Nanotechnology continues to make news as a bright spot for business growth—and jobs. The National Science Foundation, for example, has forecast that the global market for nanotechnology products and services will balloon to more than $1 trillion by 2015 and will employ some 2 million people.
Some groups pooh-pooh such figures, saying they are waaaay out of proportion with reality. (See http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=1792.php) Yet even most skeptics allow that sooner or later, nanotechnologies will transform many aspects of our lives.
How to get in on the action?
A good place to start is to check out what states and regional groups are doing to support nanoresearch and industrialization and to provide information to entrepreneurs and employees. You may want to explore the NSF’s National Nanotechnology Initiative, which, among other things, provides a list of links to state and regional programs. (See http://www.nano.gov/html/funding/businessops.html)
You’ll read about what’s going on in North Carolina, where at least 69 companies already are working with nanotechnology. (See http://www.ncnanotechnology.com) The companies range from small startups using nanotechnology as a core part of their manufacturing processes and services to large firms using nanotechnology as part of their broader operations. Be sure to check out how one company has developed new nanotech coatings for critical car engine parts that are allowing NASCAR racers to boost their horsepower. (See http://www.ncnanotechnology.com/public/21597)
In the Northeast, the Massachusetts Nanotechnology Initiative seeks to encourage research, foster commercial ventures, and create new jobs by harnessing the state’s university and industrial base of nanoscale science and engineering. (See http://www.masstech.org/mni) For a good example of university-industry collaboration, look at MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, which is working with the U.S. Army and several industrial partners—including Raytheon, DuPont, and Partners Healthcare—to use nanotechnology to give the nation’s fighting forces what they need to be lighter, faster, more versatile, and more easily deployable on short notice. (See http://web.mit.edu/isn)
On the Left Coast, several groups are nanofocused. The California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA is a research center devoted to encouraging university collaboration with industry with an eye on rapid commercialization of discoveries in nanosystems. (See http://www.cnsi.ucla.edu) Some of the institute’s efforts were featured in the July 15, 2009, New York Times. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/business/smallbusiness/16edge.html)
Among other activities, the institute sponsors a series of “incubator” seminars. The latest seminar, for example, focused on giving entrepreneurs a look at what information technology may be useful in a startup company, how to avoid the risks associated with such technology, and how to keep costs in line with that bane of most fledgling companies—limited funding.
In the Northwest, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute hosts a variety of programs—in research, industrial collaboration, and educational outreach—to put nanotechnology to work. (See http://www.onami.us/) In one nanoproject, University of Oregon chemistry professor Darren Johnson and Portland-based Crystal Clear Technologies are developing a water filter that uses nanoparticles to cleanse industrial wastewater while harvesting valuable metals trapped in the water.
In an announcement for a recent “micro-nano breakthrough conference,” the institute captured a common spirit in the field: “In these turbulent economic times, one thing remains unchanged: innovation-driven productivity advances are the only basis for prosperous, high-wage regional economies, and commercialized scientific research is the best and most durable source of innovation advantage.”
Many of these Web sites offer assistance to fledgling entrepreneurs and information about which firms and universities in their areas are beefing up manufacturing or research—and thus may be adding to the job supply.
Nanobits of food for thought.
— Tom Burroughs is a freelance writer based in Chapel Hill, N.C.