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Emerging Technology Report #29: October 28, 2002

Emerging Nanotechnology Research in Vietnam

Miwako Waga (Global Emerging Technology Institute)

It is no exaggeration to say that not a day has passed in the last 20 months without our reading news about "nanotechnology" in the print media and on the internet. While a great deal of work is still being done in nanotech basic research, there are a growing number of large and small companies in industrially advanced and developing countries that plan to bring nanotech-enabled products to the marketplace. Nanotechnology will create a new world of products that could amount to $1 trillion per year in 10-15 years, according to Dr. Mihail Roco, Chair of the US National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology. Such a new world would require 2 million nanotech workers worldwide, according to Dr. Roco in comments made at a recent conference. The International Workshop on Nanophysics and Nanotechnology (IWONN'02) held in June 2002 in Hanoi showcased a number of nanotechnology research topics that are currently being actively pursued in Vietnam. There were presentations on the development of silicon micro-machined piezo-resistive sensors, the growth of carbon nanotubes and diamond nano-crystallites for electron field-emission devices, the development of giant magneto-resistance and magneto-striction in nanostructured multi-layers. The workshop also revealed that some cross-border cooperative research efforts are being conducted, such as those with Japanese and French universities.

Nanotechnology is poised to offer considerable research and market opportunities to scientists and engineers not only in advanced nations such as the US, Europe and Japan but also in developing economies like Vietnam. However, developing nations will have to overcome a number of challenges in producing and utilizing nano-scale scientific and technological knowledge in order to aide in their economic development. The first challenge is to overcome the very high cost of equipment that will be needed to conduct advanced research projects. As the size of the matter that is being manipulated shrinks to the nanometer level, more sophisticated equipment will be required. The acquisition of such equipment will be necessary in order to carry out productive research. The second challenge is to help domestic scientists keep up with the latest developments in nano-science and engineering around the world by providing them with access to international conferences, foreign journals and the internet. Today, the funding for nanotechnology research initiatives is said to total approximately $2 billion worldwide. Rapidly expanding research funding in advanced nations may only increase the information and knowledge gap between the haves and have-nots, unless advanced countries expand international scientific collaboration programs and accept researchers from developing countries. The third challenge is that developing economies generally do not have a large home market that will create a considerable demand for new nanotechnology-based products. The lack of market pull will be a weakness in transferring research results to industry in those countries. Unless there is a strong linkage between research topics in universities and research institutes and the technical problems in industry, the research will be done largely for the sake of scientific curiosity.

The market opportunities offered by nanotechnology are potentially enormous. What would be a sensible strategy for developing countries to develop? There is no simple answer to this question, but education seems to be the key to success. In the case of Vietnam, the Institute of Materials Science, National Center for Science and Technology (NCST) plays an important role in education and research in nanotechnology and materials science. The US offers international funding, research and educational opportunities for nanotechnology development in Vietnam. For instance, the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development supports innovative research projects in Asia. Their support enables Asian scientists to attend conferences in the US. In addition, the US government will soon start a scholarship program for Vietnamese students to study in the US. The first meeting of the US-Vietnam Joint Committee for Science & Technology Cooperation was held in Hanoi in November 2001 and the second meeting is scheduled in Washington DC this coming November. Strengthening international cooperation may eventually help the US better prepare for the increased demand for skilled nanotechnology workers.

International scientific cooperation for securing motivated foreign researchers also seems particularly pertinent to Japan, where the population is forecast to peak out early in the 21st century if the current birth rate remains constant. Support for cross-border cooperative research programs in science and technology, supporting activities in developing nations such as Vietnam, should be regarded as a strategic investment by advanced nations.

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