Critics of nanotechnology like the ETC group worry about the potential for this new technology to lead to a divergence in wealth between rich countries and poor countries – the North-South gap. A different perspective emerges from an interesting recent commentary in the July 1 edition of Science Magazine by Mohamed Hassan of The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), Trieste – Small Things and Big Changes in the Developing World (subscription required). The article makes clear just how energetically and effectively some developing countries are pursuing nanotechnology. But, the article adds, “On the downside, there is a disturbing emergence of a South-South gap in capabilities between scientifically proficient countries (Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, for example) and scientifically lagging countries, many of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Islamic world”.
The big story, is of course, China. The same issue of Science has a very bullish article by Chunli Bai, Executive VP of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing – Ascent of Nanoscience in China (subscription required), which highlights both the investments going into nanoscience and the results in terms of scientific outputs, which have already placed China into the first rank of nanoscience nations (for example, on some measures their output has already surpassed the UK). But other countries, like India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, are making significant investments. Hassan’s article quotes the Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology for the rationale: “developing countries will not catch up with developed countries by investing in existing technologies alone. [In order] to compete successfully in global science today, a portion of the science and technology budget of every country must focus on cutting-edge science and technologies”.
The danger that Hassan sees is that the research goals of the developing nations that are successful in developing nanotechnology will become too closely aligned with those of the rich countries (i.e. creating lucrative goods for consumer markets) rather than focusing on the those issues that are particularly important for the developing world.