We missed the semiconductor revolution in the early 1950s. We had just gained independence. But with nanoscience and technology, we can certainly be on an equal footing with the rest of the world.
Globally, the field is only about four to five years old. Individually, many of us have worked on it much longer. I have been working on it the last 20 years. But it was not a fad then like it is now. There was no hue and cry. As a country, we have just started.
We have set up ten units of nanoscience and seven centres of nanotechnology. We have teams working in the area at the IITs, the IISc and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), among others.
Kapil Sibal, the minister for science and technology just inaugurated India's first nano lab at the JNCASR. The government has recently decided to invest much more in nanoscience and technology over the next five years.
A lot of catching up to do
To be world leaders in this new area, we face several challenges. We are dealing with a new world, with things that cannot be seen with the naked eye or even an ordinary microscope.
We need to attract young people to the field, as well as create facilities for them. So far, we have only spent a small amount on nanoscience and technology. Other countries have invested millions of dollars.
China is producing a very high percentage of papers in nanoscience — though not all are of the highest quality. We are only producing about a hundred a year.
Industry has to get involved
To take forward the nano revolution in the country, we need more support from industry. A major problem in India is that very few industries are oriented towards advanced material. Industry needs to be more forthcoming.
We can, for instance, start large-scale production of nano-sensors in India right away, but we need industrial support for that.
The next three to four years should see India making several breakthroughs in the field. We have no choice but to become world leaders in science and technology in the next decade. Otherwise, we will be finished.
• The Nano Science and Technology Initiative was launched in India October 2001.
• India has invested Rs 200 crore in nanotechnology R&D so far
•We have 10 nanoscience units and seven centers of nanotechnology
• India is funding 100 individual nanotechnology projects
• In India Rs 180 crore is the projected expenditure on nanoscience and technology for 2006-07
• The worldwide R&D expenditure on nanotechnology in 2005 was $4.08 billion, which was up from $432 million in 1997.
• European Union spent $126 million on nanotechnology in 1997, which went up to $1.05 billion in 2005.
• United States spent $116 million on nanotechnology in 1997, which went up to $1.081 billion
(CNR Rao is the chairman of the Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council as well as the Nano Science and Technology Initiative)