Europe urged to win back nanotech lead

May 28, 2004

The European Commission wants universities to incorporate nanotechnology into a wider range of degrees to encourage multidisciplinary cooperation and help Europe regain its lead in the field.

A policy paper, Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology , suggests that post and undergraduate courses incorporate training in a range of nanotechnology-related skills.

"This should ensure that future generations of nanotechnologists are 'open-minded specialists' able to interact with their counterparts in other disciplines," it says.

The paper also calls for the promotion of private-public research partnerships in the field oriented towards commercial exploitation of nanoelements in, for example, manufacturing, energy storage and security.

The commission is concerned that, although Europe gained an early lead in nanotechnology investment, it has failed to maintain its advantage because of restrictions on risk capital, patenting problems and a general weakness of entrepreneurial culture.

The paper calls on European Union institutions to pump public money into nanotechnology and to create EU poles of excellence under the European Research Area system.

Brussels is spending €1.3 billion (£875 million) on nanotechnology in the Sixth Framework Programme, and the commission wants to increase the amount in the seventh round.

But the EU, it says, is still investing less in nanotechnology than the US and Japan, which sport centralised nanotechnology research and development programmes.

"To achieve the necessary critical mass, we need to concentrate our resources on a limited number of infrastructures," the commission says.

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