British-led networks reach for nanotechnology's blue skies

May 3, 2002

Two British-led networks of scientists are bidding for millions of pounds of European funding to drive forward blue-skies research into nanotechnology.

The aim is to spawn collaborative projects by bringing together experts from different institutions and subjects to discuss how to explore the world at nanometre scales.

Excitement is mounting at the prospect of being able to manipulate individual molecules. This could have many applications, from autonomous machines able to tackle health problems within the body to new ways of storing vast amounts of data.

In the UK, scientists interested in nanotechnology have gravitated to four groups - two interdisciplinary research collaborations, led by Cambridge and Oxford universities, and two looser networks - Nanonet and Nanomed, coordinated from Portsmouth and Newcastle universities respectively.

Nanonet recently held its second workshop in London and has the backing of the technology commercialisation company BTG, though Jim Strutt, the firm's technology acquisition executive, said: "This is still a very early stage technology."

Keith Firman, principal lecturer in molecular biology at Portsmouth, said Nanonet had sparked new collaborations and he expected more as its website and virtual network become focal points for research and teaching.

Calum McNeil, medical director of the centre for nanoscale science and technology at Newcastle, said Nanomed had "been very effective at bringing together people from isolated disciplines".

Both networks are putting together pan-European consortia to secure a share of the €1.3 billion (£800 million) earmarked for nanotechnology under Framework 6.

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