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by Rizal Raoul Reyes
26-July-2009 Business Mirror
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NANOTECHNOLOGY is one area where the Philippines must focus in order to develop its capabilities in several fields that could help the country achieve development, Dr. Fabian Dayrit, dean of the School of Science and Engineering of Ateneo de Manila University.

“As far as the Philippines is concerned, nanotechnology can be applied in niche areas and local needs so that it will be able to meet the objectives of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals,” Dayrit said at the Scientific Meetings as part of last week’s celebration of the National Science and Technology Week.

“Health and environmental risks, biotechnology, materials science, and information and communications technology [ICT] are some of the possible applications of nanotechnology in the Philippines,” he added.

Dayrit said current and potential applications of nanotechnology, such as environmental assessment and weather analysis, are already on a global scale.

Contrary to popular perception, Dayrit said nanotechnology is not mere miniaturization. It also involves the exploitation of new phenomena which arise at the atomic and molecular levels.

“Nanotechnology is not completely new, and it’s already with us. Let us explore its practical applications. Nanotechnology is the new thing, just as micro during the earlier times,” he said.

Dayrit said nanotechnology is vital because it is not a single technology; it may become pervasive. It also “seeks to produce new materials with specific properties.”

“Nanotechnology may introduce new efficiencies and paradigms which may make some natural resources and current practices uncompetitive or obsolete,” Dayrit, a balik scientist, said.

He added that it may be “very difficult to detect its presence,” unless one has the special tools for nanotechnology.

Wikipedia defines nanotechnology as the “engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale.” One nanometer is one billionth, or 10 to the minus ninth power, of a meter.

Nanotechnology, Wikipedia added, is very diverse, ranging from novel extensions of conventional device physics, to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, to developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale, even to speculation on whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale.

“Nanotechnology has the potential to create many new materials and devices with wide-ranging applications, such as in medicine, electronics, and energy production,” it said.

K. Eric Drexler popularized the term “nanotechnology” in the 1980s.

To make Filipinos more aware of the benefits of nanotechnology, Dayrit said there must be public-education campaigns on the technology, including its potential benefits, risks and its costs.

To ensure it is a propeople science, Dayrit said it must consider the public interest and needs in the design and development of nanotechnology products.

There must be an organization for the nanotechnology clearing house and oversight structure to monitor its programs, he said.

“We also need to establish a parallel R&D [research and development] efforts on the health and environmental risks of nanotechnology products, life-cycle assessments and social impacts. At the same time, the country must also develop its capabilities for quick assessment and response,” said Dayrit.

In ICT, Dayrit said nanotechnology could help in developing processors and chips, which can have more functionality, speed and computing power.

At the same time, he said it could also respond to the requirements for better integrability, portability and higher power efficiency.

Dayrit said it is also useful in the development of materials for used on nonfossil fuel-based energy sources. In solar energy, nanotechnology can help develop nanoceramics on photovoltaic cells.

Other applications are nanocatalysts for combustion, nanocomposites and hydrogen-fuel cells.

For food and agriculture, Dayrit said nanotechnology could be useful for big corporate farms and small farms. Big farms, he said, could apply it in smart field systems, smart delivery systems in agriculture and food products, food packaging, nanosensors, and plant and animal breeding.

“It may be useful even to the small farmer as an aid for decision-making and resource conservation,” said Dayrit.

In medicine, nanomedicine has the potential to enable early detection and prevention of illnesses, and to essentially improve diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of diseases.

To develop nanotechnology in the country, Dayrit said the following measures must be implemented:

• Introduce nanotechnology in all science and engineering courses, and strengthen programs specifically for nanotechnology;
• Provide major universities with basic equipment to image and characterize nanostructures (the basic instrument, the atomic force microscope, is a very high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy that costs $120,000 each);
• Encourage interdisciplinary interaction among science and engineering departments in nanotechnology;
• Upgrade National Metrology Institute for nanotechnology;
• Identify laboratories for nanoparticle measurements;
• Invest in new tools (high resolution TEM, XPS, SIMS);
• Accreditation of laboratories by international organizations;
• R&D in methodologies for nanotesting, including the development of certified materials or standards for use in calibration of equipment;
• Develop MSTQ infrastructure for nanotechnology.

Dayrit said the importance of nanotechnology could no longer be ignored. In 2001 the US National Nanotechnology Initiative invested about $220 million for research and discovery. The budget for 2008 went up to $1.5 billion.

Other countries which have invested for nanotechnology include the European Union (€1 billion in 2004), Japan ($800 million in 2003), South Korea ($2 billion for 10 years), Taiwan ($600 million for over six years) and China ($100 million in 2003).

In 2008 Dayrit said the total worldwide investment in nanotechnology reached more than $10 billion.

Besides Dayrit, the other scientists involved in nanotechnology research in the country are Dr. Blessie Basilia, Dr. Christina Binag, Dr. Carlo Mar Blanca, Dr. Erwin Enriquez, Dr. Antonio Laurena, Dr. Jim Josephus Minglana, Dr. Guillermo Nuesca, Dr. Milagros Peralta, Dr. Veronica Sabularse, Dr. Arnel Salvador, Dr. Roland Sarmago, Dr. Armando Somintac, Dr. Fortunato Sevilla, Ian Harvey Arellano, Michael Defensor, Christian Malapit, Ruby Janet Ortiz and Dindi Tisha Samsuya.

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