MP takes lead on nanoscience

A Norfolk MP is leading a national campaign to make research into cutting edge technology a government priority - claiming Britain is in danger of being left behind the rest of the world in the “next industrial revolution”.

A Norfolk MP is leading a national campaign to make research into cutting edge technology a government priority - claiming Britain is in danger of being left behind the rest of the world in the “next industrial revolution”.

Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, will now chair the UK Nanotechnology Task Force launched yesterday, which boasts leading independent scientists and policy experts among its members.

Dr Gibson said the technology - the science of the ultra-small - has the potential to transform the world and the group's aim is to gain recognition and funding for research which would dramatically benefit Norfolk and its trailblazing science community as well as the rest of the country.

At present places like Germany, the US, Japan and India are at the forefront of nanoscience with the cash to match and Dr Gibson fears the UK will continue to lag behind unless the government changes its strategy over funding.

He said Britain gets just £66m a year for research - a fraction of the US's £150bn, Japan's £½ bn and Germany's £300m.

If the taskforce is successful in attracting support on a par with places like Germany the benefits for Norfolk, with its already strong reputation as a hotbed of scientific research, could be huge. Already UEA and the Institute of Food Research (IFR) are two organisations that have led the way in nanoscience but the lack of a single research centre and funding was not helping.

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Such benefits would be felt by the whole region as it attracts private and public backing.

Thomas Nann, professor of Chemistry and chair of Nanoscale Science at UEA, said: “There is no single centre of excellence in Norwich for nanotechnology yet we have many people working in this field.”

Prof Nann said that the networking opportunities of the taskforce were just as important as the financial support it might encourage giving a single platform to scientists.

At the IFR nanoscience is already transforming the scientific study of food.

Dr Gibson, the former chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, said: “Nanotechnology will be the next industrial revolution, but if the UK wants to be a major part of it, the government needs to demonstrate commitment to the science.”

He said after the launch meeting that the next step would be to present a case to government following further talks and planning.

Ravi Silva, director of the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute, one of the leaders in the field said reports say the UK is falling behind many developed nations in public and commercial funding, but the government had not responded positively.

“The innovative work of UK scientists and technologists has demonstrated the case for the widespread potential benefits which nanotechnology can offer to society and industry,” he said.

“What is needed now is a co-ordinated effort, supported by strategic funding from the government, to turn this potential into real benefits.”

Nanoscience is the research into the properties of extremely small physical, chemical and electronic particles at the atomic and molecular scales which may be significantly different from the same material in larger form.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation and exploitation of those properties.

Applications range from nanoparticles in sun cream to nanospheres in skin penetrating drug delivery systems and microchips.

Two main uses, and subjects of research at UEA are in photovoltaic (solar) cells to convert energy from the sun into electricity much more cheaply and biomagnetics producing bioimaging machines which can diagnose tumours and other diseases.

A nanometre (nm) is one-billionth of a metre, or approximately one hundred thousandth of the width of a human hair.

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