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More investment in nanotech research is needed in Europe if it is to become a world leader in the field, according to a paper published yesterday by the European Commission. Research must be better co-ordinated across member states, with more money going towards training and infrastructure, it recommends.

The document outlines how member states could strengthen research efforts and develop more commercially viable products. It also stresses that we need to consider the impact of nano-tech on society, an implicit acknowledgement of the grey-goo brigade's fears.

"It is crucial that we help to create a favourable environment for innovation in the nanotechnology sector, particularly...small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)," said Philippe Busquin, European research commissioner. He called for strong public-private partnerships, adding: "At the same time, we have to ensure nanotech applications are developed in a responsible and transparent way."

Early investment in the field was strong, and was reflected in the number of research papers published. Between 1997 and 1999, European research findings accounted for nearly one third of all published work in the filed. However, Europe has now slipped behind Japan and the US, and is unlikely to remain competitive, according to the Commission.

The predicted value of the nano tech market is staggering. By 2010, the market for nanotech prodicts and processes will be worth hundreds of billions, rising to trillions just a few years later, analysts forecast

The Commission's point is simple: Europe has an excellent knowledeeg base in the field, and should not miss out on the return on its early investment. ®

Related link

The European Commission's site on the nanotechnology communication and debate is here.

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