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Nanotechnology in the UK

Successful uptake of new technologies is vital to the wealth creating power of the UK, and nanotechnologies are crucial to delivering the UK's wealth creation in the next 20 years

The last five years has seen a significant cash injection from the public sector in the UK micro and nanotechnology (MNT) community including a £90 million investment on the development of a new network of MNT facilities and services, £50 million to support and enhance collaborative research programmes and technology transfer initiatives, and £40 million for Capital Projects and the advance of a UK MNT Network which has now been continued by the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN).

Despite the public investment, in 2007 the total value of nanotechnology venture capital deals worldwide fell for the first time since 1999, with investment dropping from $738 million across 73 deals in 2006 to $702 million across 61 deals in 2007. This 16% drop in the number of deals is evidence to the fact that new interest in investment needs to be created if start-up nanotechnology businesses are to continue emerging (Source: Lux Research).

The NanoKTN, the UK?s primary knowledge-based network for micro and nanotechnologies, was set up by the Technology Strategy Board, an executive non-departmental public body, established by the UK government in 2007 and sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, to promote and facilitate knowledge exchange, support the growth of UK capabilities, raise awareness of nanotechnology and provide thought leadership and input to the UK policy and strategy.

The NanoKTN also acts as a single point of access for overseas companies and academics wishing to find UK partners for research and business. The NanoKTN sustains support for the commercialisation of MNT through informing, linking and facilitating collaborations between suppliers and users with the aim of constructing and maintaining a UK MNT community. The NanoKTN also assists the 23 UK MNT Capital facilities which were set up by the UK government to develop a critical mass of capabilities, and provide associated knowledge for those wishing to commercialise MNT.

The NanoKTN has divided its activities into four themes: materials, production and processes, metrology and bionano/nanomedicine. Nanoenhanced materials are rapidly emerging worldwide in every category imaginable. Key areas include paints and coatings, with products such as the clear, scratch resistant topcoat used on Mercedes Benz cars, as well as coatings for alloy wheels. Novel silica-based coatings are being developed with barrier and anti-fouling properties. Hard coatings applied by physical and chemical vapour deposition have been available for some time, and here improvements are being realised through nano-structuring.

The UK has an acknowledged strength in the nanometrology field and the NanoKTN is actively supporting its ongoing activities through for example, the continued brokering and advising of a FP7 European co-ordination action for the CO-ordination of NANOMETrology in Europe (CO-NANOMET).

A further key role of the NanoKTN is to develop and co-ordinate focus groups to represent key market sectors, acting as a three-way communication channel between industry, academia and funding authorities.

HiPerNano, Design for Modelling and Simulation (DfMSG) and MNT Gas Sensors are a few examples of focus groups already set up and active. HiPerNano was launched to raise awareness, promote developments and solve extreme engineering challenges in nanomaterials and coatings for the high performance engineering industry. Nanomaterials are beginning to have a major commercial impact and the NanoKTN is building a UK community where aerospace, defence, security, power generation and automotive industries can discuss the benefits of nanomaterials for components which are subjected to extreme environments such as high temperature, friction, corrosion, erosion and ballistic impact.

In partnership with the Sensors and Instrumentation KTN, the MNT Gas Sensing focus group looks at developing the new breed of sensors based on micro and nanotechnologies to replace existing technologies. Gas Sensing products form a large market with applications in almost every sector, including the oil and gas sectors along with emission monitoring.

The DfMSG focuses on modelling and simulation aspects of MNT. This group covers a wide range of interests from the molecular modelling of surfaces to the predictive model behaviour of MEMS devices. It draws upon the leading organisations in this area such as the National Physical Laboratory and the Science and Technology Facilities Council at Daresbury. The aim of the group is to look at new methods and applications of modelling systems and is holding a meeting later on this year to promote activities.

The UK government and the NanoKTN are working together to create, promote and push forward the commercialisation of MNT. By promoting selected centres and platforms, the NanoKTN aims to give those working in the MNT field, access to reliable and recommended centres of excellence.

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For further information on the UK MNT
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Added the 11 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1

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