Situating nanotechnology in 2011

Michael Berger has written an interesting article (August 23, 2011) about research which situates nanotechnology within the current scientific enterprise. From Berger’s article, Nanotechnology’s rapidly growing footprint on the scientific landscape,

It is quite difficult – not least because there is no consensus about a proper definition – to assess the scope of nanotechnology research and its impact on the overall scientific body as well as its commercialization prospects. In a new attempt to put some numbers behind the general perception of a rapidly expanding nanotechnology field, two researchers at UC Davis [University of California at Davis] have trawled scientific databases and come up with some surprising findings.

The UC Davis researchers, Minghua Zhang and Michael L Grieneisen, modeled their study on work that was done at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. They modified the “Georgia Tech” query with new search terms, deleted some search terms such as nanosatellite where the prefix is not meaningful, and added more journals retrieving records from 1991 – 2010. Using the new parameters, the researchers found that nearly 90,000 nanotechnology articles per year are currently being added to Web of Science, an online academic citation index.

Unsurprisingly, Asian countries proved to have a high percentage of nano-related published articles. From Berger’s article,

The two authors write that “the percentage of all 2010 WoS records for individual countries which were retrieved by the query was stunning for several Asian countries: Singapore (16.26%), China (15.21%), South Korea (13.33%), India (11.44%), and Taiwan (11.31%), in addition to Iran (11.74%). This indicates a very high priority of nanoscale studies in the minds of the scientific decision makers in those countries.”

According to the table reproduced in Berger’s article, Canada ranked at the bottom with 3.48%.You’ll notice Iran, mentioned by Tim Harper in my interview with him about his latest white paper on nanotechnology funding and economic impacts (July 15, 2011 posting), ranked quite high at 11.74%.

Berger does not mention how the numbers are derived given that researchers cooperate across national boundaries. Do all the countries get a credit or does the lead researcher’s country get the credit? Unfortunately, I can’t get past the journal’s (Small) paywall  (Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Evolving Definitions and Growing Footprint on the Scientific Landscape) to find out.

As for the often asked and never answered question, how do we define nanotechnology,

Zhang’s and Grieneisen’s conclusion is that, while the 1-100 nm criterion is convenient, it is too simplistic to reflect either the scientific reality of size-dependent characteristics among all materials or the general usage of these terms.

That’s right there’s still no answer.


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