Get Back in Business With Nanotechnology
Published: December 1, 2006 (Issue # 1226)
St. Petersburg this week played host to Nanobio '06, the first international conference on nanotechnology to be held in Russia. The event ran from Monday through Wednesday at the city's State Polytechnic University."There is a lot of talk about nanoscience — it's a global technology that affects all other technologies and processes that people use," Sergei Kozyrev, director of the Center for Perspective Research at St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University, said at a round table at Rosbalt news agency on Thursday.
Kozyrev compared the possible impact of nanoscience on society to the effects caused by new information technologies.
A nanometer is a measure equal to one millionth of a millimeter, and nanoscience deals with objects of that size.
"Nano means not merely very small objects, but objects that due to their small size have new qualities," said Viktor Ustinov, member of the Russian Academy of Science and scientist at the A.F. Ioffe Physics and Technical Institute.
Ustinov mentioned Russian scientist Zhores Alferov, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2000 for his related work together with colleagues from the Institute of Physics and Technology in the 1960s and 70s.
Technologies based on semiconductors and Alferov's findings are used in solar batteries, light-emitting diodes and heterotransistors. Semiconductors made possible the internet, satellite communications, cellular phones and other things that have become present-day commodities.
"The potential market for nanoproducts is equal to the whole market of new innovative materials," Kozyrev said.
Potential uses range from powders with special qualities to information systems to medicine, he said.
John Reinitz, professor of Stony Brook University, reminded those present that the production of insulin allowed the treatment of diseases that were previously untreatable. He suggested that nanoscience will allow to control biological processes and could allow treatment of cancer and considerable improvements in agriculture.
"Unfortunately, Russia is currently well below global standards of technology in this industry — we are considerably behind China, a country that is making huge steps in developing nanotechnologies," Kozyrev said.
"In Russia, current methods of production do not correspond to the technologies that science could offer to the industry. And this gap keeps growing," Kozyrev said.
Although Intel, Siemens, Bosch and other foreign giants attended the conference to hire talented scientists and make interesting scientific discoveries, Russian companies were not represented, the experts said.
They estimated that less than 10 enterprises in St. Petersburg could be called 'high-tech.' "In Russia, we do not have high-tech production based on nanotechnologies," Ustinov said.
"We could compete in the world market and we are interesting to foreigners in the field of new ideas. That is the area where Russian science is almost unrivaled. But when it comes to competition in the realm of production, to producing working samples we find ourselves far behind other countries. That has been our problem ever since Soviet times," Kozyrev said.
At the moment a Federal program for the development of Russian nanoindustry infrastructure is being set up involving the creation of a number of research centers specialized in nanoscience, one of them in St. Petersburg, developed on the basis of the Prometei research institute of structural materials.
Total federal funding for the program is 16 billion rubles ($608 million). "Prometei" will receive about 1.5 billion rubles ($57 million).
"So far there has been no private investment in this industry," said Anatoliy Askenazi, chief engineer of the recently created Prometei Nanomaterials Research Center.
"We've overslept and missed out on the information revolution. So as not to miss out on the nanoscience revolution the Russian government has started developing special funding programs," he said.
The city's new research center will be carried out over several stages. The first part will be completed next year, the last part in 2010. The complex will occupy about 10,000 square meters and will consist of buildings on Shpalernaya Ulitsa in St. Petersburg and in Gatchina district in Leningrad Oblast.
"We will focus mainly on applicable technologies — on nanomaterials," Askenazi said.
The experts indicated that Japan and other research-focused countries spend tens of billions of dollars on similar programs. "In Russia this program has just appeared and its funding is significantly smaller," Ustinov said.