The United Kingdom is failing to keep pace with its competitors in developing the technology behind the creation of tiny devices measuring billionths of a metre, according to a report out this week, writes Kam Patel.
Even though commercial application of "nanotechnology" is limited at present, the study by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology estimates that the global market for it could be worth up to Pounds 80 billion by 2000. Likely uses include sensors and actuators, medical diagnostics and information technology.
But POST says that support for nanotechnology is not a priority, despite the effort put in by the Government's Technology Foresight programme, which aims to identify technologies likely to be important for the economy and quality of life over the next 15 years. "UK centres of expertise in nanotechnology now have difficulty in obtaining Government support."
The report says that since last year the National Initiative on Nanotechnology and a LINK university-industry programme on nanotechnology "have ceased to offer new funds and because the Foresight process did not flag nanotechnology as a priority, there is a danger that the momentum generated by these earlier programmes will be dissipated".
POST recommends the Government should consider setting up nanotechnology centres around key universities and research establishments to provide industry with access to the new technology.