DR CHAD Mirkin, who is a member of United States President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisers for Science and Technology and a worldrenowned nanoscience expert, was in Singapore last week to participate in the Singapore Nano2 WTEC Workshop.
The two-day workshop held at the Shangri-La Hotel, is convened by the World Technology Evaluation Centre on behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the US, to chart the path of nanotechnology research for the next 10 years.
Dr Mirkin, 46, who is also director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, has more than 360 patents and applications, and is the founder of three nanotech companies.
He talks about the importance of nanotechnology research and the impact it will have on future technology.
How does nanotechnology change the world as we know it?
The exciting thing about nanotechnology is that everything, when miniaturised to the nanoscale, is new – it has new properties. So, everything that nature has given us can be made different if we miniaturised it. And those differences are differences in properties that can lead then to important new applications. It could be how well a drug is delivered, for example, in the case of medicine. It could be how well a material absorbs light and uses that to convert it into energy, which ultimately can be used as a fuel.
What do you think of Singapore’s approach of having top-down government funding and direction, combined with a bottom-up research base?
I think Singapore is actually doing a lot of things right. One thing is they made strategic investments in bringing in talent from all over the world to help train folks in Singapore, to first of all, be smart in these areas, and also to create a base to develop the technology as they move forward. I think that is going to pay huge dividends in terms of not only having well-trained people enter the workforce, but also in having people trained in areas that are going to lead to technologies that will establish new companies and new economic opportunities for the country.
So, in terms of the policy of “Let’s do it all from within” versus “Let’s try to grab all the talent we can and put it right here and get it done in five years as opposed to 50 years”, I think he (Professor Freddy Boey from the Nanyang Technological University) and the other folks who have adopted that particular strategy will be happy with that investment and where that leads to in the upcoming decades.
What about safety concerns that people may have with nanotechnology?
Any time you develop a new technology, it is important to be concerned, because there is the potential to do good or to do harm. A hammer can be used to pound nails or used to pound somebody’s head, right?
So what is important here is that there is no incredible scare that we are creating particles now that will be dispersed and cause incredible widespread harm.
Just like any sort of new chemistry, you have to look at them on a case by case basis and apply the proper level of concern and screening, but taken in the context of the study being done.