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May 4th, 2007

Russia and Nanotechnology

Of the many questions that must be answered about molecular manufacturing, one of the most important is: Who will attain the technology first?

It matters a great deal if this powerful and potentially disruptive new manufacturing technique is developed and controlled by aggressive military interests, commercial entities, Open Source advocates, liberal democracies, or some combination thereof. How each of those disparate groups, with different priorities and motivations, plan to use and (maybe) share the technology is an issue that bears serious investigation. That's a major purpose behind CRN's project to create a series of scenarios depicting various futures in which molecular manufacturing could be developed.

One likely player in this high-stakes, high-tech drama is Russia.

Recently it was announced that "Russia will pour over US$1 billion in the next three years into equipment for nanotechnology research." (That seems like a lot of equipment, and it may be that the quoted story conflated spending on tools and with spending on researcher salaries or other infrastructure, but in any case, a billion dollars over three years is plenty to get a strong program off the ground.)

"A program for the development of nanotechnology must be put in place in Russia in the near future," said President Vladimir Putin in an annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow. "Russia could become a leader in nanotechnology."

Some commentators have suggested that Putin's statements may be mere posturing, intended to boost his political standing but unlikely to produce significant results. But that doesn't appear to be the case. I've contacted a few scientific and academic sources in Russia who tell CRN that "this time money actually will be spent," and "this money will be spent directly on nanotech."

So it appears that big money will be invested in nanotechnology -- funds made available, by the way, from huge new revenues accruing to Russia through oil and gas exports.


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