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China jump starts nanotech

Posted on | November 22, 2007 | No Comments

Xie Sishen, one of the chief scientists at The Chinese Academy Of Sciences announced a $83.6 Million (620 million yuan) State sponsored ‘hot shot’ into the research and development of nanotechnology today, according to The Shanghai Daily.

Nanotechnology, a multi-disciplined science of manipulating matter on a molecular scale allows tiny devices to escape the conventional laws of physics. Such devices (such as carbon nanotubes) demonstrate amazing potential due to their structural and electrical qualities. A carbon nanotube was recently used as a working FM radio.

Nanotubes are of particular interest to researchers because they are semi conductors possessing a strength 100x greater than steel, but 6x lighter. Nanotubes are just one fruit from the tree of nanotechnology, China hopes for further innovation.

While industry focus has been on utilizing nanotubes in things like microprocessors, Xie Sishen sees a more comprehensive future for the technology while warning that ” Nanotechnology is a double-edge sword,” and that “care should be exercised, as with any innovation.”

Nano scale particles are responsible for a great many health issues. Sishen discusses some of the concerns that I was already familiar with, such as vapors resulting from welding containing hazardous nano scale metallic particles. Apparently, according to Sishen, nanotechnology will help medicine fight fire with fire, using carefully engineered nano scale devices to undo the damage caused by nano scale particles.

Sishen goes on to describe many potential environmental applications, such as using nanotechnology to clean the air and water.

Researchers in the west have recently (nearly) perfected a system for mass production of carbon nanotubes, using a process similar to lithography to weed out any tubes that were not formed correctly, solving a stumbling block concerning the quality of tubes that are mass produced. Since production is soon simplified and research is picking up, we might see interesting innovations in the not too distant future, especially in medicine, even though the process was fueled by innovations in microprocessing.

There is no word (yet) on just how the funding will be divided among the many disciplines that comprise the collective study of nanotechnology. I’ve been hoping to see medicinal and structural innovation using this technology catch up to advances in incorporating it into microprocessors. It looks as if this program might be heading in that direction.

While many might say that $86 Million is ‘not that much’, one has to consider an economic scale to realize the significance of the funding. $86 Million, in China, buys quite a bit of innovation.

Intel’s former CEO recently lashed out at pharmaceuticals citing that microprocessors had grown in leaps in bounds, while the pharmaceutical industry could barely get a dozen new drugs approved over the same 10 year period.

This may be the point where the two industries can finally (really) work together. Science transverses political maps, perhaps it can also inspire us to innovate instead of writing junk ‘peer correct’ papers that lead to obscure patents.

I really hope to see this program serve as a model for international research collaboration that isn’t (purely) focused on potential profits. I’m not quite sure if this program can be considered ‘blue sky’, because not many details have been released. It does, however, look very promising.

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