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Nanotechnology: Small Keys to a Large Future
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
9:30 AM - 10:45 AM

Breakout Session

Sponsored by Advance Nanotech Inc.

Roy Doumani, left, says nanotechnology "is the potential solution to many problems and is most efficient and most friendly to the environment." At right is Magnus Gittins.


Roy Doumani, Acting Chief Operating Officer, California NanoSystems Institute

Magnus Gittins, Co-founder, President and CEO, Advance Nanotech Inc.

Piotr Grodzinski, Program Director for Cancer Nanotechnology, National Cancer Institute

Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

F. Mark Modzelewski, Co-founder and Managing Director, Lux Research, Inc.


Dennis Kneale, Managing Editor, Forbes magazine


Nanotech has become the key buzzword for the cutting edge of technology. By focusing on objects only a billionth of a meter in size, scientists have been able to make significant advances in computers, engineering and molecular biology. Some of the strongest forces in physics, chemistry and biology exist at this level, and the leaders of computing, manufacturing and biotech are demonstrating just how important these forces are to business, government and our lives.

Current application of nanotechnology might be at the "grotesquely practical" level at the moment, but this panel of experts believe that 10 or more years down the road, nanotechnology will revolutionize virtually every industry, as well as impact everything from the way we live to how long we live.

"You can think of it as the new industrial revolution," said F. Mark Modzelewski. He said that nanotechnology, just by enabling manufacturers to put things together without waste and control the entire manufacturing process, is already proving to be very promising.

Dubbed as "the next big hope," the technology with "unbelievable and great potential," "the nexus of the sciences," nanotechnology can defy any clear definition due to the vastness of its application and interdisciplinary nature. In addition to the material sciences and engineering, nanotechnology has also impacted medical and biological sciences, even helped industries tap into alternative energy sources.

"Nanotechnology is the potential solution to many problems and is most efficient and most friendly to the environment," said Roy Doumani.

However, the technology is still considered in the nascent stage and finding commercial applications may prove challenging. F. Mark Modzelewski said that in terms of "working at the molecular level and putting things together…we are not yet good at it yet…we are not yet good at working at the nanoscale….Yet revolutionary changes like stain-free clothing, wash-proof clothing, revolutionary change, things that are considered grotesquely practical... might open a whole new world," Modzelewski added.

"Commercialization is simplest when it comes to products, materials, application, [yet we can also] merge microelectronics with nanoscience to improve medical sensing, address epileptic conditions, monitor glucose in the blood, etc., with nanoenabled devices to treat medical conditions," explained Magnus Gittins.

For research and development to push further, change has to transpire. Different sectors of academia from engineering to the sciences have to work together, learn a common language, and cooperate with industry to do collaborative research and foster technology transfer. Funding also has to continuously flow, both in the U.S. and globally, to support these collaborative efforts.

According to Doumani, "their goal at the California NanoSystems Institute is to create a nanotech community." While funding from the state is an investment by the state to create an intellectual property that could be turned into industries and jobs, Doumani believes that the collaboration within the university should be complemented by the industry sector, for example, venture capital enterprises that can guide research and identify further commercial applications.

Piotr Grodzinski, program director for Cancer Nanotechnology of the National Cancer Institute, believes that the academic community needs to be open-minded. "Academia is getting more progressive in the sense that it is now working closely with industry and seeing the potential market value (of research)," added Gittins. He thinks collaborative, multidisciplinary team research by universities with support by the industrial sector will foster a perfect environment to technology.

The panelists′ favorite areas of nanotechnology were in vivo sensors, microelectronics, injectible polymer chips, in vitro sensors, and other applications in biology, the health sciences and materials sciences. While worldwide investment in nanotechnology last year was $8.6 billion, half of this went to the university research centers and the remaining went to the industrial sector.

Steve Jurvetson advised against jumping into an equity investment in a single nanotech company. "It takes a great amount of research and time and at this stage it is too early to tell (which company will make it or not), but it will be pretty exciting in the next three or more years," he said.

Jurvetson disclosed that his company has also made nanotech startup investments oversees. Investment in countries such as Russia, China and India ensure that the U.S. has a stake in the worldwide breakthrough developments in nanotechnology, Dennis Kneale pointed out.

Gittins believed that "the best way is by portfolio approach as it is still too early to understand what is happening… it is a very competitive environment and investors have to be very hesitant to take a gamble."

The panelists agree that big industries are also investing in nanotechnology, as they can be patient with timeline and as companies like GM and GE have in-house research that tap into nanotech applications.

The panelists also believe over-regulation will hamper innovation and that global competition is good for the industry. Jurvetson cited the lack of human capital as the biggest problem, not the source of capital, as it is not easy to find scientists and engineers that are interdisciplinary. Being able to form business teams and venture teams and hire people with interdisciplinary, interpersonal and business skills are key factors to any nanotech enterprise.

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