Brussels, 12 July 2002
Nanotechnology research in Europe could be threatened by a shift towards prioritising large-scale research projects for funding, says a working paper issued by the European Commission's Research DG.
The report was compiled after discussions with individuals conducting nanotechnology research or involved in managing projects in nanotechnology-related areas.
It reports concerns that smaller research groups will lose out on EU and European funding because of an increasing focus on support for large-scale initiatives, such as those envisaged under the EU's Sixth Framework programme for research.
It states: 'There is a concern that with the increase in size of the projects the 'small person in the lab' will find it increasingly difficult to get funding for projects as the average cost of funded projects increases. This is particularly in response to the likely increase in project funding for Framework VI and the trend for some national bodies to fund larger projects.'
The report says discoveries in the field are not just centred in large labs, but take place in smaller university groups and research institutions as well. It adds that the increase in the number of high-profile collaborations that are being funded may leave some laboratories 'out of the loop.'
'This perceived 'politicisation' of nanotechnology research, where large sums of money and kudos are associated with a small number of collaborative research groups tackling a large number of activities, makes it more difficult for those 'not in the crowd to get the funding required to complete research,' the report explains.
A further concern that industrial bodies with leading roles in these large scale projects may overlook long-term priorities in favour of shorter term results is also highlighted by the report.
Another concern which emerges from the study is the current lack of provision at EU-level of funding for talented young nanotechnology researchers. It explains: 'Within the EU framework no such scheme is available, or not known to those who are conducting the nanotechnology research. The scheme would be advantageous as it would encourage talented young researchers to remain within Europe as they will be directing their own research path.'
The most-quoted concern of those contacted for the study is a lack of suitable students or post-doctoral staff, caused in part by regulations imposed by the EU and some government contracts prohibiting the use of researchers form outside Europe. A lack of interest in scientific careers in general, exacerbated by long hours and low pay, was also blamed for the problem. The report's authors explain: 'Within Europe there is a push to increase the status and rewards of school teachers and other public sector workers, however, there is no analogous drive to make the rewards for remaining in academia a good option when compared to industry or moving to other regions to complete research.
The report says Europe has, as a single entity, the leading global position in terms of the number of nanotechnology publications. Broken down into individual countries, however, the picture is slightly different, with the USA in pole position followed by Russia, Japan, Germany and China.
For further information, please consult the following web address: http://www.europarl.eu.int/stoa/publi/p df/summaries/stoa108sum_en.pdf