China Surges ahead of India in Nanotechnology: Does it Matter?

The nanotech race seems to rile people up, but it isn't clear what difference it makes


I am not certain why there is this hullabaloo about the so-called nanotech race. To me it just seems as though scientists around the world are working on their research, they publish it in journals, other scientists read it and then build on that research and so it goes. I don’t see how that translates into a competition between countries, but it seems to be a matter for which some are enormously preoccupied.

The latest news is that China is “soaring ahead” of India in nanotechnology research.  China and India are nearly always discussed in this great nanotechnology race. This is to be expected. These two countries represent two of the fastest growing economies in the world, and much of that growth has been leveraged upon technology.

However, it’s not always clear that these countries’ efforts in the field of nanotechnology should give Europe, North America or any other advanced OECD countries in nanotechnology any reason for alarm. One day it seems one of these countries (China, in this instance) has a lead and then the next it doesn’t.

In this latest study published in Scientometrics, once you get past the quantification of the race (i.e. how many articles are published, how many times they are cited, etc.), you discover the interesting bit. It seems China is focusing its efforts in nanotechnology research on “nanomaterials and their applications” whereas India is focusing their work on addressing their developmental problems, such as clean drinking water.

To be honest though, I’m not clear on how this makes China more “sophisticated” than India in its nanotechnology development. Further there seems to be a distinction here without much difference: India’s aim of developing nanotechnology solutions for clean drinking water will clearly require “nanomaterials and their applications”. I think what the study is trying to say is that  China is approaching nanomaterials development in a more systematic way.

Nonetheless when all is said and done, what matters is the impact nanotechnology can have on a country or life in that country. Cientifica has its measuring stick for this impact. But ultimately perhaps the impact that comes to China and India from nanotechnology may not originate from research in those countries, but from somewhere else entirely, which still leaves me wondering why all of this measuring of which country publishes what matters.

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About the Nanoclast blog

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