Kristin: What a busy day! I’m sitting in the last parallel session for the first day of COMS2008. At the break, Prof Erol Harvey from MiniFab asked me what I’d discovered so far. The key things that have come out of the day are:
- noting that the same global issues keep coming up;
- the importance of market pull and ‘translators’ in innovation; and
- understanding applications of nanotechnology that are new for me.
Note that these are my perspectives on what I’ve heard today and apologies for any misinterpretations! I welcome your comments and feedback. Now let’s take those items one at a time….
Pedro Adalberto Gonzalez Hernandez and our host Francisco Medina Gomez mentioned the range of global issues that Mexico is facing, and these were again echoed by Jane Niall from the State Government of Victoria. They were also addressed in a global context by Steve Walsh. These issues include health care, water, climate change and energy. In some ways, pursuing micro and nanotechnologies (MNT) can be justified if they suggest possible solutions to these problems. On the other hand, positioning MNT as the solution is problematic. Another global consideration was the potential of MNT as a driver of economic development and how growing global connections may assist.
Market Pull and ‘Babel Fish’ Translators for Innovation
I’ve been involved in a project for the South Australia government mapping R&D capability. Two snippets from talks resonated with me in light of this work.
Firstly, Dag Winkler from Chalmers University (Sweden) spoke about the 20+ spin-out companies from the mu-fab network, but then mentioned the booking system for the laboratories. I wondered why the focus on a booking system until he mentioned that the software they had developed to take the bookings across three laboratories with 500 instruments has received attention form other users and they were now looking at commercialising that as well. A good example of market pull and being prepared to deliver different sources of innovation.
Miriam Luzinik from MESA+ (Netherlands) was speaking about how ideas are commercialised. As well as spin-out companies, she made reference to the role of ‘Technology Accelerator’ – someone who talks to the research groups, finds interesting projects with market potential and then works out ways to protect IP and proceed with development. This is a great example of someone working as a ‘babel fish’ translator for innovation, something that we have identified in our projects in South Australia as being necessary to assist industry R&D and research commercialisation.
Applications of Nanotechnology
Finally I managed to canvass a few new applications of nanotechnology I hadn’t previously understood very well. Both Franz Kampers and Kathy Groves gave more details about the application of nano in food technology, opening up considerable questions for me. I find myself torn here – if the answer to good health is eating a fresh and balanced diet, then as Franz says, we don’t need nano. So it seems almost sad that there is this market opportunity. On the other hand, if, as they both explained, we can use MNT to perhaps reduce artificial colours, supply nutrients and lower the fat content of baked goods with lowering the eating quality (still tastes good), then perhaps consumers will buy foods which are better for their health and which may protect them from diet-related disease.
I also spoke with Jim Mason from the Oklahoma Nanotechnology Initiative about improvements to prosthetics and Greg Raupp from the Flexible Display Centre at Arizona State University about display technologies (some thing I will chase up further!).