Another ��200 million for nanotechnology in the UK

The UK government announced yesterday ��200 million (US$380 million) of funding for nanotechnology over the next three years. The announcement came rather buried in yesterday’s press release accompanying the details of the breakdown of the science allocations from the 2004 – 2008 Comprehensive Spending Review.

There are a couple of caveats to be born in mind when interpreting this figure. Firstly, as the precise wording is “Raising total DTI investment in nanotechnology research to ��200 million” we should probably assume that the ��200m isn’t in addition to the ��90m or so already announced – the new money is thus in the region of ��110m. Secondly, this is only the spend on nanotechnology directly controlled by the Department of Trade and Industry. Most academic nanoscience is still supported by the research councils, particularly EPSRC (whose roughly ��0.5 billion annual budget sees healthy rises over the next few years, though these probably won’t be translated into a lot of new science).

I can’t say I look at this story without mixed feelings. It isn’t clear to me that the DTI has got its act together about its nanotechnology program; the money spent so far seems to be on very short term, rather niche, applications. The definition they give in the press release doesn’t inspire confidence that they have much of a long term vision: “Nanotechnology is the science of minute particles. Nanotechnology manipulates and controls these particles to create structures with unique properties, and promises advances in manufacturing, medicine and computing. Potential applications include medical dressing that kill off microbes, stain-free fabrics that repel liquids and self-cleaning windows.”

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