The future of nano: nanotechnology project progress update
The "Nanotechnology Partnership for Progress – One Year On" event promised to be a celebration of the best of British nanotechnology, but nobody was resting on their laurels, reports Rhiannon Garth Jones.
From the beginning, this year’s conference was focused on making the exciting future of nanotechnology, so often extolled, into a reality. By the end of the day it had become clear that the focus at this stage needs to be less on the science – already flourishing, with a growth of 60% over the last five years – and more on improving regulation and collaboration between industry and academia to bridge the Valley of Death.
Many delegates commented that overly severe regulation had stifled nanotechnology in the 1980s, when it first started to show promise, but that proposed new regulation seemed more promising. Lord de Mauley, Under Secretary of State at Defra, said, ‘It is vital to understand the potential impacts on human health and the environment’ but promised a new approach. This was echoed by Steve Morgan, also of Defra, as he explaind NANoREG, and then by Christos Tokamanis, from the European Commission, as he detailed the potential of Horizon2020.
Time and again, industry professionals spoke about the difficulties between development of a product in a lab and its commercialisation. The need for collaboration between academia and industry was stressed, as was the need for big businesses to work with SMEs, which, according to Simon Holland, Chair of the ISO TC229 Nanotechnologies Committee, make the most advances in the field. Of the companies that presented, five out of six had some connection with a university and all welcomed working with larger companies, but emphasised the danger of simply being swallowed. A number of delegates suggested greater involvement by British business angels could be the solution, although Professor Peter Dobson from the University of Oxford, UK, pointed out that many projects need investments closer to £5m than £100,000.
In the afternoon session there were exciting presentations on some of the products being developed. Peratech, UK, presented its Quantum Tunnelling Composite (QTC), an electrically conductive material made from conductive filler particles combined with an elastomeric binder, typically silicone rubber, developed to advance the capability of switching and sensing systems. When placed under pressure, QTC changes from an electrical insulator to a metal-like conductor.
Promising advancements were described by biotechnology firm Endomagnetics, UK, in the field of breast cancer staging through the application of advanced magnetic sensing technology. The two products described provide a radioisotope-free method of node localisation that improves workflow and costs while increasing the availability of care. Sienna+, a tracer that induces a magnetic response, works in conjunction with SentiMag, which generates an alternating magnetic field, temporarily magnetising the iron oxide particles in Sienna+ to create an identifiable signature.
A project to link scientific evaluation of existing toxicity data to regulators and legislators, and clarify necessary measures. For more information, visit www.nanoreg.eu
The EU’s new funding programme is a flagship initiative, between 2014–2020, with a budget of just over €70 billion. For more information, visit ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/index_en.cfm
Question of the day
Q - Some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs have come from the happy accident, a phenomenon that is not catered for by most funding. Will Horizon2020 be any different?
A - The budget for future imagined content has been quadrupled, and 40% of that will remain open.