Brave New World of NanoTechnology (NT) and its Impact
on Academia, Business & Governments
London, UK - 26 November 2006, 16:20 GMT - We are
grateful to Alessandro Rospigliosi, based in London, England, and Turin,
Italy, for his response "The Brave New World of NanoTechnology and
its Impact on Academia, Business and Governments" to Dr Brent Segal
based in Boston, USA, for his ATCA submission, "Nanotechnology 2006:
A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony Coming of Age?".
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex
global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive
action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine
of non-violence, ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from
climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced
technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics
and financial systems. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only
and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 100 countries: including
several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress
& Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500 CEOs from
financial institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations
as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Dear ATCA Colleagues; dear IntentBloggers
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and
We are grateful to Alessandro Rospigliosi, based in London, England,
and Turin, Italy, for his response "The Brave New World of NanoTechnology
and its Impact on Academia, Business and Governments" to Dr
Brent Segal based in Boston, USA, for his ATCA submission, "Nanotechnology
2006: A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony Coming of Age?"
Alessandro Rospigliosi joined Ludgate Investments, a private equity
group specializing in green technology companies, in June 2006 as Scientific
Research Analyst. He graduated in Chemical (with Biochemical Engineering)
from University College London (UCL) in 2001 and then obtained a Gates
Scholarship for a PhD in molecular electronics at Cambridge University,
England. This involved working on an interdisciplinary project that
covered areas of synthetic chemistry, physics and material sciences.
He has presented his scientific work at several conferences (in the
US and Europe) and is in the process of publishing the results of his
He has participated at several Model United Nations conferences as delegate
and head of delegation. During his time at Cambridge he co-founded and
was the treasurer of the Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise
Club (CUTEC) which in 2004 organized the first student-run, CMI (Cambridge
MIT Institute)-sponsored Private Equity and Venture Capital conference
in the London Guildhall. This conference has become an annual event
which provides a platform for researchers, entrepreneurs and academics
to meet investors and government officials. Partly due to this conference
and personal contacts Alessandro entered the world of private equity.
His other interests include skiing and sailing. He writes:
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: The Brave New World of NanoTechnology and its Impact on Academia,
Business and Governments
My attention was drawn to Dr Segal's ATCA comments on the current state
of research in NanoTechnology (NT). Rather than a purely scientific
comment on the current state of this field of research, my response
aims at presenting an objective view from "within" the research
world and gives some thought to a key point Dr Segal mentioned in his
original ATCA submission: the necessity for a new, evolved class of
interdisciplinary managerial-scientists and for support from legislative
and executive powers if Western countries (and the US/EU in particular)
want to remain at the forefront of scientific innovation in the future.
I certainly agree with Dr Segal that it is inevitable that NT will influence
our world in numerous ways: from the development of novel nanoscopic
computer chips to biosensors, from the advances made in material sciences
to the creation of labs-on-a-chip. The possibility of designing molecules
to give them a desired property or properties opens-up a real "Brave
New World" for scientists and mankind.
Miniaturisation has been a Leitmotiv of human progress and in particular,
with respect to integrated circuit elements, has followed the so-called
Moore's law, which (back in the 60s) anticipated that the number of
transistors on a chip would double approximately every 18 months. An
alternative to the traditional technique of "top-down" miniaturisation,
is to start with the study of single molecules in order to investigate
how these can be used to create more complex circuit elements ("bottom-up").
This new approach to research has been made possible due to the widespread
commercialization of instruments that allow the study of nanometre-sized
samples: the Atomic Force and the Scanning Tunnelling Microscopes (AFM
and STM), Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) and other scanning probe
devices. Such instruments have made it possible for humankind to deepen
our understanding in so many areas, such as biochemistry, solid state
physics, supramolecular chemistry and protein science.
Having spent almost three years working on the synthetic modification
of short DNA strands to prove that their electron conduction properties
could be altered enough to turn this biopolymer into a "molecular
wire" I have witnessed how difficult it is, not only to perform
the modifications, but also to purify such DNA analogues. Human DNA
intrinsically is not a good electron conductor - otherwise solar radiation
would alter our genetic code at an alarming rate. During my PhD, I managed
to show that a slight, but noticeable difference could be made by altering
several bases on a double stranded oligonucleotide. However, the technical
difficulty of making reliable and reproducible measurement of DNA filaments
at the sub-100 nm (nanometre) level is still quite serious. Therefore,
we should be careful not to over-estimate the immediate impact of NT.
The main commercialised products that have come out in recent years
have been linked to nanoparticles in paints and colouring agents.
Most of the excitement over NT relates to the discoveries and observations
that many of the rules for materials in the bulk scale no longer apply
when dealing with nanoparticles. At these dimensions, the effects we
learn about in quantum mechanics cannot be neglected (as often done
when modelling bulky large scale reactions and properties). For example,
under certain conditions non-conducting materials can become conductive
or ordinarily non-magnetic materials can become magnetic.
Also, in many NT projects it is no longer possible to perform experiments
at room temperature, in air, at atmospheric pressure and under ambient
conditions, because most materials are air-, light- and temperature-sensitive
and need to be kept under an inert atmosphere or in high vacuum. To
make progress, very specialised and expensive equipment and knowledge
of the underlying physics and chemistry are needed.
That is why many governments, led by the USA, UK and Germany, but also
Japan, India, China and Malaysia have announced they would increase
funding (in some cases up to astronomical sums) for certain specific
NT projects. However, funding alone is not going to create miracles.
There is a need for an independent body that can ease the dialogue between
academia, governments and research institutes in order to ensure that
research money is used efficiently and that "good" conditions
for research are created. A relatively new breed of human resources
is needed to fulfil this task: a class of managerial-scientists capable
of coordinating the efforts (and needs) of specialists in different
subject areas across international borders. In some cases, for example,
it is necessary to link experts from fields as diverse as quantum physics,
theoretical and organic chemistry with specialists in biochemistry and
proteomics. Although there are many institutions that have been created
for this purpose it is not an easy task, because scientists that have
worked life-long in one area typically find it difficult to interact
and work efficiently with researchers in other disciplines. It is obvious
that managing such a wide variety of experts requires a coordinator
that has enough understanding of all subject areas to guide a fruitful
project. At the same time these new "managers" must appreciate
the commercial reality around a particular project if they are to exploit
these for financial return.
There are a number of issues I would like to enumerate in relation to
the challenges science and research institutions are faced with nowadays
which impact future business and government policy:
· Although we can see that occasionally governments announce
spending in very specific commercially-oriented research projects, the
overall trend (particularly obvious in France and Italy over the past
few years) is that less public money is given to academic institutions
as a whole. This could have several detrimental consequences for those
departments that do not work on potentially commercialisable and revenue-oriented
research (ie humanities). Therefore universities and other publicly-funded
institutions need to find their own source of revenue. The generation
of cash flow could be created by successfully commercialised university
spin-offs. If well-managed, a few such companies can produce enough
revenue (through royalties and capital gain) for such institutions to
compensate for declining government funding and eventually replace it
altogether. This is a possible means of financing the increasing costs
of research and of "unprofitable" departments (such as the
arts, music, literature, languages, history and philosophy, etc...).
· Planning and timing is of the essence. Proper planning, timing
and funding are fundamental points when running a company, a research
institute or, even more so in recent years, a university. Huge amounts
of money, effort and time are often wasted due to poor planning strategies
because, particularly with novel, interdisciplinary research the accountability
of research supervisors is not very strict - rightly to give them the
necessary freedom to perform uncertain yet possibly ground-braking research.
But this freedom needs to be guided by knowledgeable and integral managers
if misuse is to be avoided.
· The requirements put on research supervisors have become unsustainable:
Professors are facing ever increasing administrative tasks (such as
knowing and complying with extremely detailed health and safety regulations,
writing research proposals, general laboratory management requirements
and organising conferences) which take-up so much of their time, that
very little is left for their original duties (teaching and supervising).
It therefore seems strange that even at the best research institutions
tasks are not divided in order to alleviate the burden of non-research
· Indirectly linked to the above is a commonly accepted rule
that researchers should be the ones presenting their work at conferences
and, if their intellectual property (IP) can be commercialised, they
should exploit it to found a start-up company. However, they may not
necessarily be the most suited individuals to perform these tasks, because
poor presentational, managerial, social and occasionally language skills
often downgrade excellent pieces of work.
· Restructuring these institutions and the underlying mentality
is not an easy task, but if countries that have benefited from leading
research institutes do not want to lose their advantageous position
they will have to re-formulate their strategy.
· Dependence: It is a matter of fact that today in the UK a vast
proportion of research students and post-doctorate workers in many science
departments (just as the great number of foreign business professionals
working in the City of London) are non UK-citizens. This has created
a serious dependence on foreign well-educated and qualified workers.
· Whilst during the past decades the US and the UK attracted
bright and capable workforces on the one hand due to very good remuneration
and on the other hand because they were being offered career opportunities
they did not have in their home countries, as a former head of the EC
directorate for science and research -- Prof Andreta -- recently stated
at an Innovation and business conference: "Top scientists from
developing nations are starting to move back to their countries of origin,
even from prestigious institutions". He quoted a statistic that
over the past two years approximately 8,000 researchers from Asian countries
left (even Institutes like Caltech and MIT) to go back to their counties
of origin, because for similar wages and working conditions they prefer
to work in their home countries.
Given the role played by technological innovation in maintaining USA,
Britain and France's role as world-class players and given that Britain
and France have played a role in maintaining the "balance of power"
since the 17th century, it is surprising that some of these points seems
to have escaped the attention of the ruling elite in those countries
I hope this will stimulate a controversial, yet positive, discussion
on ATCA and wish you all the best.
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views. Thank
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency
Please read the original article, ATCA:
Nanotechnology 2006: A Femto-Glimpse into Our Future or Nano-Hegemony
Coming of Age? by Dr Bent Segal.
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global
challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action
to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence,
ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos, radical
poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced technologies -- bio, info,
nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics and financial systems. Present
membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members from over 100 countries: including several from the House of Lords,
House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government
officials and over 1,500 CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates
and voluntary organisations as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres
of excellence worldwide.
Intelligence Unit | mi2g | tel +44 (0) 20 7712 1782 fax +44 (0) 20
7712 1501 | internet www.mi2g.net
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