‘Too little too late?’ Report gives Brits failing nano grade

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June 3, 2004 – British parliamentarians gave their country’s government a failing grade in nanotechnology in a report entitled “Too little too late? Government Investment in Nanotechnology.”

In the report, released in April 2004, the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee charged that Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had failed to support nanotech appropriately and that the country’s businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized ones, were painfully unaware of nano’s possibilities.

“The government is making up policy as it goes, day by day,” said Robert Key, a conservative member of parliament and the committee that issued the report.

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Parliamentarians also criticized DTI for not following the recommendations of a 2002 strategy report commissioned by the department that recommended that the British government create two nanotechnology fabrication hubs.

Instead, DTI opted to spread funding across the country by working with regional development agencies. According to the report, this approach succeeded in creating a bigger pot of funding, “but at the cost of a clearly focused strategy.”

DTI has yet to issue a formal response to criticisms, but in a letter to Financial Times, Lord David Sainsbury, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Science and Innovation, said he had named a top industry expert, Hugh Clare, to lead a national network. The goal of the network is an increased awareness of nanotech possibilities in the business world and the arrangement of access to government nanotechnology facilities.

In a speech in late April, Sainsbury encouraged business leaders and entrepreneurs to compete for more than $80 million to develop technological innovations in electronics, displays and sensors. Speaking at an event in London, Sainsbury said the government was making the funds available as part of a six-year program designed to move micro- and nanotechnology as well as other innovations from lab to marketplace.

Biotech, composites and green transportation systems are also among the applications Sainsbury’s office has targeted for development. Part of the goal is to build industries that will fuel further economic development.

German tech transfer

Technology transfer to industry is also a key preoccupation in Germany. In March, Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany’s minister for education and research, announced that her department would devote $250 million over the next four years to small tech development, with a focus on technology transfer to four different industries: automotive, optics, pharmaceuticals/medical technologies, and electronics.

Florian Frank, spokesperson for the ministry, argued that it is essential for innovations in basic science to find their way into new products.

“In Germany, we have a very developed industry and we depend on the exports of our products,” Frank said. “And if you don’t improve what you are selling, you lose markets and the chance to create new jobs.”

Grand et petit

France has continued its efforts to bring small tech to every man — and every child — with an exhibit for kids at the Palace of Discovery in Paris. The show, called “The Giants of the Infinitely Small,” presented major experiments that have allowed particle physicists to validate theories and scientific issues they grapple with today. The event also gave kids the chance to chat with world-renowned physicists during a live Web cast.


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