The Nanotechnology Race: Whatâ¿¿s at the finish line?

There is a new round of laments about how the US has fallen behind other countries in nanotechnology development after it was one of the first countries to establish a national nanotechnology initiative in 2000.

Indeed an estimated 35 other countries have announced some kind of nanotechnology initiative. But thatâ''s just the countries, there are countless regional economic development groups pushing to make themselves â''nanotechnology hubs."

The idea, I suppose, is that if a new industrial revolution is coming in the form of nanotechnology they want to make sure their region enjoys all the employment growth that it will bring.

All this jockeying for position to become the next â''Silicon Valleyâ'' I am afraid is misplaced. Nanotechnology's economic benefit will not sort itself out in this way.

If there is to be any realized benefit for all these countries and regions trying to make themselves attractive to nanotechnology development, it will be that they have refocused their educational systems to promote science instruction and that they will examine their resource- or industrial-based economies to make them more knowledge-based economies. Also, a lot of construction companies will make a bundle building all the new facilities.

But the US or any other country is not going to become the one, international hub for a yet to materialize nanotechnology industry. In fact, no nanotechnology industry will ever materialize.

Nanotechnology is an enabling technology that will support other industries and technologies. If you do not have the underlying industries that nanotechnologies will help support, itâ''s not clear what kind of economy you are going to create by selling nanomaterials.

In the best case scenario, the nanotechnology race will lead to many countries and regions improving their educational systems and moving their economies to more sustainable knowledge-driven one. But being a leader in nanotechnology? Not likely.

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