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Posted: Aug 24th, 2006
Nanoscience and nanotechnology in Latin America
(Nanowerk Spotlight) 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.
Throughout the region, nanotechnology has been recognized as one of the major fields of strategic technological development.
Argentina has centers of excellence in several sectors (physics, chemistry, and medicine) which are working on micro and
nanotechnologies. April 2005 saw the formal launch of the Argentinean Nanotechnology Foundation (“ANF”) with a federal budget of $10 million for five years and a close relationship with Lucent Technologies. The ANF was created by presidential decree, without significant discussion with and among the scientific community, and caused quite a stir. Many were concerned that the ANF would be subject to too much foreign funding and influence. The Argentine Physics Association issued a statement condemning the procedure by which the ANF was created. In parliament, the Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Representatives made a request for information pertaining to the ongoing scientific research with funds from the U.S. Department of Defense. The National Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology issued a statement suggesting the regulation of nanotechnology research and eventually limiting those financed by overseas armed forces.
Beginning in 2001, Brazil set up four networks for nanostructured materials, nanobiotechnology, molecular nanotechnologies and interfaces, and nanodevices semiconductors and nanostructured materials. In late 2004, a network on Nanotechnology, Society and Environment was created. Also in 2004, the Brazilian federal government released its Pluri-Annual Plan (2004-2007), scheduling around $28 million for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (“DNN”) program. The aim of the program is “to develop new products and processes in nanotechnology with a view to increasing the competitiveness of Brazilian industry.” The government reconsidered the original budget during 2005, increasing federal investment for 2005 and 2006 from the original $19 million to around $30 million. In 2005, within the DNN, the BrasilNano Network was also set up. This network is one in which companies and research centers are
involved in order to quicken the industrial and commercial development of nanotechnologies.
Chile has several research groups involved in nanosciences at a number of universities, including the following: the University of Chile’s Institute of Research and Testing of Materials, the Department of Material Engineering and the Advanced Interdisciplinary Research Center for Material Science; Federico Santa Maria Technical University (which studies the physics of condensed matter or nanotechnology, and from whence the Millennium Scientific Nucleus project is run with the help of scientists from many universities in the country); the physics department of Catholic University, which receives financial aid from the Andes Foundation; the government-funded Fondo Nacional de Innovación y Desarrollo
Científico y Tecnológico (“FONDOCYT”); and various international programs
In 2004, the Technical Secretariat (Colciencias) selected eight strategic areas for the development of productivity and
competitiveness of the Colombian economy. One of these areas was Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. In July, 2005, the National Council of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (“CNNN”) was established and assigned to the Colombian section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (“IEEE”). In the following August, the Research and Development Net in Nanotechnoscience was set up, addressing the following areas: auto-assembly, replication, and nanoscale control; cancer and nanotechnology; nanoelectronics and molecular electronics; nanophotonics, spintronics, and nanomaterials; computation nanotechnoscience; quantum and molecular computation; nanorobotics; bionanotechnology; and the ethical and social implications of nanotechnosciences.
In August 2004, Costa Rica inaugurated the Laboratory for Nanotechnology, Microsensors and Advanced Materials (“LANOTEC”). It is the first of this type in Central America. It will work on research, design, and construction of microsensors and carbon nanotubes; its emphasis on this last topic is in agreement with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center based in Maryland.
There are several universities and research centers working with nanosciences and nanotechnologies but so far there is no federal program to finance, organize, or regulate nanotechnology, despite the efforts of some researchers from a variety of institutions to get it under way. Most research groups have bilateral agreements with groups in the United States or Europe, and financing comes from various Mexican and overseas programs.
The Latin American experience so far
Almost all of the Latin American countries hope that by quickening the pace of nanoscience and nanotechnology there will be an improvement in a country’s competitiveness. The argument is that nanotechnology can improve competitiveness
and overcome the problems of a slower economy and the associated problems of poverty.
This accounts for the efforts in all countries to integrate industry and commerce with nanotechnology research. However, improved competitiveness is not the same thing as improving the standard of living of people at large. The case of China comes to mind here. China increased its competitiveness over the last few decades and has now become the fourth largest economic power in the world; however, inequality has increased despite the higher competitiveness and larger economy. Neither is improved competitiveness a guarantee of greater democracy, empowerment, and public participation.
After the U.S. launched its nanotechnology program, many Latin American countries jumped on the bandwagon. Beyond the differences between countries, the Latin American proposals are characterized by the following common themes: (a) failure to consider the possible socio-economic impacts of the new technologies; (b) failure to conduct studies into the health and environmental risks or the ethical implications associated with nanotechnology; and (c) failure to generate a process for widespread participation in the elaboration of the proposals, thereby reducing discussion to a select group of scientists.
Furthermore, while Europe and the U.S. are discussing the need to integrate nanoscience issues into high school education curricula, the nanotechnology programs in Latin America are concerned only with training elite scientists. Without a wide scientific basis, it is more likely that excellent researchers will end up going overseas to developed countries.
Neither the Argentine Nanotechnology Foundation, the Mexican nanotechnology proposals, or the Brazilian documents from the DNN project consider the potential risks associated with nanotechnology.
Latin American countries will have to consider the various impacts of nanotechnology in order to effectively legislate with regard to nanotechnology. Effectively evaluating the impact of nanotechnology, however, is difficult in terms of lacking equipment and staff, and in terms of the additional costs that Latin American countries will hardly be able to cover. Without a clear policy based on precaution— another issue that is not being discussed—it is more likely that nanotechnology will expand without restriction.
By Guillermo Foladori, Copyright Nanowerk LLC
Guillermo Foladori, Ph.D., is a professor in the Doctoral Program on Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, México. He is also a member of the International Nanotechnology and Society Network.