Application and use of Nano Technology in Bangladesh

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Application and use of Nano Technology in Bangladesh

Bangladesh's path forward in nanotechnology


Ability to manipulate matter at the nano-scale, fuelled by discoveries of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes, has established the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology during early 1990's.

Scientists, engineers, and policymakers alike recognised the promises of this technology and its applicability to a vast array of disciplines. Initiatives thus were undertaken to move it forward from something merely cutting-edge to a transformative new technology 'wave'.

The efforts were led by the United States' strategic nanotechnology initiative, which started since 1998's Nano-scale Science, Engineering, and Technology subcommittee and culminated in the year 2000 via 'National Nanotechnology Initiative, NNI', a co-operative of 26 federal agencies to foster nano-related research.

Three years later, the US Congress signed the '21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act' to further institutionalise federal focus on nano-related research. In parallel, national initiatives were taken up by Japan and the Western European Countries; while India and Brazil joined in the bandwagon in 2002.

It is anticipated that by 2020, nano-related businesses will reach the trillion-dollar mark, with a potential global employment of 2 million.

In the last decade, when countries like China, South Korea, Russia, Iran, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Turkey, Australia, and even African nations began their efforts on nanotechnology research, education, and commercialisation, Bangladesh has been left out of this journey.

This article aspires to briefly present global initiatives and attempts to outline possible strategies for Bangladesh strictly based on this author's opinion that can be followed for establishing a successful nano-initiative.

There is no universal model of technological progress. So, there should not be a misperception that Bangladesh, or any other emerging country, must walk on the footsteps of countries/regions of the advanced world.

Such impressions result in immature conclusions as: pursuance of advanced technologies, e.g., biotechnology or nanotechnology, is inappropriate for developing countries like Bangladesh. The list of apprehensions typically includes: high research expenditure, inefficient use of equipment, failed market transfer, unachieved milestones, etc.

Technological development, however, does not require following the prescribed models of advanced (or any other) economies. Technology develops as per the strength of a society and fiscal ability of a country or sometimes gains impetus via a national crisis.

Thus technological development can occur anywhere as long as it follows a paved path of the host country; such was outlined in Piore and Sabel's "The second industrial divide: possibilities for prosperity".

In the subsequent paragraphs the article will discuss different models that were followed globally to aspire or attain growth in nanotechnology.

Though nanotechnology development was not pursued following a specific growth model, there are a few overall strategies that can be identified. The three nano-leaders, namely: USA, Japan, and Western Europe, invested hundreds of millions, expedited market transfer, and embarked on a comprehensive nanotechnology development. Later, China and South Korea followed a similar path and have been successful.

Such a model might reinforce common apprehension that this is not for us. Here is where some of the other efforts need to be highlighted; Brazil's structured institutionali-sation, Philippines' decade long roadmap, Sri Lanka's human resource development, or India's focused research and education initiatives are all unique and tailored to their national capacities and national priorities.

Similarly, Bangladesh can and should design its own nano-initiative, evaluating the strengths and needs of the nation. When countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and regions like Africa are getting involved in nano-related research, education, or industries, it is imperative that we proceed toward this journey immediately.

Two of the leading nations among the BRICS, i.e., Brazil and India, adopted distinctly different paths toward nanotechnology. Brazil was very cautious and took gradual and structured measures. Initially it funded four proposals, followed by establishment of national centres of excellence.

The centres networked existing research facilities, involved more than 250 researchers within the first three years (by 2005), and pursued international regional collaboration, particularly with Argentina.

Research funding for Brazilian nano-initiatives grew since then and expanded to more than 40 institutions with greater than 6,000 publications, as an outcome of an investment of $100 million.

India on the other hand established a two-pronged approach for nanotechnology. The first was development of human resources via technical training, academic programmes, and establishment of nano-institutes, producing expert labour force for their future nano-industries.

In parallel, India identified three areas of focus, namely: health, energy, and environment. They also formed a three-tiered structure where academic institutes served as 'knowledge generation bodies', incubator and technology clusters served as 'knowledge transfer bodies', and industry and professional associations served as 'knowledge application bodies'.

It is safe to assume that following either a co-operative and step-by-step approach or structured two-pronged path; Brazil and India had been propelled to the top of the list of the BRICS emerging countries.

Philippines surprisingly jumped into the technological race using nanotechnology as a vehicle. Their Department of Science and Technology announced a decade-long nanotechnology roadmap for Philippines in 2009.

The roadmap outlined a three-level development that includes: assessment of global need; identification of national academic; technical, and financial strengths; and pursue nano-related research and commercialization in five specific areas, i.e., information and communications technologies, food and agriculture, energy, health, and environment.

Such a roadmap reminds Israel's initial nation building efforts, when a long-term technological roadmap was laid out to guide the countries future development. Establishment of Technion served as a cornerstone of one of the most technologically influential countries in the world.

Bangladesh doesn't necessarily need to emulate Philippines' effort in nanotechnology, however, will be tremendously benefited from a planned technological roadmap that it lacked since its birth.

As we know and recognise that technology has always been an after thought for our development; digging up any of the five-year plans will serve as a testament to this statement.

A well thought-out and appropriate roadmap for Bangladesh is badly needed.

What should be the strategy for Bangladesh? How should we develop such a strategy? How can lessons from global initiatives help curve our own path? The author believes that Bangladesh should pursue a hybrid strategy: combining human resource development with commercial ventures of nano-enabled products.

The reasons are simple: extraordinarily talented younger generation and highly energetic and able industrial sector.

Due to the precedence of unsuccessful technological ventures, Bangladesh should also adopt a long-term road map with achievable milestones and opportunities for change of direction. We can learn from Philippines on how to design a successful roadmap.

The academic training programme can follow either India's multi-tiered approach -- high school, university, and professional levels -- or can adopt Sri Lanka's concentrated academic training approach.

The commercialisation strategies should also be focused on a few industries; can be agriculture, garment, or pharmaceuticals. These are mere suggestions from a singular point of view of a scientist and should not be perceived as a comprehensive and most appropriate strategy that will suit Bangladesh.

What we need is a whole-hearted effort from technocrats, economists, academicians, business community, and government officials to come together and device a path forward for nanotechnological development in