EuroNanoForum 2011 (ENF2011) saw some 1200 members of the nanotechnology community from over 50 countries gather in Budapest at the end of May. Presentations over three days (including various satellite events) showed how nanotechnology is already addressing the grand challenges that face Europe and the whole world. Numerous examples of cross-disciplinary, cross-sector, and of course cross-border research and collaboration were shown. In European nanotechnology - cooperation and collaboration is the order of the day.
It is clear that nanotechnology is the key enabling technology that underpins a wide range of other enabling technologies and processes. In fact the term nanotechnology covers a wide and diverse family of technologies and processes that will and are already making an impact on industry and society at large.
This family of technologies continues to grow. For example the opportunities that are emerging from research into applications for graphene are quite remarkable – and could usher in the end of the silicon age and open a new age of carbon-based electronics.
In fact it is easy to be carried away at a conference like ENF2011. Presentations at this conference have shown that nanotechnology can enable the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and bring cheap, sustainable power amongst many other miraculous possibilities in fields from medicine to the environment.
However to ensure that this European investment in research yields a European dividend in terms of growth and competitiveness requires successfully transfer to industrial level – selling nano-enabled products to the mass market. This is the real challenge and a vital challenge for our continuing prosperity.
I could worry about the fact that many presentations showed excellent examples of EU research outcomes but – for example – Japanese examples of near – or in the market products. Europe must do better on commercialisation and retention of IPR. This is our most important challenge going forward. Hopefully the instruments being developed for the Common Strategic Framework, and other policy initiatives, will assist this process.
We also need to ensure that nano is safe and seen to be safe. The meetings of the Nanosafety cluster projects at Budapest showed how important this is and that all aspects are being addressed.
The number of nanotech products that are in - or about to enter the market – increase almost daily and this means that conclusions on international regulatory and standardisation issues are becoming increasingly urgent.
And of course effective communication of the benefits and risks of nanotechnology is necessary. Fortunately the numerous Nanotechnology communication initiatives at ENF2011 show that this area is also being fully addressed and making an effective impact. Of particular interst was the OpenLabs concept pioneered in the NanoToTouch project. This brought working nano scientists and their laboratories into a public space in three science museums across Europe and allowed direct interaction with interested citizen 'on the job'.