The nascent nanotechnology industry is facing many of the same challenges experienced by any young technology: lots of hope, lots of hype and lots of scrutiny. Even the appropriate definition for nanotechnology remains a matter of some debate.
A March report on nanotechnology, published by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), ranking member of the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, speaks to the rapid advances in the field. "Advances in just the last five years have proceeded much faster than even the best experts had predicted. Looking forward, science is likely to continue outrunning expectations," the report states.
The swift progress has raised calls for greater examination of the potential health and safety risks associated with nanotechnology. Indeed, a separate report issued in March calls lifecycle assessment, a cradle-to-grave look at health and environmental impacts, vital to safe and responsible nanotechnology commercialization. The report's authors include the Project on Emerging Technologies, an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Meanwhile, research and commercialization efforts of this young technology continue unabated. For example, statistics from nanotechnology consulting firm Lux Research show that:
- More than $50 billion in nanotechnology-enabled products were sold worldwide in 2006, and $12.4 billion were invested in nanotech R&D.
- Worldwide corporate spending on nanotech R&D reached $5.3 billion in 2006, up 19% over the previous year. U.S. business spent the most at $1.9 billion.
- Worldwide government spending on nanotechnology grew to $6.4 billion in 2006, up 10% over 2005. U.S. federal and state governments contributed the most to this figure at $1.78 billion.
- Venture capital investments flowing toward nanotechnology was expected to reach $650 million in 2006.
- As of early March the United States held approximately 6,800 nanotechnology-related patents.
Additionally, one-quarter of nanotechnology executives in a recent nationwide survey say they expect sales of $10 million or more next year. Some 56% say they expect to achieve that sales figure in three years.
"Nanotechnology leaders are showing both the optimism and uncertainty of pioneers," says Barry Hock, associate director of the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Center for Economic and Civic Opinion, which conducted the study along with Small Times magazine.