns for nanotech, what moves up?

Well, we have received our first real predictions for the state of nanotechnology in 2009: Nanotechnologies In 2009: Creative Destruction or Credit Crunch? authored by UK-based Tim Harper, CEO of Cientifica.

Apparently the white paper was inspired by Harperâ''s involvement in the World Economic Forumâ''s Summit on the Global Agenda in which challenges in particular areas are examined, which in this case was nanotechnology.

While toxicology issues remained an anchor of the discussions (this was still held in 2008), the effects of the economic crisis were already beginning to influence peopleâ''s thoughts.

As a result, Harper lists five issues that he sees as having a significant impact on nanotechnology in 2009:

â'¢ Technology Funding â'' expect to see things getting worse before they get better

â'¢ Purchases of Worthless Intellectual Property

â'¢ Academic Funding and Spinouts

â'¢ CleanTech

â'¢ Nanotechnology Applications

While some have found the â''thought-provokingâ'' bits to be those in which Harper has clearly put himself out on the line with predictions that can be referenced back upon, it is probably more in his urgings that the real meat of the piece can be found.

Nanotech as an area of technology commercialization finds itself in a strange spot. We are over seven years into huge government and private funding of nanotech so that we can now begin to see the fruits of all that investment. Technologies are ready to be commercialized, hard-fought profits can finally be won, but in many cases the financial pipeline will get turned off just as it was all about to pay off.

For those with the resources and the fortitude in these perilous times, Harper believes that 2009 could make fortunes while others may not survive the year.

In any case, claims by poorly informed environmentalists of a â''nanotech industryâ'' blinded by a â''gold rushâ'' will hopefully find their place in the greater scheme of thingsâ''down on the priority pole.

Related Stories

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.