Category Archives: economy

Final report on joint OECD/NNI report on assessing nanotechnology’s economic impact

In March 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) held a symposium on assessing the economic impacts of nanotechnology, which was hosted by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC.  Lynn Bergeson announced the release of the symposium’s final report in her Sept. 16, 2013 posting on the Nanotechnology Now website.

The title of the final report published by the OECD is Symposium on Assessing the Economic  Impact of Nanotechnology: Synthesis Report. I have excerpted some information including this introductory paragraph from the executive summary of this 81 pp report,

Governments have a fiscal and social responsibility to ensure that limited research and development resources are used wisely and cost-effectively in support of social, economic, and scientific aspirations. As a result of significant public and private investments in nanotechnology during the past decade and an expanding array of commercial applications, the field of nanotechnology has matured to the point of showing significant potential to help societies achieve the shared goal of improving efficiencies and accelerating progress in a range of economic sectors, including medicine, manufacturing, and energy. Countries that wish to promote the continued responsible development of nanotechnology will, however, need quantitative data on the economic impact of nanotechnology to guide further investment and policy decisions. Few widely accepted economic impact assessments have been conducted, however, and there are many questions regarding the best methodologies to be used. (p. 4)

The attendees considered the challenges associated with evaluating the impact of nanotechnology, some of which are common to emerging technologies in general and some or which are specific to nanotechnology (from the report),

The attendees also considered the question of a definition for nanotechnology. While operational definitions are developed at national or regional levels, e.g. for statistical or regulatory purposes, there are relatively few internationally agreed upon definitions or classifications for nanotechnology or its products and processes. Such definitions are essential for developing a methodology for an economic impact assessment and/or to facilitate data collection. Participants mentioned that definitions should be flexible so that they facilitate the development and valuation of the technology; they also noted that definitions might vary in different contexts or sectors.

Additional issues were raised:

 Its multipurpose, enabling nature makes measuring the impact of nanotechnology difficult. It can be fundamental to a product’s key functionality (e.g. battery charge time or capacity) but ancillary to the value chain (E.g. represent a small portion of the final product or process). Nanotechnology is also likely to have a range of incremental impacts on goods and services as well as existing manufacturing techniques. This requires understanding the value added at different stages of the production chain.

 Nanotechnology’s impact is often intermingled with that of many other interventions and technologies so that determining its precise role can be difficult.

 The large and varied amount of data linked to nanotechnology development may lead to difficulties in cleaning and manipulating the data meaningfully.

 Confidential business information and the proprietary nature of products and services may make it difficult to obtain information from industry. Moreover, it is not clear how a nanotechnology company or a company using nanotechnology is defined or defines itself or to what extent companies, universities and associate institutions are involved in exploiting and developing nanotechnology.

 For now, data are mainly collected through surveys. It is important to weigh the benefits against the additional workload that surveys place on administrations, research institutes and industries. Information should be obtained efficiently, focusing on the data of greatest interest for assessing the value of the technology.

 The nanotechnology policy landscape is evolving. It is important to consider non-specific, rather than nanotechnology-specific, funding strategies and policies when assessing economic impacts such as return on investment.

While certain issues may be resolved through improvements and over time, some restrict the ability to conduct valid nanotechnology impact assessments, such as the complex relationship between science, innovation and the economy; the interaction between public and private actors; the role of other factors in technology development and innovation; and the time lag between investments and their returns. (p. 8)

Of course the main issue being addressed was the development of tools/instruments to assess nanotechnology’s economic impact (from the report),

Some steps have been taken towards assessing the impact of nanotechnology. Examples mentioned during the symposium include the U.S. STAR METRICS database, which uses an input/output approach to determine the outputs of federal funding of science and technology, and Brazil’s Lattes system, in which researchers, students and institutions share information about their interests and backgrounds to facilitate information sharing and collaboration. The Lattes system is also intended to aid in the design of science, technology and innovation policies and to help understand the social and economic impacts of previous investments. DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom) values a given nanotechnology product in monetary terms against an incumbent and thus calculates additional value added over current technology.

Other valuation methods mentioned included the “traditional” cost/ benefit analysis (often accompanied by scenario development for immature technologies such as nanotechnology) and life cycle assessment (LCA). LCA addresses the impact of nanotechnology along the entire product value chain. It is important to conduct LCAs as early as possible in product development to define the full value of a product using nanotechnology. Value chain assessments can also help address the challenge of determining the role of nanotechnology in a final product, where economic value is most commonly assessed. (p. 9)

Participants recognised the difficulty of developing a “one size fits all” methodology. The data collected and the indicators and the methodologies chosen need to fit the situation. Precisely defining the objectives of the impact assessment is critical: “What do we want to measure?” (e.g. the impact of a specific nanotechnology investment or the impact of a nano-enabled replacement product on environmental performance). “What outcomes do we want from the analysis?” (e.g. monetary value and GDP growth or qualitative measures of environmental and social benefits).

Input indicators (e.g. R&D investment, infrastructure) are the easiest to collect; they provide information on the development of a technology in a given region, country or globally. Output indicators, such as patents and publications, provide information on the trajectories of a technology and on key areas of innovation. The most useful for policy makers are indicators of impact, but high-quality data, especially quantitative data, are difficult to collect. Indicators of impact provide a basis for assessing direct (market share, growth of companies, new products, wealth creation) and indirect impacts (welfare gains, consumer surplus). The economic and social impact of nanotechnology goes beyond what can be measured with existing statistics and traditional surveys. A pilot survey by the Russian Federation plans to examine nanotechnology issues that are not necessarily covered by traditional statistical surveys, such as technology transfer and linkages between different segments of the national innovation system. The OECD Working Party of National Experts on Science and Technology Indicators is also working on the development of a statistical framework for the measurement of emerging, enabling and general purpose technologies, which includes the notion of impact.
While quantitative measures may be preferable, impact assessments based on qualitative indicators using methods such as technology assessment scenarios and mapping of value chains can also provide valuable information.

I haven’t read the entire report yet but the material after the executive summary bears a similarity to field notes. Generally in reports like this everything is stated in an impersonal third person with the speaker being mentioned only in the header for the section  so the contents have an  authority associated with holy books. While I haven’t seen any quotes, the speakers here are noted as having said such and such, e.g., “Mr. Tassey suggested a “technology-element” model as an alternative means of driving policy and managing the R&D cycle.” (p. 15) It’s not unheard of, just unusual.

For anyone interested in the earlier reports and/or in the Canadian participation in this 2012 symposium, there’s an interview with Vanessa Clive, Industry Canada, Nanotechnology Policy Advisor in my July 23, 2012 posting where she discusses the symposium and offers links to documents used as background material for the symposium.

NanoQuébec and iNano get to the chapel while Canada Economic Development presides

ETA May 14, 2013: I changed a word the title to correct a typo: ‘wirh’ to while.

I described NanoQuébec’s iNano, an open web innovation platform,  as an industrial dating service in my Sept. 19, 2012 posting. so I thought I’d extend the metaphor by sending it to the chapel for the latest news about the project.

iNano, designed to match up the research community with industry-based nanotechnology challenges, and Canada Economic Development have now announced new funding for the platform, from the May 13, 2013 news item on Azonano,

The Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, today announced that the organization NanoQuébec has been granted financial assistance for a project to translate knowledge into commercial applications, while improving the innovation capability and competitiveness of Quebec’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“Our Government is today giving a real boost to innovation, and thereby economic growth, by lending its support to NanoQuébec,” said Minister Lebel.

NanoQuébec is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support nanotechnology innovation with a view to contributing to sustainable economic growth in Quebec.

Specifically, these funds will enable NanoQuébec to implement an open innovation pilot project aimed at generating technology transfers and strengthening ties between business and the research community. The project, which will last approximately 18 months, will also allow for a second testing of the iNANO open innovation web platform.

If I understand this properly, the iNANO project has been successful with helping various companies solve their problems/challenges and now the Government of Canada is granting NanoQuébec additional monies to create a new project which is focused on commercializing the solutions (?), as well as, allowing NanoQuébec to run the original iNANO challenge project a second time.

The May 7, 2013 (?) Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions news release, which originated the news item, provides a few more details about iNano and about the funding,

 ““Since the opening of the iNANO platform, we have already posed more than 120 industrial challenges to the research community. The collaborative projects set up through the platform will foster the development of innovations that will be a major competitive advantage for our businesses,”” noted Benoit Balmana, President and CEO of NanoQuébec.

The funding from the Government of Canada will contribute toward the hiring of a staff person to ensure the platform’s management and leadership, technology development, production of promotional tools and business prospecting.

““Our Government remains focused on four priorities, as outlined by the Prime Minister, that Canadians care most about: their families, the safety of our streets and communities, their pride in being a citizen of this country, and of course, their personal financial security,”” concluded Minister Lebel.

This assistance, granted in the form of a $171,000 non-repayable contribution, has been awarded through Canada Economic Development’s Quebec Economic Development Program.

I wish them  the best of luck with the challenges and the commercialization.

Note: There appears to have been a change of spelling from I-Nano to iNANO.

Australian Academy of Science launches National Nanotechnology Research Strategy

Today, Dec. 7, 2012, Australian Senator, the Honourable Kate Lundy, announced a National Nanotechnology Research Strategy document. According to the Dec. 7, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Outlining a bold vision for a nanotechnology enabled Australian Economy; the research strategy highlights a range of existing and emerging nanotechnology applications. … This research strategy goes on to highlight Australia’s current research strengths across a broad range of nanotechnology disciplines and subsequently identify opportunities for these strengths to be leveraged over the coming decade.

… The strategy was prepared by the [Australian] Academy [of Science] with funding received from the National Enabling Technologies Policy Section in the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

A Dec. 7, 2012 article on the Adelaide Now website provides more details,

Scientists say if Australia wants to capture a big share and make nanotechnology an economic driver, it needs to support the entire spectrum of nanotechnology development – fundamental research to developing mechanisms to translate technology to industry in an effective and timely way.

Scientists launched on Friday [Dec. 7, 2012] a national strategy for nanotechnology development.

They say development could help parts of the manufacturing industry revolutionise its products, develop new products and address the grand challenges facing the nation such as health and ageing.

The plan’s vision statement says assessments of the impact of nanotechnology on society by 2020 suggest Australia needs to invest more.

The Australian Academy of Science website can be found here.

Nanotechnology, Innovation and Global Development Call for papers: special issue of International Journal of Technology and Globalisation

The Dec. 2, 2012 news item on Nanowerk provides details about an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Technology and Globalisation (Inderscience Publishers), which is focused on nanotechnology,

Advances in nanotechnology offer a wide range of opportunities for addressing global development challenges. Work is underway around the world to apply nanotechnology in a variety of sectors including agriculture, medicine, telecommunications, disaster management and environmental conservation.

A number of developing countries, especially in emerging markets, are starting to pay policy attention to this field. However, the majority of developing nations have not recognised the implications of nanotechnology for economic development.

The aim of this special issue of the International Journal of Technology and Globalisation is to provide a review of advances in nanotechnology or relevance to global development. Preference will be given to papers that combine assessment of emerging nanotechnologies and identification of policy options for action.  …

More information about the call can be found on the journal’s Nano special issue webpage,

Suitable topics include but are not limited to:

  • Nanotechnology, innovation and agriculture
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and pharmaceutical research
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and healthcare
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and water purification
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and industry
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and polymer research
  • Nanotechnology, innovation and computing
  • Nanotechnology and disaster management
  • Nanotechnology in environmental management
  • Nanotechnology research policy
  • Nanotechnology and technological leapfrogging
  • Nanotechnology and technological catch-up
  • Nanotechnology and innovation systems
  • Nanotechnology and international cooperation
  • Nanotechnology and science diplomacy
  • Nanotechnology and human health
  • Nanotechnology and the environment
  • Nanotechnology and regulation
  • Nanotechnology and public policy
  • Nanotechnology and governance
  • Nanotechnology and society
  • Status reviews of nanotechnology advances

Notes for Prospective Authors

Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. (N.B. Conference papers may only be submitted if the paper was not originally copyrighted and if it has been completely re-written).

All papers are refereed through a peer review process. A guide for authors, sample copies and other relevant information for submitting papers are available on the Author Guidelines page.

Important Dates

Manuscript submission: 15 June, 2013
Notification of initial decision: 15 July, 2013
Submission of revised manuscripts: 15 September, 2013
Notification of final acceptance: 15 October, 2013

Please do check the journal’s webpage for full details.

Nanotechnology and the labour market in Europe: the NanoEIS project

The Nov. 14, 2012 NanoEIS project announcement on Nanowerk was made by the EthicSchool. The source is a little unexpected (I should note that the announcement also covers the EthicSchool’s inclusion) as this a European Union FP 7- (Framework Programme 7) funded project as per their page on the Cordis website,

Nanotechnology Education for Industry and Society [NanoEIS]
Start date:2012-11-01
End date:2015-10-31
Project Acronym:NANOEIS
Project status:Accepted

Objective: Nanotechnology is an emerging area with strong implications for European society and industry. It is a challenge for the education system to integrate this interdisciplinary and transsectoral subject into curricula shaped mostly along classical disciplines. NanoEIS will evaluate how nanotechnology education has been integrated into secondary schools and universities, how cooperations between different partner institutions were implemented, and in which ways industrial and non-industrial (social) employers have been involved. [emphasis mine] NanoEIS will make, based on a thorough assessment of employer needs, recommendations for curriculum contents as well as for best practice strategies to implement them. This will help to resolve the problem that education contents are not always well matched with the needs of the job market. Improving this situation will benefit both graduates seeking jobs, and industrial / social employers who need specific skills in the professional environment. Nanotechnology education has to start at secondary schools, since nano is by now part of the daily environment and schools need to teach about relevant issues to allow informed consumers to take full advantage of nano-enabled products in a safe and sustainable way. NanoEIS will develop novel teaching and assessment tools for secondary schools. In addition, career choices start in school when decisions about study subjects are made, which should be based on full and relevant information, to achieve a good match between the interests of students and the contents of their studies and courses. A website based on the existing NANOfutures site will be set up, as one-stop shop for information on nanotechnology education for all stakeholders, including secondary school students, university students, educators and education administrators, and both industrial (large industry, SME, start-ups) and social employers (regulatory agencies, media, legal and IP services etc.). [emphasis mine]

I’m happy to see a project dedicated to an analysis of the relationship between education and industry something which is often lacking when ‘experts’ proclaim new skills, training, and education are needed (in this case, regarding nanotechnology) without reference to the labour market. As for the NanoEIS site, it is under construction and will be launched in Dec. 2102. I’m not entirely sure what the reference to NANOfutures means but that site is open.

Here’s more about NanoEIS from the Nov. 13, 2012 posting on the EthicSchool blog,

From this month, Malsch TechnoValuation participates in the EU funded project NanoEIS. Partners from all over Europe will investigate the European labour market for personnel trained in nanotechnology. The relevance of existing nanotechnology education and training in universities, vocational training institutes and secondary schools for the needs of industrial and other employers will also be explored. By 2015, a model curriculum will be made available online.

For anyone interested in EthicSchool and Malsch TechnoValuation, here’s more from the About EthicSchool page (Note: I have removed a link),

ETHICSCHOOL organises workshops and in-company training in Responsible Innovation. As a professional you gain insight in possible societal objections against the technology you are developing. The introduction of new technologies like nanotechnology, life sciences and ICT is accompanied by ethical dilemmas. You make your acquaintance with arguments for and against the development or use of your technology for sensitive applications such as healthcare, security or food. This helps prepare you for the dialogue with concerned citizens and teaches you to target your scarce resources better towards societally desirable products.

ETHICSCHOOL is an initiative taken by Malsch TechnoValuation, a consultancy in the area of Technology and Society, located in Utrecht since 1999.

ETHICSCHOOL builds upon a former European project. This original project was funded by the European Union, contract nr. 036745, 01-09-2007 until 28-02-2009. Partners in this former project were: Malsch TechnoValuation, University of Twente, Radboud University (NL) en TU Darmstadt, Germany.

I have written about Ineke Malsch (the Malsch behind Malsch TechnoValuation and I believe she’s also known as Neelina Herminia Malsch) and her work in an Oct. 11, 2011 posting (scroll down approximately 1/3 of the way). Oddly,

Industry Canada, Vanessa Clive, nanotechnology, and assessing economic impacts

I have long (one year) wanted to feature an interview with Vanessa Clive, Nanotechnology Policy Advisor; Industry Sector, at Industry Canada but have been distracted from sending interview questions until about several weeks ago.  (Sometimes, I lose track *of time.)

Here then are the interview questions  I asked and the answers Vanessa very kindly provided,

1.      Could you describe your role? 

Industry Canada’s mandate is to help make Canadian industry more productive and competitive in the global economy, thus improving the economic and social well-being of Canadians.  As an emerging/nascent technology, nanotechnology can help contribute towards this objective.  Our role vis a vis nanotechology is to:

  • better understand Canadian capabilities, strengths and expertise
  • contribute to effective policy development
  • contribute to the development of a supportive business environment for innovation and commercialization

2.       Recently, you helped organize an event in Washington, DC (International Symposium on Assessing the Economic Impact of Nanotechnology, March 27-28, 2012). Could you give a brief overview of why this was needed, who attended, & what happened? 

The Symposium was organized jointly by the OECD Working Party on Nanotechnology (WPN) and the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office for the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), and hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I was a member of the OECD WPN Steering Committee which worked with the NNI to organize the event.

Some 200 people participated from OECD and non-OECD countries, representing a broad spectrum of sectors, industries, and areas of expertise. In addition to plenary sessions, industry break-out discussions were organized on advanced materials, food packaging, transportation, nanomedicine, energy, and electronics.

The decision to hold the event recognized the important potential contribution of nanotechnology to innovation, as reflected in rising R&D investments over the past decade. OECD member countries wish to explore ways to assess returns to these investments and the broader economic impacts of nanotechnology more generally, as well as the challenges for effective innovation policy development in this area.

The agenda and presentations can be viewed at http://nano.gov/node/729. Four background papers on related topics were also commissioned for the Symposium and can be found at the same site.

3.      What can be said about nanotechnology’s economic impacts and what information (e.g. bibliometric measures, no. of patents, etc.) is being used to arrive at that conclusion? 

Given the still relatively early stage of developments, the range of potential applications, and other factors, there are major challenges to estimating potential impacts. Holding this Symposium was intended to provide a start to develop useful indicators and other assessment tools.

4.      So, how is Canada doing relative to the international scene?

As discussed above, given the lack of measures, it is difficult to assess our relative position. However, Canadian federal and provincial governments have invested increasing amounts in nanotechnology R&D over the past decade or so. These investments have supported an array of government funding programs and contributed to the establishment of a world-class R&D infrastructure and research community and a growing number of companies involved in nanotechnology across industry sectors in Canada.

5.      Is there anything that stands out from the symposium?

It was clear from the level of attendance, presentations, and discussions which took place, that there is widespread interest in the symposium topics. To learn more about the event, I would encourage interested people to visit the website where presentations and background papers are posted – http://nano.gov/node/729.

6.      Are there any Industry Canada plans in the works for developing new assessment tools given that, unlike many countries, Canada does not have a national nanotechnology funding hub? 

We are working with the OECD to develop useful tools that would enable us to estimate or measure the economic impacts of nanotechnology.

7.      Are there any plans for a nanotechnology ‘road map’ similar to the digital media road map? Or perhaps there’s something else in the works?

Industry Canada is focused on assisting Canadian industry to grow, compete in the global economy, and create jobs. In order to do so we are building the department’s knowledge base about Canadian activities and capabilities, contributing to sound policy development in domestic and international for a, and contributing to building a supportive business environment for responsible innovation and commercialization in this field.

Thank you for the insight into the Canadian nanotechnology situation and the issues around economic impacts as per Industry Canada and tor taking the time to do this . Also, I am very happy to see the link to the presentations and background papers for the March 2012 nanotechnology and economic impacts event in Washington, DC (first mentioned in my Jan. 27, 2012 posting).

I did briefly visit the website which is a US National Nanotechnology Initiative website. The event page for which Vanessa provided a link hosts the background papers and links to other pages hosting the presentations and the agenda providing a rich resource for anyone interested in the issue of nanotechnology and its possible economic impacts.

* Changed preposition from ‘to’ to ‘of’ on Sept. 19, 2013.

Double honours for NCC (ArboraNano and CelluForce recognized)

Congratulations to both ArboraNano and CelluForce (and FPInnovations, too)  on receiving a Celebrating Partnerships! Award from the Association for the Development of Research and Innovation of Québec (Canada). The May 25, 2012 news item on Azonano by Will Soutter focuses on ArboraNano,

The Association for the Development of Research and Innovation of Quebec has presented a ‘Celebrate Partnerships!’ award to ArboraNano, the Canadian Forest NanoProducts Network, for its collaborative work with CelluForce, NanoQuébec and FPInnovations in the commercialization of nanocrystalline cellulose.

ArboraNano received the award on May 17, 2012 in a ceremony conducted at Marché Bonsecours in Montréal.

The May 17, 2012 news release from CelluForce offers additional details,

In its third edition, the Celebrate Partnerships! Award recognizes partnerships between entrepreneurs and researchers from Quebec and encourages them to develop these partnerships further. Award recipients are distinguished based on the economic return resulting from their collaborations, helping to build a stronger, more innovative and competitive Quebec.

“Nanocrystalline cellulose is perhaps the most promising discovery of this Century. I salute our industrial and government partners, respectively Domtar, NRCan [Natural Resources Canada], and Quebec’s MRNF and MDBIE, for having the foresight and the courage to embark on the world’s first NCC adventure. I offer my congratulations to the devoted researchers and employees of all of our organizations for this well deserved recognition,” states Pierre Lapointe, President and Chief Executive Officer at FPInnovations.

That quote from Lapointe reflects the fact that this was composed in French where the formal style can seem fulsome to English speakers. Although even by French standards that bit about “the discovery of the Century” seems a little grandiose. Sadly, I’ve just  remembered my own comments about the Canadian tendency to be  downbeat on occasion, from my May 8, 2012 posting,

We tout innovation but at the same are deeply disconcerted by and hesitant about the risktaking required to be truly innovative. (I have to note that I too write pieces that can be quite restrained and critical of these types of endeavours.) Really, it’s as much a question of culture as anything else. How do we support innovation and risktaking while maintaining some of our quintessential character?

rather than celebrating the moment. Such a quandary! In the meantime, I trust the recipients had a good time at the party.

ETA May 29, 2012: I have been brooding about my headline since technically it is one award not two. (sigh) I’ll take the easy way out, since each partner got an award, it’s a double honour.

4th assessment of the US’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (found some info. about Canada in the rept.!)

It seems there a number of reports concerning the US National Nanotechnology Initiative and their efforts and responses to the PCAST 2010 recommendations (I commented on another of their reports in my Dec. 13, 2011 posting). This fourth report/assessment was submitted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and focuses on efforts from various government agencies to follow recommendations from that 2010 PCAST assessment and set of recommendations.

According to the April 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

PCAST found that the Federal agencies in the NNI have made substantial progress in addressing many of the 2010 recommendations that were aimed at maintaining U.S. leadership in nanotechnology. One of the primary goals of the NNI is to stay ahead of heavily-investing competitors such as China, South Korea, the European Union, and Russia. Overall, PCAST concluded that the NNI remains a successful cooperative venture that is supporting high-quality research, facilitating the translation of discoveries into new commercial products, and ensuring the Nation’s continued global leadership in this important field.

The PCAST assessment particularly commends the expanded efforts of the NNCO [National Nanotechnology Coordination Office] in the area of commercialization and coordination with industry, and the NNCO’s release of a focused research strategy for addressing environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications of nanotechnology. In addition, the assessment recognizes NNI’s strong and growing portfolio of research on the societal implications of nanotechnology, nanotechnology education, and public outreach.

Dexter Johnson at his Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website comments in his May 1, 2012 posting,

Okay, pat on the back, job well done…uh, wait, there are still some new recommendations that PCAST would like to see addressed.  You can find them in the PDF of the full report on page vii. They fall into the areas of strategic planning, program management, metrics for assessing nanotechnology’s commercial and societal impacts, and…wait for it…increased support for EHS research.

Additional support for EHS research might be a required element for every PCAST report in the future. More interesting to me, however, is this continued emphasis on improved “metrics for assessing nanotechnology’s commercial and societal impacts.”

Dexter goes on to observe that many countries and corporations are interested in better metrics regarding  nanotechnology and its impacts and hints that he has a few ideas for better metrics.

I’ve looked at the report and found, to my surprise, mention of Canada. In analyzing the US NNI efforts, they also compare US government funding and corporate to that in other countries. On page 14 (print version; p. 30 PDF) of the PCAST 4th Assessment of the NNI, there’s a table which shows the top 10 countries for spending on nanotechnology,

As you can see, Canadian funding has been relatively flat throughout 2008 – 2010. It appears to have decreased slightly in 2009 and remained the same in 2010.

Aside: I’d dearly love to know how they sourced their data. A couple of years ago, a Canadian Member of Parliament (Peter Julian) asked for similar figures and received some 80 pages of Excel spreadsheets from various department listing any number of research projects that had been funded. (I’d asked Julian’s parliamentary assistant for a copy of the government’s response to his question, which is how I came to see that mess of paper.)

For anyone familiar with the Canadian scene (industrial research in Canada is rare), this next chart won’t be any surprise, from page 14 (print version; p. 30 PDF) of the PCAST 4th Assessment of the NNI,

However, this may be a surprise, from page 15 (print version; p. 31 PDF) of the PCAST 4th Assessment of the NNI,

Good grief! Canada is in the top five countries for venture capital spending on nanotechnology. Of course, we had our banner year in 2008, with quite a dip in 2009 but it looks like we rebounded mildly in 2010.

It’s always interesting for me to analyze the US nanotechnology efforts in relationship to the Canadian efforts (as well as, getting a sense of the international scene). Actually, I can’t analyze our efforts since the Canadian government doesn’t tend to share information (or provides reams of meaningless data) with its citizens so I’m driven to finding it in US government documents and materials provided by international governmental organizations such as the OECD (Organization for Econ0mic Cooperation and Development).

Getting back to the report, which after all is about the US situation, I’m particularly interested in the recommendations for metrics (thank you, Dexter) and EHS. From page 22 (print version; p. 38 PDF) of the PCAST 4th Assessment of the NNI (I have edited out some footnotes),

Agencies should develop a mission-appropriate definition of nanotechnology that enables the tracking of specific nanotechnology investments supported at the program level. The definition and funding details should be published in agency implementation plans to promote clarity.

This recommendation enables each agency to develop a mission-appropriate definition of nanotechnol­ogy to characterize its nanotechnology portfolio. Requiring each agency to publish its definition and the resulting budget allocations will improve clarity across the Federal nanotechnology portfolio and ensure that nanotechnology investments are accurately characterized.

The NNCO should track the development of metrics for quantifying the Federal nanotechnology portfolio and implement them to assess NNI outputs.

Current Federal efforts to measure public and private investment, scientific productivity, and workforce have been inconsistent and decentralized. The publication of agency-specific data will enable the NNCO to consistently track nanotechnology investments across the Federal government and enable it to report NNI impacts with greater confidence and transparency.

There is an extensive and growing body of high-quality academic research that is already working toward the establishment of nanotechnology metrics by drawing upon bibliometrics data from the public domain (e.g., publication and patent data). … Bibliometrics data are used as indicators of productivity beyond academia, often in the absence of other metrics from the private sector. As nanotechnology continues to mature and move closer toward commercialization, efforts to more accurately capture economic returns are picking up pace. Examples include the March 2012 International Symposium on Assessing Economic Impacts of Nanotechnologies sponsored jointly by the NNI and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development held in Washington, DC, [mentioned in my March 29, 2012 posting] as well as the upcoming 2012 National Research Council review of the NNI.

A final area in need of metrics development is in the quantification of the nanotechnology workforce.  [emphasis mine] Accurately categorizing agency-level nanotechnology investments will facilitate the identification of nanotechnology trainees, including the academic, scientific, and professional nanotechnology workforce for which there is currently a paucity of data…. One area where such tracking would have significant impact is in the identification of nanotechnology-related jobs for which there are no standard occu­pational codes. Good data on the workforce will enable the implementation of additional measures to identify and mitigate future threats to occupational health and safety.

PCAST recommends that NNCO serve as a central repository to collect these metrics and leverage advances in metrics-development to collect, track, and analyze data regarding publications, patents, educational activities, and the workforce to produce and publish its own statistics on behalf of the NSET. This under­taking is an integral component of cross-agency coordination of the Federal nanotechnology portfolio.

That first recommendation seems problematic. The notion of agencies developing mission-specific definitions of nanotechnology, as recommended, sets the stage for multiple and competing definitions in a situation where you want to standardize as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the alternative is not an improvement. An attempt to standardize across all agencies would most probably lead to years of meetings and discussions before anything was ever measured.

I’m not quite as confident about bibliometrics as the authors of this report are but, as they hint, oftentimes it’s the only quantifiable data available. While there is much talk about establishing other metrics, there is no hint as to how this will be done or who will do it or whether money will be allocated for this purpose.

The recommendations for further EHS research, from pp. 22-3 (print version; pp. 38-9 PDF) of the PCAST 4th Assessment of the NNI, include (I have edited out a reference to an appendix),

The NSET should establish high-level, cross-agency authoritative and accountable governance of Federal nanotechnology-related EHS research so that the knowledge created as a result of Federal investments can better inform policy makers.

PCAST acknowledges that the NSET has acted on our recommendation to identify a central coordina­tor for nanotechnology-related EHS research within NNCO. The EHS coordinator has done a laudable job developing and communicating the 2011 NNI EHS research strategy. However, there is still a lack of integration between nanotechnology-related EHS research funded through the NNI and the kind of information policy makers need to effectively manage potential risks from nanomaterials. The estab­lishment of the Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) through OSTP has begun to bridge that gap, but without close integration between ETIPC and the NEHI working group, the gap may not be sufficiently narrowed. OSTP and the NSET Subcommittee should expand the charter of the NEHI working group to enable the group to address cross-agency nanotechnology-related policy issues more broadly.

The NSET should increase investment in cross-cutting areas of EHS that promote knowledge transfer such as informatics, partnerships, and instrumentation development.

The 2011 NNI EHS research strategy acknowledges the critical role that informatics, partnerships, and instrumentation development play in a comprehensive approach to addressing nanotechnology risks to human health and the environment. Nascent efforts in informatics should be supported so that advances can be accelerated in this critical cross-cutting area. Rather than continue to support the proliferation of databases that results from many new nano-EHS projects, the effort should be directed at enabling diverse communities to extract meaningful information from each other’s work. New networks that connect researchers together, along with new tools for extracting information from Federally funded research, should be established and supported through the NNI. The findings of the December 2011 workshop to establish a Nanoinformatics 2020 Roadmap19 in conjunction with the 2011 NNI EHS research strategy can serve as a guide for new work in this area.

Significant progress has been made in the area of partnerships with numerous examples of mul­tistakeholder and interagency collaboration underway. One of these is the Nanorelease Project,20 which brings together five NNI agencies, non-governmental organizations, a labor union, and several companies, among others, to develop methods for measuring the release of nanomaterials from com­mercial products. A specific area where better coordination could occur is in the area of occupational safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should work with companies in a non-enforcement capacity to develop better tools for hazard communication similar to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety’s (NIOSH) partnership program. This is especially important as the United States seeks to bring its hazard communication standard in alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Greater engagement by OSHA would also begin to address some of the difficulties companies face in implementing good health and safety programs in their nanomaterial workplaces …

New modes of international cooperation, such as the joint funding of two environmental-impacts consortia by the EPA and the United Kingdom, have also emerged since the 2010 PCAST report. The NNI should increase funding for these cross-cutting activities to leverage the U.S. investment in nanotechnology-related EHS research.

The wealth of abbreviations makes this section a little hard to read. As I understand it, the recommendations are aimed at improving use of their current and future resources by better coordinating the research efforts, sharing data (with a special eye to providing information policymakers can use effectively), and collaborating internationally on EHS research.