Nanotechnology in the developing world – an emerging south-south gap?

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.

4 thoughts on “Nanotechnology in the developing world – an emerging south-south gap?”

  1. Hi, India and China have become more liberal in outlook in recent times and therefore I am confident that their Nanotech programs will serve the masses due to commerical pressures!

    An Amateur mathematician

  2. Now off topic.

    There is a company called:

    Who are building Noisy Quantum Computers to solve the Many Body Schrodinger Equation. Mr Baez is skeptical as he believes that its method will be no better than simulated annealing! This means that it will be frustrated and stuck in ‘almost-minima’.

    Personally, I think that it could revolutionise Quantum Nano Computations as finding ‘almost-minima’ is just what is required for the MBSE! One can check these guesses via the Fokker_Plank equations and use pertubation methods between the guesses!

    What do you think?

    An amateur mathematican

  3. This is probably closer to Dr Baez’s expertise than mine so I won’t argue with him. What does strike me, though, is that it seems fairly misleading to describe this scheme as a quantum computer; if I understand it correctly it simply looks like an old-style analogue computer that happens to rely on a quantum phenomenon to model what it’s computing. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it isn’t really exploiting the power of quantum superposition that excites people about quantum computing.

    More on topic, I suspect I agree with the thrust of what you are saying in that the market will drive the direction of both Indian and Chinese nanotechnology and that that’s not a bad thing. The market, of course, will not by itself solve the problems of the developing world but it seems better to me to exploit market mechanisms but for governments, foundations and NGOs to intervene to correct market failures (as for example we are now seeing for the development of anti-malarial drugs) rather than to intervene more directly.

  4. Hi,

    Yes, your are right about the Qcomputing bit. However, there is a good chance that they will be able to calculate Schrodinger Density Functions for electron structures with approx 200 – 300 electrons via what is called grover speedup. Moreover, there are arxiv papers which show simulations which provide a proof of concept!This is up from 30 electrons at the moment! Surely modeling 200 – 300 electron systems is revolutionary! The point is that with conventional methods, going far beyound 30 electron is effectively immpossible, even if computer speed up by 10^3 times via moore’s law. If the nanorevolution is to arrive, the nanocommunity will need something like this.

    Now On Topic. My personal opinion is that criticism of China’s nanotech program is just us First Worlder telling China what to do! Let a thousand flowers bloom.

    an amateur mathematician.

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