Economic Repercussions of Advances in Nanotechnology

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

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“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

By R. Buckminster Fuller.

In the last years, significant progress has been made in the field of nanotechnology and nanoscience, to the point that no one doubts that this field is destined to become the strategic sector par excellence in most of the advanced economies of the region.

What is nanotechnology?

It is the science of “nano” (one dimension: 10 raised to -9). That is, it deals with both organic and inorganic matter in the dimensions of the environment of molecules and atoms. Nanotechnology was proposed in theoretical terms by the Nobel Prize for Physics Richard Feynman in the late fifties.

Its expansion today is possible thanks to the availability of new instruments capable of “seeing” and “touching” at this dimensional scale. At the beginning of the eighties, one of the microscopes capable of “seeing” atoms was invented in Switzerland (IBM-Zurich). A few years later, the AtomicForce Microscope was invented, increasing the capabilities and types of materials that could be investigated. Today this analysis technology is available for companies and research centers around the world.

The main initial advances come from learning the properties of matter at this dimensional scale. This has led to the appearance of products such as nanotubes, nanoparticles, nanocrystals, etc.

In its superior state it is expected that nanotechnology will allow to work and manipulate the molecular structures and their atoms. This possibility would lead us to manufacture materials and machines from the rearrangement of atoms and molecules.

The possibilities of this phase are unlimited. Nanotechnology could easily and cheaply change the properties of all known materials. Some examples that are cited: could achieve a steel hundred times more resistant and ten times less heavy or computers that do not spend almost energy and work millions of times faster.

Charles Vest, former President of MIT, has frequently pointed out that nanotechnology will provoke a second industrial revolution. After more than eight years as president of MIT, George Bush has “signed” Vest as an advisor on nanotechnology applied to the military. In this field, MIT has a multi-million dollar research project with the Federal Government of the United States.

What economic importance does it have?

Today institutions such as NASA and NSF (National Science Foundation) consider nanotechnology as one of the strategic sectors No. 1.

Soon, says a trend report from the Deloitte prediction company, nanotechnology will be the basis for the entire manufacturing industry.

Which countries lead nanotechnology?

The United States leads the field of Nanoscience through numerous research centers linked to leading universities and nanotechnology companies.

Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, China and Israel are some countries that openly and strategically bet on the development of nanotechnology through plans and investments for research and development.

In Europe, the European Union has established it in the Sixth Framework Program Nanotechnology as a priority line. However, neither the commitment of the European Union nor that of its member states is consistent with its economic weight.

Which sectors will be affected?

In the medium term, all sectors will be affected. The commercialization of some pioneering products is already producing some relevant advances.

For example, NASA relies on nanotechnology to advance its spatial challenges through new, more powerful computing, new sensors, new materials, miniaturization, etc.

In an attempt to publicize the impacts, Chad Mirkin, director of the Northwestern University’s Institute for Nanotechnology, discusses the promise of super-tiny materials. He points out to his readers that they will see “from the resistance of their clothes to the stains, the revolution in medical diagnosis, or high technology in semiconductors, which will mean powerful computers, even the cosmetic industry is interested in these materials. to make specific cosmetics Nanotechnology involves the reconstruction of the earth as we know it, atom by atom”.

Health and the search for solutions for cheap and non-polluting alternative energies are two other lines of work extended in numerous university departments and companies.

So scientists in the United States have turned to nanotechnology in the fight against cancer. Doctors from Harvard Medical School, among other teams, have been injecting magnetic nanoparticles to treat tumors.

What companies and products are already a reality?

Nanotechnology investors have reduced their “hyper-enthusiasm” known as nanobuzz or nanohype. And is that nanotechnology is still in a very early stage, although every day with really surprising steps that could lead to a qualitative leap in practical applications, as has happened with some nanoparticles or incipiently with nanotubes. It must be recognized that despite its enormous potential, the real benefits are still small.

Proposals: some strategic actions

Mexico, a country close to the United States, is demanding greater activity around nanotechnology. A prestigious academic from UNAM considered that institutions should adapt their plans and programs. Indeed, training should be the safest way to avoid losing the train of nanotechnology. In this regard, there would be some specific lines of action:

  • Establish a National Nanotechnology Plan capable of coordinating all the relevant actions of the research centers, in the manner of the National Nanotechnology Initiative with its own funds and experts capable of encouraging the most promising lines, in accordance with the media and the state of the art.
  • Demand greater contributions for the European Framework Program and greater cooperation of inter-country teams for the development of large-scale projects (such as DYNASYNC).
  • Promote information among companies and sectors receiving the emerging innovations in the field of nanotechnology.
  • Introduce teaching plans in the middle classes that encourage university vocations in nanoscience.
  • Encourage in the universities specific study plans, subjects and specialties in the different aspects of nanoscience.

Nanotechnology allows scientists to manipulate organic and inorganic matter atom by atom or molecule by molecule. “Nanoscience” potentially represents a revolution in the construction of devices with atomic precision. That is, the possibility of approaching the construction of new materials through the treatment of atoms and molecules as if they were “building blocks”.

Nanoscience should not be interpreted as another step towards miniaturization. It potentially represents the possibility of achieving a convergence of quantum physics, molecular biology, chemistry, computer science and engineering.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology are expected to revolutionize science and society. Applications in this field have the potential to transform medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, manufacturing, materials science, the aerospace industry, information technology and telecommunications, to name just a few sectors most affected .

The general approach: science, technology and the knowledge economy

The rapid evolution and growth of advanced technology has become a key element for the promotion of competitive innovation, the appearance of new businesses and perspectives of progress for those economic systems that strive to be protagonists in the era of globalization and knowledge.

The map of the human genome, cloning, supercomputers and the Internet has happened in parallel in very short periods of time. Today, new information technologies already represent more than a third of the GDP of some countries, including the United States.

We are entering an accelerated time driven by technology with projects and business initiatives that generate significant economic value. We are in the middle of great changes in the economic systems driven by the accelerated exponential growth of the New Technologies. In this framework, nanotechnology must be understood, that is, a continuation, in the acceleration of advanced technology and perhaps, most importantly, that it could have the capacity to transform the future global economy.

There are many countries and analysts who have not hesitated to understand that nanotechnology can become an indispensable strategic piece for the competitiveness of an economic system. So much so that you can determine the viability and wealth of nations, organizations and industries in the not too distant future.

Ten years ago the United States seemed the only one concerned about this issue. Today there is a curious mixture of countries in which Europe seems to be lagging behind (despite the recent bets contemplated in the last Framework Programs). China, India, Japan, Australia, Israel, Korea, more recently Russia, are part of those countries that seem aware of the advantages of betting on this sector of the future.

Nanotechnology can boost prosperity and global competitiveness

Economists and foresight specialists have had little capacity to identify the impacts derived from the recent evolution of new technologies in the economy and in companies. We have many topics and inaccurate forecasts to identify very relevant scenarios for the future.

Recent experience shows that there has been a very limited ability to accurately predict innovations, such as the Internet, wireless communications, or the human genome map. Sometimes, science fiction has come closer to reality than the forecasts of economists or scientists from other specialties.

It is already the case of nanotechnology whose media presence has fueled more the imagination than the serious forecasts and valid strategies for companies and for countries.

Nanotechnology is fundamental given that it can provide very powerful tools for inorganic and organic engineers that may be able to promote a reorganization of society, companies and the structure of our economies.

James Caton already argued in 1999 that nanotechnology would affect all aspects of the economy: wages, employment, inputs, pricing, capital, exchange rates, currencies, markets, supply and demand. Nanotechnology could boost economic prosperity or, at least, be a favorable factor in shaping productivity and global competitiveness.

A second industrial revolution. This is the diagnosis of many specialists who strive to reveal the scope and impact of nanotechnology on economic activity. The supply of radically innovative inputs, the automation of complex processes would affect the vast majority of the supply chain industries, distribution channels, value chains, etc. etc. Obviously, this would lead to the crisis and the disappearance of numerous traditional productive activities and, in principle, foreseeably in very short periods of time.

Many productive sectors and with it whole countries could experience major convulsions in their economic systems and the need to adopt drastic changes in order to guarantee their competitiveness within the demands of a global economy.

All this within a framework of benefits and social risks of a large entity that would require a diligent administration of both.