France needs to invest more in the emerging 'revolutionary' science of nanotechnologies if it is to remain competitive in this promising field, a French parliamentary committee has recommended.
Although the French government invests only €50 million a year in nanoscience R&D, the country has managed to remain at the forefront of this emerging sector, France's Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices noted in a recent report. A review of nanotechnology patents registered in the United States showed that France was at the top of the league from 1975-2000.
The report notes, however, that the transatlantic investment gap is growing to alarming proportions. The US government currently pumps more than €2 billion a year into nanosciences. And in Japan, the country has created a higher council for scientific and technological research to oversee the research efforts in this field and report directly to the prime minister - an initiative France should follow, the report says.
According to the report, there is a real danger that France will lose its lead in nanotechnologies unless the government bolsters investments. It recommends that industrial research should be stimulated and the role of research foundations strengthened.
Nanoscience is the new field that adopts a 'bottom-up' approach, taking atoms as the point of departure from which to 'artificially' create molecular nanosystems with very specific properties. It operates at the nanoscopic level - one billionth of a metre.
Research in this area has potential for molecular and quantum computers that will take processing power forward and it also has major applications in biomedicine and in the creation of environmentally friendly materials. Under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the EU has dedicated some €1.3 billion to help Europe achieve a critical mass in nanotechnologies and nanosciences.