Hello nanoAlberta !

The concepts and ideas in nanotechnology is an area that has fascinated me for many years. I first read about it from Richard Feynman‘s book talking about his 1959 lecture “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.

So I had a lot of fun attending the THECIS organized talk “Perspective on Nanotechnology in Alberta” delivered by Dr. Gary Albach, Executive Director of nanoAlberta.

Gary was very knowledge and did a great job in sharing his insight in nanotechnology. You see, until I heard Gary’s talk this past Tuesday, I had no idea that Alberta is becoming a world leader in the field of nanotechnology. In fact, in 2007, the Alberta government created a Nanotechnology Strategy announcing a $130-million investment over 5 years. With this as its vision, “Alberta will be a leading contributor in placing Canada amongst the top 5 nations in the world …”.

In the following, let me share with you a few things I learned from the talk.

  • Strictly speaking, nanotech isn’t new! Pharmaceuticals (i.e. medicines) are operating at nanoscale dimensions. Some ingredients in cosmetics products (e.g. titanium dioxide) are produced with nanoscale dimensions.
  • What’s new is: “our ability to manipulate individual molecules and atoms, our growing knowledge of self-assembling molecular processes, and our ability to manufacture macro-scale nanotech materials, such as nanotube sheets and yarns.”
  • Gary thinks nanotech at the moment is like computer science in the 60′s and biotech in the 80′s. To me, if nanotech is really like computer science in the 60s (say 1965) as Gary said, then the game hasn’t even started! (smile) Bill Gates, born in 1955, would have been only about 10 years old and a few years before he touched his first computer at Lakeside School in 1968. So it looks like there are lots of wonderful potentials for business entrepreneurs.
  • There are a cluster of about 50 companies in Alberta employing about 600 people. In Alberta, there have been about $500 million public investment in nanotech in the past 5 years. And the province has about 1000 researchers conducting nanotech-related activites.
  • The three commercial priorities for Alberta’s nanotech: 1) Energy/Environment, 2) Health, and 3) BioIndustries (Agriculture/Forestry)
  • Gary talked about Alberta’s strengths in micro/nano scale tools and systems, nano materials, and MEMS devices, etc
  • Nano Materials: Energy-Environment (e.g. separation technologies), Health (e.g. Nano Silver), Bioindustries (forestry) (e.g. Nanocrystalline cellulose (PDF notes), I’ve notes from John Simonsen, Wood Science & Engineering, Oregon State University)
  • MEMS devices: Energy-Environment (e.g. sensors), Health (e.g. Home care monitoring devices like i-Stat), Bioindustries (forestry) (e.g. Geomatics)
  • Gary ends the talk with an open and frank discussion of the potential health concerns reported by the media. Some are hype and some need further studies and Alberta and Canada can be a leader in this.
  • Gary made this insightful observation, “Empirical evidence indicates that virtually every industry will be affected by nanotechnology, with profound impacts on economics, organizational structures, and regulatory agencies.” While I don’t know enough facts and information to be as positive and as certain as Gary, nanotechnology is definitely one area that I am paying close attention to.

Finally, I had a great chat with Gary after the talk and mentioned that I think nanoAlberta, with the expertises in the group of researchers and companies, should try to become the leading voices online in the field of nanotech. I joked with Gary that some online websites are currently thought to be “nanotech experts” on the internet because “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. (big smile)

I truly hope nanoAlberta will invest the needed time and effort to have a stronger voice in the nanotech world online. Solid, creditable, clear and easy to understand information are always needed, especially in new field like nanotech. (Note to Gary: I am looking forward to a chat with you over coffee when you are in Calgary.)

I think there are clear commercial benefits to turn Alberta into the de facto online leader in nanotech. I like to dream that Alberta can be the “Silicon Valley” of the North in nanotech. Now, shall we call ourselves “Nano Rockies”?

Presentation (updated on March 27):

You can download Gary Albach’s presentation slides here.

Postscript:

On a serious note, if countries like Taiwan has been looking far ahead and has K-12 Nanotechnology Program (yes K-12!), then may be a cute name like “Nano Rockies” won’t hurt as part of a long term strategy to attract students into the field?!

May be I am wrong, but in the race to become nanotech leader, we truly have to act fast and think fast or countries like Taiwan (which launched a program in 2002, yes 2002!) will be so much ahead of us and making it rather difficult to catch up.

Acknowledgments:

This report borrows heavily from Gary’s presentation notes, thanks Gary! I have added some links to expand on information where I see appropriate. All mistakes and errors are mine and please kindly let me know if you find any.

I like to thank THECIS for letting me attend the talk and special thanks to Martha and Peter at THECIS for their kind help.

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One Response to Hello nanoAlberta !

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