Socialism Plans Ahead: China’s Future in Nanotechnology

By Eugene Clark via

Feb 17, 2014 - China is positioning itself to become a world leader in nanotechnology and 2014 is shaping up to be a momentous year. The development of China's nanotechnology industry combined with robotics which I discussed in an earlier article, are both key initiatives if China is to be successful in moving up the value chain in terms of global manufacturing.

Nanotechnology involves the study and development related to the manipulation and control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. This involves structures 100 nm or smaller in at least one dimension. "Nano" scale production equates to a billionth of a meter, just a fraction of the circumference of a single strand of human hair. A nanometer (nm) is one thousand millionth of a meter.

The field of nanotechnology is extremely varied, involving the creation of nano-size devices and new approaches of molecular self-assembly, as well as development and design of new materials with nanoscale dimensions.

Nanotechnology has many potential applications with significant economic consequences in industrial design, medicine, agriculture, energy, defense, food, etc. In medicine for example, these include nanoscale drug particles and delivery systems and nanoelectronic biosensors. In environmental technologies nanotechnology has resulted in major advances in water filtering, as well as fuel cells. It has spawned new products in microelectronics and textiles, paints, sunscreens, cosmetics, clothing and sporting goods. Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing industry that estimated already to be in the billions of dollars.

Today, China leads the world in the number of nanotechnology patents. This leadership role is also reflected in the fact that in 2014 alone China will host two major international conferences --the fourth Annual World Congress of Nano Science &Technology to be held in Qingdao on Oct. 29-31 and the recent International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) and Nanotechnology held on Jan. 23-24, 2014, in Shenzhen


While Nanotechnology and nanoscience expand and show great potential, uncertainties remain about potential harms to humans and environment that may occur as a result of unforeseen harm that may result from nanoscale production. When nanoscale products are applied to humans, for example in the case of medical and food products, the concerns are especially sensitive. It is important to avoid the mistakes of the past, for example, when microparticles from asbestos resulted in major harm to people, which were remedied only after many deaths and at great cost.

Over the past five years, China has moved quickly to get all of the elements in place to become a world leader in this technology where the United States, Germany and Korea are among the other major competitors. These elements include: promoting research, attracting top science talent, funding nanoscience and technology; encouraging startups; strong university-industry links, coordination among various government agencies and making nanotechnology a key government priority.

While China is evolving its own legal/administrative framework to govern nanotechnology, eventually there will be a need for international agreement. International standards are slowly emerging.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published on Jan. 6, 2014, a report entitled "Nanotechnologies -- Considerations for the development of chemical nomenclature for selected nano-objects" (ISO/TR 14786:2014). The ISO provides that ISO/TR 14786:2014 "is intended to facilitate communications between developers and potential users of nomenclature including academia, industry, government and non-governmental organizations.

In the absence of an international legal regime governing nanoproducts, some regions have moved on their own with the EU among the most active in relation to nanotechnology regulation. A recent example is the European Commission (EC) Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) "Memorandum on Relevance, Adequacy and Quality of Data in Safety Dossiers on Nanomaterials" circulated on Dec. 19, 2013. This dealt with the provision of food information to consumers as regards the definition of engineered nanomaterials.

In contrast to the EU, however, in many developing countries, laws and regulations do not distinguish between materials in their nanoscale and bulk form. This means that nanomaterials in these countries remain effectively unregulated. There is no regulatory requirement for nanomaterials to face new health and safety testing or environmental impact assessment prior to their use in commercial products, if these materials have already been approved in bulk form. Given that nanoproducts are exported to other countries and become part of international trade chain, there are concerns about the suitability of monitoring and supervision of the health and safety of these products at the various stages of production and at various points in the supply and distribution chain.

In conclusion, the future of nanotechnology looks bright and China's star is among the brightest in this new global constellation of manufacturing and other activity on a nanoscale.

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One Response to “Socialism Plans Ahead: China’s Future in Nanotechnology”

  1. Patrick S says:

    Interesting – quite surprising that China have the most patents in this field internationally. Quite indicative of a possible broader global reconfiguration.

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