To identify a market for the tools that

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Unformatted text preview: entify a market for the tools that nanotechnology can provide today. The first step to product development is positioning the technology—what is nanotechnology’s competitive edge? There is no simple answer to this question because of the enormous breadth of devices that can be built from nanoscale materials. Methods of synthesis and construction differ greatly, as do the performance aspects of each system. The second step is to develop applications that leverage the unique aspects of the nanoscale system, whether in photovoltaics, memory storage or medical devices. Much of NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY VOLUME 21 NUMBER 10 OCTOBER 2003 nanotechnology (particularly nanobiotechnology) is still at these early stages, requiring significant incubation for application and assay development. Given nanotechnology’s nascent stage, there are understandably few investors taking the risk in early-stage innovation. Many are waiting on the sidelines for an early indication in product development. Government funding has become the main source of early support for nanotechnology research and development (R&D), particularly since the establishment of the US NNI in 2000 (Arlington, VA, USA) and other initiatives like it around the world (see p. 1127). Nanotechnology significantly extends our capabilities in resolution and sensitivity, but is there currently a need for these products? As outlined below, some of nanotechnology’s tools are complementary to biotech’s picks and shovels (e.g., contact microprinting technology could permit the creation of new types of arrays with smaller feature size and greater sensitivity). In other areas, there is a clear indication that nanotechnology will outperform micron-scale technology platforms. For those nanotechnologies that offer what may be considered incremental performance, industries that have invested heavily over the past few years in other technology platforms may show significant resistance to adoption. Large-scale production and manufacturing is another challenge. Can nanoscale systems be produced cheaply and in mass quantities? Nanoparticle synthesis has been adapted for bulk production, and several companies (such as Carbon Nanotechnologies, Houston, TX, USA, and Sumitomo, Tokyo, Japan) are already mass producing carbon fullerenes and nanotubes. But the production of integrated nanoscale devices is a formidable process, even using micron-scale tools. Self assembly may provide a key to nanoscale device manufacturing. Nature has 1137 F E AT U R E Table 1 US universities with federally funded nanotechnology programs Program Government agency Rice University (Houston, TX) Nanoscience in Biological and Environmental Engineering National Science Foundation (NSF) Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) Integrated Nanopatterning and Detection NSF Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY) Directed Assembly of Nanostructures NSF Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) Nanobiotechnology, Science and Technology Center NSF Columbia...
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