Brussels, 05 Aug 2005
Nanoforum, the thematic network funded by the EU under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), has produced a report detailing Europe's nanotechnology infrastructure and networks. Provisions and levels of development vary from country to country, but overall the report writers identified 240 infrastructures in 28 countries. Of these 240, 16 were classified as major EU research infrastructures.
Nanoforum defined infrastructure for this report as 'centres which allow external users access to fabrication or analytical facilities, and provide technical support if required'. Also included were well-equipped centres for basic research that are open to cooperation.
A number of networks are also identified in the report. Some 143 that offer support for collaboration and information exchange between members were identified.
In terms of scientific discipline, facilities offering research infrastructure for nanomaterials and electronics and systems were found to be the most common (87 and 68 centres respectively), with fundamental research (primarily physics and chemistry) representing the major activity for 35 centres. Analytical and diagnostic facilities are offered in 38 centres, and engineering and fabrication in 39. In contrast, nanobiotechnology facilities are only available in 26 centres, and only seven encompass energy research. While most centres have strengths in more than one sector, 19 cover multiple or all sectors.
Naturally, different countries were found to have different strengths. For example, France has a strong focus on electronics and nanobiotechnology, while Germany has a broad spectrum of infrastructure covering all areas. Greece is active in several areas, while the Netherlands has a number of fabrication facilities and centres for electronics and nanobiotechnology. Poland has a strong nanomaterials, electronics, fabrication and analysis base. This is also the case for the UK.
No nanotechnology infrastructure or networks were found in Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta or Slovakia.
The report gives detailed information on policy, funding and infrastructure in 28 countries. It starts with Austria, which has launched a number of initiatives to develop, strengthen and promote emerging technology fields for the future, including nanotechnologies. The NANO Initiative is a multi-annual public funding programme for nanoscale sciences and nanotechnology, with an annual public budget of 15 million euro. Nanoforum identified three infrastructure centres, as well as one international and three national networks in Austria.
The Czech government has attempted to reorganise financing for applied research. A foresight exercise led to the identification of nanotechnologies as important for medicine and health, advanced materials, instruments and equipment and process technologies. The report lists ten centres that make available nanotechnology research infrastructure to outside users, and four networks headquartered in the Czech Republic.
Hi-tech research centres have been established in recent years near to universities in Denmark. The Nano-Science Centre is one example, located at the University of Copenhagen. Ireland, on the other hand, began investing in nanotechnology long before many other countries. Although its overall research investment remains below average, Ireland has nonetheless excelled in nanotechnology. According to the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, 114 full time nanotech researchers and ten internationally recognised groups are currently working in Ireland. Ireland is also way ahead of many other countries in commercialising nanotechnologies, with more than four multinational companies developing nanoproducts, and another 40 in the pipeline.
Another key player is Germany. Since the late 1980s the government has been funding nanotechnology research activities in the context of its materials research and physical technologies programmes. Between 1998 and 2004, the volume of projects funded by more than one source in Germany quadrupled to around 120 million euro. The report identifies 57 centres of competence and 32 networks - 22 of these are national, and ten international.
The report concludes that, while capabilities vary according to country, 'much could be achieved through better publicity of existing infrastructure and providing further financial support for access'. To access the report, please visit; http:///www.nanoforum.org