An essay in the journal Small (2011, 7, No. 20, 2836-C2839) discusses the growing footprint of nanoscience and nanotechnology on the global scientific landscape. The authors used query terms such as nano*, graphene* and polymer* in Web of Science by Thomson Reuters to generate search results from several key journals in the field such as ACS Nano and Nano Letters. The search results were subsequently analyzed in terms of scope, geographic distribution and footprint on the scientific literature. The essay’s main points are outlined below.
The percentage of the records returned by the search terms for each year dramatically increased from 20 % in 1991 to 80 % in 2010. Also, the term nano* was not sufficient to capture the full activity in these fields and tended to underestimate the literature, especially that of the 1990s. In terms of subject category, the increase in nanoscale studies has been of several-fold for the top 5 Web of Science categories, namely Physics, Materials Science, Chemistry (physical), Chemistry (multidisciplinary) and Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. The latter had the greatest increase from 18 to 70 % from 1997 to 2009.
Clearly, nanotechnology and nanoscience have grown in importance since the 1990s, yet this is not so equally around the world. China, USA, Japan, Germany and South Korea are the top 5 countries by number of records. The percentages of 2010 records returned by the search are stunning for Asian countries in comparison to the so-called G7 countries. Indeed, China, India and Iran have made nanoscale studies a very high research priority with more than 10 % of the total records related to them. On the other hand, England, the Netherlands and Canada are at the bottom of the list with 3.66%, 3.65 % and 3.48 % of their records devoted to nano, respectively. Switzerland with 5.65 % is above the EU-27 average at 5.24 %. The authors conclude by stating that the alarming increase in the proportion taken in the literature by nanoscience and nanotechnology may continue unabated, but that this may depend on how the scientific community delivers concrete application in the ”post-Hype” era.
Although quite informative, this essay does not discuss the reasons behind the discrepancy between the rising Asian countries and the industrialized Western countries. There is also no mention of what is being done in terms of prioritizing nanoscience and nanotechnology in the low ranking countries. Let us quickly consider the case of Canada. Even though it has established a National Institute for Nanotechnology and that some organizations, such as NanoQuébec, exist to support nanotechnology innovation, the country’s output or footprint has remained limited in such a way that it is at the bottom of the list. Why is this so? One could argue that this is the result of differing work ethics and governmental priorities from one country to another.
Others might argue that this depends on which sector of the economy a country is built upon. Economies relying on the primary raw materials sector (mining, forestry and oil) would be less interested, at least immediately, in what nanoscience and nanotechnology has to offer. Conversely, countries based on the secondary manufacturing sector of economy would be far more likely to invest in nano. The push towards continued miniaturization in electronics is a good example of this. In the case of Canada, these questions remain open for discussion.