Responses to questionnaire on nanotechnology

THE NETHERLANDS

From

 

 

Natalie Poirier
Science and Technology Assistant
British Embassy The Hague
The Netherlands

1. What are the latest estimates of levels of a) public and b) private investment in nanotechnology over the last ten and next ten years? In particular for a), what is the relative emphasis between basic and applied research?

a) The Ministry of Economic Affairs has injected €23 million into to NanoImplus-programme this year in which eight knowledge institutes collaborate. This is a continued initiative from 1999 when €14,5 million was given to five central programs of the institute. The Government regards nanotechnology as the most fundamental form of production technology with the intention of building complex molecular structures with completely new physical, chemical and biological perspectives. It has been foreseen that in the coming twenty-five years an enormous market will develop for products made largely with nanotechnology. Based on the outcomes of this investment, more money is sure to be on the way within the next five years. It is forecasted that this new market will be larger than the current telecom market and thus the Government is motivated to keep Dutch scientists and entrepreneurs on the cutting edge.

Aside from Government funding, extra funds are also competed for from the National Science Foundations (Stichting Technologie Wetenschap, Fundementeel Onderzoek der Materie) or the European Commission.

b) Current amounts of private investment into nanotechnology are marginal. Large companies like Shell, Akzo, Unilever, and Philips did not invest a lot into Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) research in the nineties and therefore has put the Netherlands in a weaker position for the application and commercialisation of research. The Dutch on the whole, concentrate too much on development while they should look at the demand side first. Companies need to develop applications from a market demand, through technology pull rather than technology push in order to introduce new technologies into the market. It has been forecasted that once the large companies get involved with nanotechnology, private investment will overtake public investment.

c) The emphasis is on basic research. The Netherlands is strong in MEMS research, but fares badly compared with other European countries when it comes to boasting companies that can actually produce components. Most MEMS firms in the Netherlands are small- to medium – size design firms or niche manufacturers. Its lack of mid-size producers to drive commercialisation partially explains why it lags neighbouring countries. 61 out of a total 88 MEMS companies are active in R&D – 69 percent. Only 14 percent of the Dutch working on MEMS are in production. The only huge company active in this field is Philips Electronics and there are small companies offering specialised products or services. There is very little in between. There are not enough mid-size companies willing to develop these high-tech components because it is considered too risky. This differs greatly in comparison with a country like Switzerland who has a long tradition in microsystems with many mid-size companies active in the field. In the Netherlands, MEMS started at universities; thus, in the past the approach has been too academic. However, in Switzerland there was already an established precision industry and thus an industrial and commercial approach was developed right from the start. Up until now, the Government is trying to stimulate R&D even more and has not been stimulating the use of microsystems in traditional Dutch industries such as biomedical and agro-food by showing the advantages. (See #2e).

2. What research on nanotechnology is ongoing in a) academia b) research centres c) industry and d) defence? Are there any specific funding initiatives?

a/b) Academia and Research centres are intertwined in both funding and
development of nanotechnology.

c) Philips is developing nanotechnology for organic electronics and for displays.
Specifically, ‘self-assembling’ liquid crystalline mesogens, the morphology of structures can be controlled on a sub-mm scale, leading to a range of optical applications.

C2V is one of the Netherlands exclusive nanotechnology companies. It targets telecom and non-telecom OEMs with product and service offerings that integrate MEMS microengineering capabilities with the use of planar optics design software – Seamless Microsystem Engineering. This firm is closely tied with the MESA+ Research Institute of the University of Twente – the leading institute in the Netherlands for nanotechnology.

As was discussed in question 1, the private sector has yet to develop an extensive nanotechnology program.

d) We are not aware of any defence research happening within the Dutch
Government, however the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) sponsors a project in which BIOMADE, a Dutch company, participates. This project is about a biosensor to identify bacteriological infections in biowarfare. The American army wants to integrate a wearable biosensor in clothing. This would mean that a soldier should be able to see within 20 minutes if he has been in contact with anthrax. The technology is general, and not specified for any one disease-causing agent. The principle is precise current measurement on a robust substrate. They are working on ion channels (which serve as entranceways into cells.) As DARPA funds only fundamental research, they are looking to have proof of principle within three years.

e) Currently, no special funding initiative specific to nanotechnology is
available. However, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende launched the Innovation Platform on 5 September 2003. The Platform, of which the Prime Minister himself is chairman, has been given a budget of €185 million in order to transform knowledge into economic enterprise. The Platform was prompted under the concept that the limited economic growth in the Netherlands is due to a deficit of innovative strength. The main focus will be to engage the collaboration between researchers and entrepreneurs in order to develop new products. The Platform is sure to include aspects of nanotechnology development as they move forward.

3. Have any social, ethical, health, safety or environmental impacts (positive or negative) been highlighted? If so, what and by whom? Are there any special funding initiatives and if yes, what?

As of present, no specific impacts of nanotechnology have been specifically outlined in the Netherlands. There has only been extreme promotion of the development of the technology by the €23 million given by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as outlined above (See #1 a). In addition, On 25 August, four Dutch researchers were awarded the annual Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)/Spinoza Premium. The prize is the most prestigious in the Dutch Scientific world and was awarded to physicist Cees Dekker, a nanophysicist. Each recipient was awarded € 1.5 million to further fund their research. The NWO/Spinoza prize, also seen as the 'Dutch Nobel Prize', is awarded to Dutch researchers who rank among the world's top scientists. Professor Cees Dekker has been awarded the prize for his work on carbon nanotubes. He was the first in the world to measure the electrical conductivity of a single molecule. Professor Dekker and his team developed the first nanotransistor based on a nanotube and last year, he constructed a nanotube-DNA hybrid. Professor Dekker's research has included work on spin glasses, noise, high-temperature superconductors, sliding charge-density-waves as well as carbon nanotubes. He is currently engaged in nanophysics of which his research has already been published in leading international journals. As such, positive recognition by the Dutch Government and scientific community is being awarded to those in nanotechnology. Development is seen as imperative to becoming a major future economic player. No negative aspects of the development of nanotechnology have yet been vocalised.

4. What regulations exist that will cover applications of nanotechnology? Are these regulations based on testing of nanosystems or are they based on the current state of knowledge of microsystems? Which Government bodies are responsible for implementing these regulations?

As per question 3, there are no current regulations applied specifically to nanotechnology. Naturally, any nanotechnology application that is to be used for medical purposes must be in accordance with the pan-European Medical Device Directive. The Ministry for Health and Sport is responsible for the Dutch laws that ensure that this Directive (as well as any other future laws and regulations on nanotechnology) are met and implemented. In particular, the Rijksinstituut Voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM) within the Ministry is chiefly involved with the development and formation of such regulations. Dutch lawmakers may take notice of laws concerning nanotechnology should the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act be passed this year in the US.

5. What has the a) media b) public c) NGO interest in nanotechnology been? Has science fiction had any effect on public interest or attitude to nanotechnology?

a) The media, thus far, has embraced any new developments within nanotechnology and has promoted their future positive influence on the future economic market. It has also made public the large amounts of funding being donated by the Government.

b) The general public in the Netherlands is currently unaware of what nanotechnology is and how it is being developed. Only those within the field are familiar with the technology, implications and dialogue associated with nanotechnology.

c) The varied criticisms that have come from NGOs such as Greenpeace and the Canadian based nanotech watchdog ETC, have fallen on deaf Dutch ears for the moment. Greenpeace’s Netherlands headquarters remarked that the 72-page report published in July 2003 in New Scientist had been released by the UK Greenpeace Office.

It is generally considered that regulation on nanotechnology will happen sooner or later. As such, when the Netherlands does begin to think about regulations, they will most likely use the Precautionary Principle as laid out by the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (June 1992) as a guide.

d) Science fiction has had no effect on public interest or attitude to nanotechnology.