Nanotechnology theme day

The UK’s funding agency for the physical sciences – the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) – has been holding a theme day to review the nanotechnology it supports. All holders of grants in the nanotechnology area were invited to present their work. A panel of academic and industrial scientists and engineers, with international representation from the USA and Korea, reviewed the work presented on the day, as well as reports on recently finished grants and other evidence in an attempt to assess the health of the subject, to judge the UK’s position in relation to the rest of the world and to make recommendations.

Unlike most other countries, the UK doesn’t have a coordinated nanotechnology program. There are two interdisciplinary research collaborations, based at Oxford and Cambridge respectively, but most funding is provided in response to individual grant applications which are made, not to a single nanotechnology program, but to panels dealing with chemistry, physics, materials or information technology. The last time that nanotechnology was reviewed in this way was in 1999, and at that time it was felt that a single nanotechnology program was not needed.

I was on the panel; the report will be made public when it is finalised, so it’s probably premature to go into details about the conclusions we reached. As they say in diplomatic communiques, the discussions were full and frank, but we finished in remarkable agreement.

4 thoughts on “Nanotechnology theme day”

  1. It is possibly hypothetical because the outcomes of your deliberations are not known yet, but one of the interesting outcomes of a co-ordinated nanotechnology programme would be to see the areas of science that would be funded. We are aware of the extent whereby the term “nanotechnology” is often used in a rather trite fashion in order to get funding. It would be interesting to see if scientists working in areas of “nanoparticles”, block copolymer research, and so on would send their proposals to other panels, or whether they would be embraced by a very broad nanotechnology community. If the EPSRC were to have a nanotech programme, I believe that they should not define what falls into this programme but rather let the broader community decide what should and what should not be funded under a nano-programme.

    At present three of us are in a pleasantly air-conditioned cabin on the CRISP reflectometer at the Rutherford Lab’s ISIS pulsed neutron facility. It’s very hot here at ISIS and it’s affecting the beam – we don’t have one, and are not likely to have one here until the outside temperature drops this evening.


  2. Mark, when you suggest a programme in which it was left to the community to decide what was and wasn’t nanotechnology, isn’t what would happen in practise that the particular panel that was prioritising any particular funding round would be the one to make that definition?

  3. It’s interesting to note that a group in the US, at the moment, are trying to find a solution to this debate, on the definition of nanotechnology with specifical reference to funding. Vicki Colvin of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University, has been promoting ASTM International’s technical committee E56 on nanotechnology. Colvin is attempting to persuade as many people as possible, who consider themselves to be working in nanotechnology, to join the committee to vote on the terminology. She sites the following example

    ‚ÄúIf you want to pull up all the papers about anisotropic nanoparticles it‚Äôs hard to do. They‚Äôre called nanorice, nanorods or nanotriangles.‚Äů

    Do you think that this kind of committee consensus, where everyone who claims to be working with nanotechnology has equal say, could be the way to prevent bias distribution of funding to by research councils?

    Ben Robinson

  4. To be honest, I think that consensus is exactly what academic nanoscience/technology doesn’t need right now – I think what it needs is some vision (that’s very definitely a personal view, I should say).

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