Chapter 7: Implementing Your Nanoinnovation Strategy – NanoInnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Know

Implementing Your Nanoinnovation Strategy

After decades of nanotech being just around the corner, we've finally reached the corner.

– Peter Balbus, Managing Director, Pragmaxis

At the beginning of this book, I pointed out that all of us are touched in some way by nanoinnovation. You may find yourself involved in a nanoinnovation project and you have to contribute ideas, or manage all or part of a nanoinnovation project. You may be involved in planning your organization's nanotechnology strategy. You may have an opportunity to champion a project and contribute ideas and support. As a manager, how do you operationalize nanoinnovation? What are the best practices and strategies? What questions do you need to ask? Is there a menu?

It's easy to say you need to be nanodextrous and deal with the various dichotomies – nano versus macro, research versus commercialization, incumbent versus emerging technologies and applications – but how do you actually do this? Where do you begin?

7.1 A Sense-Making Framework for Nanoinnovators

At the Wharton School where I spent much of my career managing Wharton's innovation research center (The Mack Institute for Innovation Management), I learned to think of problem solving in the context of “sense-making frameworks.”

The world's simplest (and most elegant) innovation framework I've seen was developed by Larry Huston, Procter & Gamble's longtime innovation guru. I first saw this in 1996 at a Wharton workshop I was helping to organize. Larry asked me to cover the entire front wall of the conference room with flipchart paper. At the workshop, he stood on a stepladder and attached the elements of the framework with examples from Procter & Gamble's product portfolio, which was a dramatic way to present this very simple yet powerful concept. As an innovator, Larry has always been creative and full of surprises.

This powerful concept applies to any area of innovation, including nanotechnology. Using this framework is remarkably simple. You start by asking What's needed? – essentially, define the problem. Next, you ask What's possible? – identify the technologies and applications that exist today as well as those that need to be developed. Then you conduct fact finding in between to find specific resources needed to connect the needs and possibilities (Figure 7.1).

Figure 7.1 Innovation framework. This diagram, developed by Larry Huston at Procter & Gamble in the mid-1990s, is the world's simplest innovation framework. It offers a useful starting point for conceptualizing and describing any type of innovation, including bionanoinnovations.

The “needs and possibilities” framework is a conceptual compass you can use to find your way into uncharted technological waters. It can be used to develop any type of innovation. You can use this framework to develop a technology road map, set goals and priorities for corporate and government research initiatives, frame an open innovation challenge, or set the parameters for a technology competition. If you look beyond your organization, across boundaries, and delve deep into other industries and disciplines, you'll be surprised how many solutions and killer apps will be revealed. Often, a problem in one industry can be solved by a solution that already exists in another industry. In nanotechnology, a quantum property of a well-known material such as carbon or gold may provide a solution that was never possible at the macroscale.

7.2 10 Strategic Questions that Nanoinnovators Need to Ask

Most innovations start with a question, or a set of questions. Terry Fadem makes this point in his excellent book, The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers (FT Press, 2008). Framing the questions early in any nanoinnovation project – and keeping these questions in mind throughout the process – helps you keep focused on what's important, especially as the answers keep changing. Based on my interviews with nano-insiders who have been working on nanoinnovations for up to 30 years, I can tell you that the answers keep changing, but the questions remain more or less the same.

Here are 10 questions you might consider asking before getting involved in any nanoinnovation project. These apply whether you're planning, developing, managing, approving, supporting, funding, purchasing, or deploying a nanoinnovation. These include some personal observations as well as insights gleaned from the research and interviews conducted for this book.

7.2.1 What's the Value Proposition?

A great starting point for any technology project is to describe it in one sentence. Almost anything can be described in one sentence. Try it. For example, a biopharma project might be described as “nano-sizing our large molecule drug to extend the patent.” Graphene Frontiers (described in the previous chapter) is pursuing an innovation that might be described as “development of a cost-effective process to manufacture commercial sizes and quantities of graphene.” And here is a nanoinnovation that I personally would like to see: “development of a low-cost scanning probe microscope system that any high school or college can afford.”

You should also ask: How does this nanoinnovation improve on existing solutions? This is critical. At this point in the history of nanotechnology, most innovations aren't totally replacing or cannibalizing something that already exists. In most cases, these innovations improve something. So what's being improved? Is it functionality, form factor, economics (cost/price), materials, efficacy, strength, durability, weight, and so on? What does this innovation allow us to do now that couldn't be done previously? Is the market willing to adopt this solution? Are the existing solutions acceptable to customers? Are there switching costs? Will this require special handling or infrastructure changes? If the solution is truly radical and disruptive, will you have to develop the market by yourself – which could be very expensive – or is there a smooth path to adoption by customers?

When considering the value proposition, keep in mind that modern product management is holistic. For any product, you need to consider the full product cycle from womb to tomb. This includes by-products that are created during production, energy use, and what happens when it breaks or reaches the end of its useable life span. You also need to make decisions that make things greener, safer, and more cost-efficient – what IBM calls “smart planet” choices.

In a broader sense, you should recognize that the concept of “value” has evolved in the past few decades. Marketing professionals used to talk about the “5 P's” – product, price, place, promotion, and people – but these metrics have given way to a more modern interpretation that is more customer-focused, called “SIVAC” – where we consider solutions instead of products, value instead of price, access instead of place, information instead of promotion, and community instead of people. In a book chapter I wrote in 2011 [1], I discussed this framework in the context of the marketing challenges facing bionanotechnology and added “community” to the framework that originally included only the first four P's. Last but not least, the value proposition needs to include metrics for measuring success. What defines success in your nanoinnovation project? Is it bringing the technology to market in an acceptable time frame? Achieving a financial target? Are you trying to move from laboratory to market (and get there first)? Sometimes the value proposition involves finding smart ways to survive until the technology or market is ready.

These are a few of the strategic considerations around the concept of “value.”

7.2.2 Where Do We Fit in the Supply Chain?

Whether you're in nanomaterials, nano-enabled electronic devices, or nanomedicine, you need to consider the supply chain. For example, if you're doing something that involves nanomaterials, who will manufacture the materials? Will you take on this burden yourself or work with a raw materials supplier?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, most manufacturers did not have the capability to integrate carbon nanotubes and composite materials into their products. Getting consistency from one supplier to another was tricky, especially in composites where the nanotubes needed to be uniformly dispersed. Also, there were safety issues involving the handling of nanotubes that might have required clean rooms and special facilities to minimize contact or inhalation of particles by workers.

The solution for carbon nanotube manufacturers was to move farther down the supply chain and do the integrating and fabricating that their industrial customers would normally do. This gave rise to an entirely new market segment known as “intermediaries.” Today, companies that want to incorporate nanotubes or composites can ask suppliers to fabricate the nanomaterials into intermediary products such as chemical coatings, composites, and catalysts. This helped many companies become nanodextrous without having to develop an expensive in-house nanotech production capability.

A good example is the German company Nanogate AG, based in Göttelborn (Saarland), Germany. Nanogate is an integrated systems provider that specializes in incorporating nanomaterials in surfaces and layers – an important intermediary market that bridges the gap between raw materials and end use products. Nanogate provides a variety of nanocomposites and nanoformulations used in nonstick, anticorrosive, and ultralow friction materials and surfaces with a focus on high-performance, optical-quality surfaces. The company's products are used in a wide variety of applications from aircraft windows and utility vehicles to heat exchangers and enhanced headlight lenses.

While “nano-surface chemistry” sounds like a very narrow niche market, it's actually an enormous market since almost any surface can be enhanced by nanocoatings: metals, plastics, wood, stone, ceramics, leather, fabrics, glass, and so on. A material as common and familiar as glass can be coated with nanomaterials to provide coatings that can absorb heat or transport electric impulses without affecting the transparency of the glass. Nanocoatings can control the “surface energy” of a material to attract or repel liquids, oils, or impurities. Nanogate's Nanoplating® technology integrates nanoparticles into custom-made surfaces to provide a barrier against the sun's damaging rays, corrosion, bacteria, and so on. Nanocomposites and nanoformulations are used in nonstick, anticorrosive, and ultralow friction materials and surfaces, including thin materials where optical quality needs to be maintained.

Often, studying the supply chain will reveal a missing link that needs to be filled and this can create a business opportunity. In the field of bionanotechnology, which is explored in the next chapter, the supply chain is constantly evolving as new and better drugs and devices are introduced to treat major diseases. Introducing a smaller pacemaker at Medtronic or a more efficient drug from Merck or Pfizer uses different delivery mechanisms and facilities than administering stem cells, protein therapies, or gene therapy vectors. Who in the supply chain will administer an injection that delivers genes that cure genetic blindness or hemophilia, or stem cells that regrow damaged tissues and organs? Will this be done at any hospital or clinic, at specialized facilities, or at Wal-Mart?

A critical way to think about your project or venture is to understand where you fit in an “innovation ecosystem” – the network of partners, competitors, customers, markets, and applications that are associated with your technology. Where do you fit in the ecosystem? Are you working in a space that is dominated by a large corporation such as Reliance Industries in India, Siemens in Europe, or Samsung in Asia? Will these companies partner with you, or compete with you? How would you describe your niche? Is the barrier to entry by competitors low or high? What is the market opportunity? Where is the low-hanging fruit where the first and easiest revenues will come from? As you answer these questions, be realistic, be conservative, and try to develop a business model that can survive and succeed on the lowest possible market share and slowest pace of adoption.

7.2.3 Can This Be Funded with “Patient Money?”

Virtually all nanoinnovations take longer and require more funding than originally anticipated. This requires access to patient money. In a large organization, you need to lock in (1) the commitment of top management, (2) assurances that your budget won't be misdirected next year to a higher priority short-term project, and (3) the involvement of corporate, government, or academic partners to spread the risk. You need a commitment that your funding will be secure. This means that the budget won't suddenly disappear in 2, 3, or 5 years, or get redirected to a higher priority project.

In a small start-up or venture, you need to ensure the investors are prepared for a long commercialization cycle and reasonably high development and marketing costs. They need to be willing to stay in the course. It is also likely that successive rounds of mezzanine funding will be needed. Your investors may need to accept some dilution or issuance of additional ownership shares to pull in the extra funding. A variation on this theme is the involvement of a corporate partner that can be a good solution, since corporate partners can provide a combination of financial, research resources, and market access, and often they will accept a smaller equity stake because their main goal typically involves access to the technology solutions being developed.

Stable funding may also require a tolerance for failure. You don't want your funding sponsors to pull the plug at the first sign of failure, or even after several failures. In many sectors, including nanotechnology, failing is part of the equation. Most business schools today teach that it's important to “fail fast” to conserve financial resources, although this isn't always possible in nanoinnovation. Some of the most important innovations took 30 years or more – and lots of failure – to achieve. DNA nanotechnology and graphene are two notable examples.

7.2.4 Can the “Lab Solution” Be Translated into a “Commercial Solution?”

As part of your nanoinnovation strategy, you need to describe how you intend to translate the research into a commercial application. Filing a patent is one thing. Commercializing the patent is quite different. Achieving something in a Petri dish – ex vivo – is different from getting the same result inside the human body – in vivo. Getting a few atoms or molecules to behave a certain way at the nanoscale is much different from retaining those properties when you scale up to a macrosize where those properties are changed or lost.

If you scan the research literature, you'll find hundreds of articles where nanoscientists report “breakthroughs” such as better cheaper solar cells using nanomaterials, or a new way to detect and destroy cancer cells. But have you seen a low-cost flexible solar cell roof you can buy for your house? Have you seen any cancer cures based on delivering drugs inside a nanoshell? In most cases, these solutions are still in the laboratory. They have not yet found a viable commercial path to make them available in the market.

Also, many scientific achievements are really cool, but do not have a “killer application” yet. For example, scientists have trapped a single molecule of water inside a carbon buckyball. That's very cool, right? But how do you trap water in a billion buckyballs – or a billion times a billion, which would be about 1 m2 in size? And once you learn how to do that, what's the killer app?

Technically, these examples are discoveries and inventions, but not yet nanoinnovations under our definition, which is the implementation of a nanoscale discovery, idea, or invention.

One of the most interesting and ironic challenges for nanoinnovators is the realization that once you've demonstrated a solution using a small number of atoms or molecules, you need to figure out how to replicate this solution with six or seven orders of magnitude – which often means working with millions or billions of nanoparticles. Scaling up a solution from nanoscale to macroscale or from laboratory to market is a critical factor for any nanoinnovation.

A sheet of material made with nanoparticles that are each 1 nm in size means that a billion or more particles are needed to manufacture that sheet. How do you fabricate something like that? How do you get all the molecules to line up properly? How do you keep the particles from clumping or clustering so you get a uniform dispersion? How do you provide quality control? How many sections of the sheet do you need to scan with a scanning probe microscope to ensure the sheet is uniform (which is both a statistical and technical challenge for quality control technicians)? These are a few of the many important scale issues.

Another scale question involves the properties involved. How do you maintain the properties that worked in a few molecules under a microscope in a laboratory, in a commercial product that attempts to retain those same properties in bulk form? What are the limits and boundaries at different scales? And most importantly, will these limitations delay – temporarily, or perhaps forever – the ability to commercialize the innovation?

Stuart Cantrell, chief editor of Nature Chemistry describes the dilemma like this: “In a process that uses gold in a bulk application, the difference between two million or three million atoms doesn't change the properties. All of the atoms are overlapping and you have an electronic continuum. But when you get to a few atoms, you get discreet states and different properties. Going from 5 to 10 atoms may be a big change. This may not seem like much of a change but effectively changing from 5 to 10 atoms – or from 5 to 10 nanometers – is actually doubling the size and this small change can create a different effect. We're still learning how moving among these lengths and sizes in the nanoscale world can change the properties, to achieve or inhibit a desired effect.” The trick is finding the right path and making it happen.

7.2.5 Is the Intellectual Property Secured?

One of the challenges facing anyone in the field of technological innovation is the rapid creation of “patent pyramids” that lock up gateway patents and require you to license the IP for your research. In the field of nanotechnology, many key patents are made available free by universities for academic research and require licenses for commercial applications. Many (if not most) nanoventures began with one or more patents licensed from a university, which then helped the ventures build their own patent portfolios.

A word of caution: A search of the “977” patent category in the USPTO database may still overlook some seminal patents that were filed before the standard was established in 2004, and may also miss some patents that apply to nanotechnologies but do not mention “nano” in the filing, which is especially true for many bioscience patents.

Companies such as IBM have turned their patents into a profit center, by rigorously enforcing claims and requesting technology companies to license IBM patents if they haven't already done so. It should be noted that in some cases, a threatening letter from a company like IBM may make it sound like you're violating one of their patents, but this may in fact not be the case, so don't accept any threatening letter regarding patents on face value. Good patent attorneys can do a lot and are worth their weight in gold. It is not surprising that patent attorneys have been cofounders and are listed on the senior management team at several nanotech ventures.

7.2.6 Do We Have the Right Partners?

There are many reasons for partnering in nanotechnology. Partners share and minimize the risk in an R&D project and provide specialized knowledge, access to patented technologies, and talent. If your innovation involves the formulation and use of nanomaterials such as nanocomposites or metamaterials, you may want to partner with an intermediary supplier to ensure a reliable supply source and consistent quality.

Also, someone else may have already done some of the work. In biopharma, decision-makers often complain about how much duplication there is in drug exploration, which raises development costs and healthcare costs in general. Why does everyone need to work in parallel on the same drug targets? Antitrust considerations aside, it would seem that more collaborative consortia would be a smarter model than the parallel efforts model that exists today. The same may be true in nanotechnology, where so many enterprises are working to do something novel with carbon nanotubes and related materials. We are coming to a point where there should be more pooling of efforts to speed the commercialization process, especially in nanomedicine. This pooling of interests seems to be happening more in Europe than in the United States or Asia.

Often the best partner is a university nanoscience center. University partners provide a stable pool of faculty expertise as well as a constant stream of graduate and undergraduate students who may want to join your organization.

Nanoinnovation is a good sector for “co-opetition,” where market competitors join forces to develop a new technology or market. Companies that compete in certain markets may pool their resources to develop hybrid products that occur at the convergence of two or more technologies – where the companies may each have an advantage. Some of the most disruptive and radical innovations in the past century have come from the convergence of seemingly unrelated technology streams.

For example, 10 years ago, who would think that carbon nanotubes would be used to build faster, lighter, stronger boats? Today, Zyvex Technologies is collaborating with boat designers and the US Navy to develop this entirely new product category. It was only a few decades ago that fiberglass replaced wooden boats. It's easy to imagine that in a few years, a Ph.D. student or team of MBAs may do a case study on how carbon nanotube boats completely revolutionized the boat industry!

7.2.7 Is This the Best Team for This Project?

Some people “get” innovation and some don't. Some people “get” nanotechnology, and others don't. The team that actually brings the innovation to market may include a combination of managers who are really well versed in innovation and “nano.” Team members may also include people who are not very good innovators or nanotechnologists, but whose special skills and competencies are needed. Everybody on the team doesn't have to be a Steve Jobs clone. There will inevitably be a role for people who know their way around the company and can keep things flowing smoothly. An experienced financial manager is critical. You may need someone who is good at securing research grants from a government agency, or someone to impose budget discipline.

A nanoinnovation team needs balance, more than anything. There should be a mix of older and younger managers. Older managers have a type of insight and wisdom that comes only with experience. They have probably seen their share of failures and know the pitfalls that need to be avoided. On the other hand, younger people are typically closer to emerging technologies, less risk-averse, and more open to new ideas. Younger managers don't have preconceived notions about “what can't be done.”

I was once involved in a “future technologies” exercise at a US intelligence agency. We held three meetings to narrow a list of 70 technologies to a smaller list of innovations that might have the most impact and needed to be on the agency's watch list. At the end of the third meeting, the leader of the project asked, “Is there anything we've overlooked that we should consider?” At this point, I raised my hand and said, “Would everyone in the room under the age of thirty please raise your hand?” No one responded. “What's wrong with this picture?” I asked. “Young people are closer to emerging technologies. They have a strong sense of what's coming that's new and different. They have fewer rules and are open to more possibilities. They need to be included.” The very next day, the project team gathered up everyone in the building under the age of thirty, including interns and admins. The result was several major new findings that the older group had totally overlooked.

Every innovation team, in any field of technology, should have at least a few young people. Also, there are many occasions where enthusiasm trumps expertise. When I was guiding the launch of the first home computers at Commodore in the 1980s, I was only 32 years old and had very little experience in computing. I was an English major and journalist with an MBA, but I had an insatiable curiosity and fascination for personal computers. I knew where home computing needed to go, and I was a quick study and did a lot of on-the-job learning. Everyone on my product team was under the age of 30 and yet we did the product management and marketing for the Commodore VIC-20, which became the world's first million-seller microcomputer – and a half billion dollar product line for Commodore. My role in that innovation earned me a listing in Wikipedia and a lot of recognition on retrocomputing Web sites in the United States and Europe.

I guess the bottom line is that diversity is needed on any innovation team, especially one as young and open-ended as nanoinnovation. No one knows where this field is taking us but we all know the potential is vast and we have only scratched the surface. To figure out what we can achieve in this uncharted territory, we'll need enthusiastic, dedicated people with fresh ideas who are not bound by the old rules that governed the macro world.

7.2.8 Is Our Strategy Flexible?

In nanoinnovation, it's not unusual to begin a strategy aimed at one target, and along the way you discover another, easier target suddenly popping into view. There are so many discoveries remaining to be made and the science is still so new that it's not unusual to stumble onto something big while researching something else altogether. Remaining open to new possibilities in the technology as well as the marketplace can spell the difference between success, survival, and failure.

Don't leave opportunities lying by the side of the road simply because you're racing to the finish line. The finish line is often quite a long distance away and you need to stop and grab a few trophies along the way if you can – this provides revenues, gives some confidence to your investors, and boosts the morale of the team. Even a small revenue stream from a patent license or providing laboratory samples or nanobiocomponents to the research community can provide revenues. If your goal is to develop a diagnostic test using biomarkers that include a nanoscale component, an interim step may be to license biomarkers to laboratories for use in medical research by other companies, to generate a faster revenue stream.

Sometimes, adjacent markets open up that which you normally might not consider because you lack expertise in that market or industry or because it's not part of your core. Moving into adjacent areas can provide an initial revenue stream while the core research is underway, can demonstrate proof of concept for your technology, and can also be used to open markets for your other products and technologies. This strategy is especially important for smaller ventures, but works for large corporations as well.

Almost everything in nanotechnology is still relatively “new,” so this sector is a fertile ground for developing adjacencies. The strategic point is to keep your eyes open for a low-hanging fruit that may suddenly appear as you develop a project or venture. These opportunities are not always obvious. Sometimes it seems that the timing is not right and, of course, there are extra risks involved. In this book, I've mentioned the importance of focusing on a core objective and not getting too diluted, which was a problem for many ventures in the early 2000s. However, pursuing well-chosen side opportunities can give you a strategic advantage and a revenue stream.

7.2.9 What Are the Obstacles?

It's very tempting to overlook the obstacles ahead when you begin an innovation project, especially when you're caught up in the moment and invigorated by the exciting prospects ahead. Take a moment to consider the impediments that will hinder or slow your efforts. These should be divided into internal and external obstacles. Technical obstacles can defeat your project or kill your venture if you can't unlock a technological gate. For more than a decade, gene therapy was stalled by an inability to find safe and effective vectors to deliver therapeutic genes. A major complication was the triggering of the body's immune system that reacted to the viruses used to deliver the genes, even when the viruses were rendered “safe.” Gene therapy began to show results when scientists found ways to encapsulate or modify the viral vectors to avoid triggering an immune response.

One obstacle you can never anticipate is the human factor. For example, you may find that there are colleagues who resent your involvement in a very exciting project or who do not believe in nanotechnology and think this is a waste of resources, or who are working against you for whatever reason. You need to deal with this. This is a bit of a digression. However, I will mention the several ways I've used to deal with adversaries: (1) turn enemies into friends or “frenemies”– show them the value of the project and involve them in some way, (2) secure the support of top management and ensure your case is strong, which will diffuse lower level resistance in the organization, (3) ignore your adversaries completely, marginalize them, and take them out of the equation, or (4) confront them head-on and push past them. These are tactics that I've used successfully during my career.

7.2.10 Is It Safe?

Holistic innovation requires that you consider safety implications in all aspects of nanoinnovation projects, from safety in the research laboratory to safety in the marketplace, and especially, safety considerations related to recycling/disposal of products and materials.

The overwhelming majority of nano-enabled products and applications are considered safe and do not require special labeling, although this is expected to change. What exactly needs to be labeled is an issue that regulators in many countries have been wrestling with for more than a decade. The first labeling requirements are just beginning to be enacted. For example, cosmetics sold in the European Union need to include the word “nano” in parentheses on the product label, after any nano-ingredients. Many products use nanoparticles today. You should consider the possibility that the products you produce today could require labeling or even new types of testing, in the future.

Going forward, safety issues will play a role in determining the types and forms of materials that you use. There is some evidence that long nanotubes may behave like asbestos molecules that have a similar shape and that are extremely severe carcinogens. This suggests that if your material includes long nanotubes, you may need to ensure that those particles are securely locked in a resin or polymer that will prevent their release now or in the future or you may opt to use short nanotubes that may be safer.

A great deal of academic work has been done in this field and safety studies have not revealed “smoking guns” in nanotechnology. Currently, most nanomaterials appear to be safe in terms of health and exposure, although the impact on the environment is still being studied and questions have been raised about the impact of such materials as silver ions, which can be toxic to aquatic organisms if they find their way into lakes or streams. More details and examples are provided in Chapter 12.

7.3 Where to Learn About Nanoinnovation

So how do you become nanodextrous? How do you educate yourself about the latest developments so that you can make informed decisions? You can read books and articles, surf the Web, and take university courses. Here are a few ideas to help you keep going, after you finish reading this book.

The current generation of nanoinnovators is nano self-informed. It's not unusual to have to teach yourself about nanotechnology. Most nanoinnovators and business leaders had to teach themselves about nanotechnology when they got started. They had to inform and educate themselves by reading, studying, experimenting, talking with knowledgeable colleagues and experts, and simply plunging into the field.

The next generation will be nano-infused. It will take another decade or so, but eventually, everything you read in this book and more will become second nature to the next generation of students and managers, as nanotechnology moves into mainstream science education and more companies become nanodextrous.

If you prefer not to wait 10 or 20 years for that to happen, you'll need to find ways to learn about nanoinnovations, and to keep learning about them as they are developed. If you want to get involved in creating and managing nanoinnovation, you'll need to be proactive. Contact ventures, companies, academic leaders, and venture capitalists and arrange to meet them to find out how you can get involved, and where the opportunities might exist where you might participate.

An impressive amount of material can be gleaned from online search engines such as Google or Alibaba, and from “push” news services. Announcements concerning nanotechnology research, legal and patent issues, commercialization, safety, industry statistics, and so on can be seen on Web sites such as,,,,,, and; on the sites of government agencies such as the NIH, NSF, NASA, DOE, and DoD in the United States; on and SAFENANO in the European Union; on Rusnano in Russia; and on STRATNANO (Iran) and NanoForum (Asia). The European Commission's nanotechnology sites are especially good.

An easy way to keep up-to-date with nanoscience is to set up your computer to receive and automatically display nanoscience news, which is constantly being updated. Most major science services have RSS feeds that allow you to channel science news to your Internet portal. Recently, I estimated that I scan about 35 000 technology headlines every year, by using several customized pages to collect and display RSS feeds from a two dozen Web sites and publications that keep a constant flow of headlines coming to my computer home page. Virtually any online portal can be customized to provide science and business news, research updates, and other information. Business and scientific publications such as New Scientist and Scientific American do a great job of synthesizing the current state of the art. YouTube videos add a visual dimension.

If you look up Nanotechnology in Wikipedia you'll find an extensive series that includes nanomaterials, nanomedicine, molecular self-assembly, nanoelectronics, scanning probe microscopy, molecular nanotechnology, and other topics. Wikipedia's “Nanotechnology Portal” ( offers an excellent introduction if you want to explore nanotech topics.

Where to Study Nanoinnovation

If you have time and resources to take courses in nanotechnology, or earn a degree, there are more approximately 300 university-level nanotechnology programs in more than 25 countries worldwide, with more than 60 nanotechnology degree programs offered by universities in the United States – including 24 PhD programs. More than 30 degree and certification programs are offered in the United Kingdom and Germany. Most of these universities offer educational sites that include tutorials on various aspects of nanotechnology as well as online publications, news releases, profiles of research teams, and project descriptions. There are hundreds of courses at leading universities all over the world that offer nanotechnology programs. You can find a listing of nano-degree programs in the nanoDEGREE database offered online by Nanowerk (

There are many excellent “immersion programs” such as the NNIN's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is centered at the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility ( This popular program provides 10 week immersion programs in nanotechnology, as well as internships and travel-abroad opportunities. The REU program graduated 600 students from its program in the first 13 years. REU students conduct actual nanotechnology research projects. Immersion programs like this are helping to build the international nanoinnovation talent pool by involving students in real science and technology projects, giving them a taste for what hopefully will be a career in nanoinnovation.

You can access current research at the Web sites of leading academic nanoscience centers such as the nanotechnology centers at leading universities such as Rice University, MIT, or the University of Pennsylvania. Academic consortia exist in Europe and Asia that describe their projects and achievements on their Web sites. In the United States, there is a consortium of 14 universities that comprise the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The NNIN sites include the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility/Cornell University; Stanford Nanofabrication Facility/Stanford University; Lurie Nanofabrication Facility/University of Michigan; Nanotechnology Research Center/Georgia Institute of Technology; Center for Nanotechnology/University of Washington; Penn State Nanofabrication Facility/Pennsylvania State University; Nanotech/University of California at Santa Barbara; Nanofabrication Center/University of Minnesota; Microelectronics Research Center/University of Texas at Austin; Center for Nanoscale Systems/Harvard University; Howard Nanoscale Science and Engineering Facility/Howard University; Colorado Nanofabrication Lab/University of Colorado; Nanofab/Arizona State University; and the Nano Research Facility at Washington University, St. Louis.

Some regional consortia integrate nanotechnology research and commercialization activities, with a strong focus on translational research. An example is the Nanotechnology Institute located in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is a multi-institutional partnership of 13 academic institutions focused on developing “real-world applications” by combining nanotechnology research, commercialization, and company formation.

Keep in mind that most of the innovation surprises will come from the periphery of your vision, in areas that are off your radar screen, so cast a broad net when you are fishing for news that may impact the future.


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