Sand. Shrubs. Burst tires. More sand. The last thing you would expect as you drive along the Red Sea near Mecca is to encounter an ultramodern science city. Yet there it is. Appearing after an 80 kilometer drive from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second-largest city, the 36 square kilometer campus of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) appears like a Fata Morgana out of the desert sand. Yesterday, September 23rd, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia officially opened the country's most modern and ambitious university near the old fishing village of Thuwal. Nanowerk was invited to attend the spectacular opening ceremony. Much more than a future elite university, the vision behind KAUST is to create the nucleus of a modern society, free from the strict religious dictates of a conservative Islamic culture, and laying the foundation for a science and technology based society of future generations.
This week's successful international nanotechnology forum Rusnanotech in Moscow has put a spotlight on Russia's ambitions to catch up with the leading nanotechnology nations. While Russia has the money, the political will, and a well educated scientific base to be a leading player, it has completely missed the boat on developing its nanoscience programs and nanotechnology infrastructure. In terms of gross domestic product, Russia ranks as the eleventh largest economy in the world. But while many smaller countries such as Australia or South Korea, not to mention all of the bigger nations, have invested steadily and broadly in all areas of nanosciences and nanotechnologies for years now, Russia has had no coordinated science policy, no industrial policy, and no commercial industrial base to develop its nanotechnology capabilities. Until last year, that is. In April 2007, the Russian president signed off on a public policy paper that ordered a multi-billion dollar program to develop a world-class Russian nanotechnology industry by 2015.
Germany, with an almost 40% share of European public funded nanoscience research, is the clear nanotechnology leader in Europe. It is also one of the leaders globally in pushing research into potential risk and safety concerns associated with nanotechnology. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is the ministry responsible for federal activities in the nanotechnology sector in Germany. Within its framework of 'leading-edge innovations' the BMBF supports key areas of nanotechnologies with promising prospects (NanoMobil, NanoChem, NanoFab, NanoforLife,NanoLux). The project NanoChance aims to support small and medium-sized companies in particular. The cooperative project NanoCare currently mainly focuses on studying possible risks of engineered nanoparticles. Beyond that, the federal agencies BAuA (Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), UBA (Federal Environment Agency) and BfR (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment) have developed a joint research strategy that addresses especially health and environmental risks of engineered nanoparticles. The strategy has been finalized in December 2007 and a final report has just been published.
Regulations and legal provisions can serve several purposes. From a regulator's perspective priority is given to aspects of human safety and environment protection. For commercial firms, regulations on the one hand imply restrictions (compliance) and on the other hand offer a frame of reference and predictability of legal decisions. From a civil society's point of view regulations can be trust-building in the sense that it indicates a certain level of safety. A lack of regulations calls for voluntary measures in order to make sure that this kind of basic trust can be established. The following article aims at shedding light on this field of tension and gives an overview of the current state of European nanotechnology regulation.
The European Union currently spends about 740 million Euros (roughly $1.2 billion) annually in public funding on nanotechnology research. This is almost on par with the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) budget of $1.28 billion (2007). Almost 40% of public EU nanotechnology funding takes place in Germany and it is estimated that about half of the European companies active in nanotechnology are based in Germany, making the country the clear nanotechnology leader in Europe. Germany's strengths include a well structured research and development infrastructure and a high level of research in the various subfields of nanotechnology. The industrial base for utilizing the results of this research is also in place. About 700 companies are currently involved in the development, application, and sales and marketing of nanotechnological products. What sets public nanotechnology policy in Germany and other European countries apart from the U.S. is a more deliberate attempt to create, and evolve over time, an integrated approach in the development of nanotechnology research, trying to link sustainability questions and technology development.
Over the last decade, the European Union (EU) has established a strong knowledge base in nanosciences and developed significant research and development capabilities in nanotechnology. In accordance with the Treaty of the EU, applications of nanotechnology need to comply with the requirements for a high level of public health, safety, consumer and environmental protection (Treaty articles require that a 'high level of human health protection [...] be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities' and that 'consumer protection requirements [...] be taken into account in defining and implementing other Community policies and activities'). Through its Framework Programs (FP), Europe's strategy has been and is to support the safe, responsible development of nanotechnology while providing favourable conditions for industrial innovation. Following this commitment of addressing upfront the potential risks, the European Commission has boosted support for specific collaborative research into the potential impact of nanoparticles on human health and the environment since the Framework Programme 5 (FP5) which started in 1999. These activities have been continued and reinforced in FP6 and in FP7 where several topics were launched specifically addressing the safety of nanomaterials. At the same time, the EU Members States have also been funding research in that field, but a consolidated overview of these ongoing or finished projects was not yet available so the magnitude of these national efforts was difficult to evaluate. The EU now has released a report that lists all nanotechnology research funding in the Community that address in particular the health and environmental impact of nanoparticles.
R+D activities in nanotechnology in Canada are spearheaded by the federal government, provincial governments, as well as universities and national institutes. At the federal level, 9 institutes of the National Research Council (NRC), are conducting R+D in nanotechnology, while the major concentration of both research and industry can be found in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Most of these provinces have already established or will establish province-wide consortiums to promote economic development through nanotechnology. Currently, there are between 50 to 200 companies engaged in nanotechnology-related businesses, with numbers varied depending upon the definition of 'nanotechnology'.
The year 2005 was an important year for nanoscience and nanotechnology in Latin America. Brazil increased federal funding for its nanotechnology program. In Mexico, the Senate Committee for Science and Technology declared itself in favor of the development of a National Emergency Program for investment in research and teaching of nanotechnology. In Colombia, the National Council of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was created. But all this was not done without controversy; and it was in Argentina that conflicts in the scientific and political spheres were concentrated, with repercussions in the media. In Argentina, many of the things that took place in a short span of time might take longer than in many other Latin American countries.