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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Vivek Srivastava > Building public awareness on nanotechnology in India

Vivek Srivastava

India has traditionally lagged behind in educating its masses and firing the curiosity of the future generations of technologists and scientists. Science and technology discussions have remained confined to universities and colleges. In this article, I report on three recent developments that point towards nanotechnology starting to trickle into the mainstream of Indian business media. The next step would be to permeate it further to the non - initiated and to schools and text books. A public debate on nanotechnology is needed to chart the course of development of the industry in this country.

November 12th, 2007

Building public awareness on nanotechnology in India

Public awareness is critical to creating public opinion, which in turn has an impact on forming governmental policies and business opportunities. Negative safety perception of nano-scale materials is an area of concern for the nascent nanotechnology industry globally. Various agencies are already conducting studies to provide accurate safety related data and help shape public opinion on these nanotechnologies. In this context, the role of public opinion is critical to the development and growth of the industry in near term. The very public debate on genetically modified (GM) food is a case in point, which led to polarization of public opinion. Action is needed now to keep public updated on various issues related to technology to ensure acceptance of nano-enabled products by the public in future.

According to available data on public awareness of nanotechnology, the present scenario is not very encouraging. A public survey commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society in UK, only 29% of the public claim to have heard of it, while only 19% were able to provide a definition, whether accurate or not. Alarmingly, in popular perception, nanotechnology is equated to GM and could be seen as "messing with nature" raising concerns whether scientists are trying to "play God". Compared to UK, the situation in Germany is slightly better. The media has traditionally played a much more active role in that country, and it is not surprising to hear frequent radio programs on various aspects and issues related to nanotechnology. Scientists active in this area are often seen on national television talking about their work and interacting directly with public to address concerns and answer queries.

Indian government has a very curious stance on nanotechnology. The former president, Dr. A. P.J. Kalam, a scientist of long standing, is a strong advocate of nanotechnology and firmly believes that the nation needs to invest heavily in this area to emerge as a developed nation by 2020. It was under his leadership and initiative that Government of India allocated USD 115 million for R&D in nanotechnology for the period 2006-2011 under National Nanotechnology Mission. Sadly, for nanotechnologists, since the expiry of Dr. Kalam's term in office, the Department of Science and Technology has put more emphasis on biotechnologies, and expressed its inability to significantly increase spending on nanotechnology ( ).

On a positive note, the past month saw three separate incidents signaling growing public interest in nanotechnology.

a) First extensive coverage of Indian nanotechnology companies and products in print media. Two of the major weekly publication carried articles on nanotech products entering Indian markets. The article in Business World magazine is available online at . The nanotechnology special issue in outlook is expected to hit the stands this week and would cover both; large established businesses foraying into the nano-domain and the early stage start ups launching their products in the market.
b) The government of Karnataka has announced that it would be organizing Bangalore Nano 2007 ( )between December 6th and 7th. The event, on the lines of Bangalore IT and Bangalore Bio is poised to become the focal point of Indian nanotechnologists to come together. The event is expected to attract large media attention and draw local crowds to the venue. This kind of exposure would serve to create awareness about the technology and lead to greater interest from investors and general public alike. Bangalore is fast emerging as the nano-hub of India and events like these would serve to foster greater collaboration across industries, something that would be of immense value to the enabling nature of nanotechnology.
c) Launch of nanotech community at TooStep, an exclusive private network of middle and senior level executives to help each other in enhancing their knowledge base by pooling and sharing resources. The community is presently a small bunch, and would need support to grow into a vibrant knowledge exchange platform. To join the community write to me directly at or request invitation at .

These small unrelated developments may or may not survive but point to growing recognition of the industry as a mainstream sector, which can no longer be ignored. This is much needed PR for the industry and critical to attract investor attention and increase B2B collaboration. I am personally quite excited by these developments and hope that these are the seeds that would lead to an informed public debate on the future of nanotechnology in this country. I invite you all to join hands in this journey and explore the future.

Please send your feedback, ideas, and suggestions to Vivek Srivastava at .

Vivek hold a Ph. D. in materials science and has published over a dozen papers in international journals and contributed to international conferences and seminars. He has interests in commercialization of nanotechnology & new ventures with innovative business models to exploit the advantages India offers. He consults existing businesses to grow and expand in new technology areas, and serves as mentor to budding entrepreneurs. His current research interest are "severe plastic deformation methods for production of bulk nanomaterials" and "Role of industry dynamics on making R&D funding decisions".

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