Russian Nanotechnology Initiative Is Full of Intrigue

The mysterious death of Svetlana Zheludeva, deputy director for science at the Shubnikov Institute of Crystallography in Moscow, at the age of 59 has led some to speculate that she may have been poisoned.

Just five days after opening a letter addressed to Mikhail Kovalchuk, the director of the Kurchatov Institute, which contained a white powder, Zheludeva died of complete organ failure.

After tests were run on the mysterious white powder, poisoning has been ruled out. But it is all a bit strange. Just as a little background, according to the Moscow Times, Kovalchuk received $1 billion last year to develop nanotechnology and turn the Kurchatov Institute into a nanotechnology research hub.

Since its inception the government-backed initiative to develop nanotechnology in Russia has always been outside the norm.

Instead of setting up a government institution to serve as the mechanism to fund research projects in nanotechnology throughout the countryâ''think in terms of the USâ''s National Nanotechnology Initiativeâ''which has been more or less the standard for all other countriesâ'' approach to developing nanotechnology, Russia instead decided to set up a private company.

This approach was certainly innovative, and not necessarily a bad idea especially if youâ''re looking to create a platform for quick commercialization of the research.

But after announcements to allocate anywhere from $5 to $7 billion to nanotechnology research within the first 8 years of the program, the initiative has been fraught with strange little intrigues. For instance, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry objected to the proposal to start the program in 2007 and proposed launching it in 2008 and completing it five years later. As a result, according to published reports, the government announced an allocation of just $150 million for nanotechnology in the federal budget for 2007.

Then came bizarre announcements by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov at a Federation Council session that Russian sales of nanotechnology products are expected to amount to $700 billion in 2008.

In a country that brought us both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, we should expect an entertaining yarn as Russia begins its push to be a leader in nanotechnology.

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