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Since it began in the 1980s, nanotechnology — the field of science concerned with creating materials and devices at the atomic scale — has taken off in a big way in China.

In this article in Science, Chunli Bai explains what drove its development in China in the early years — new tools and techniques to observe materials on the nanoscale, state funding, and a multitude of conferences that brought together a fledgling research and development community.

Support for nanotechnology increased substantially in the 1990s. Today, says Bai, there is a focus on interdisciplinary research centres to take nanotechnology forward. Of the many areas under investigation, nano-materials have taken centre stage. From yarns made out of carbon molecules to porous materials for filters, Chinese scientists are working to revolutionise the world.

A recent analysis of nanoscience productivity around the world ranked China number one for the first eight months of 2004. The scientific output of Chinese nano-scientists is becoming increasingly significant, says Bai, despite the relatively small amount of funding they receive compared, for instance, with their US counterparts.

China plans to continue expanding its research infrastructure and pursue industrial-scale production of nano-materials. But Bai says it recognises that effective regulation, public education and an evaluation of the potential health risks must accompany the growing drive towards commercialisation. 

Link to Science article

Read more about nanotechnology in SciDev.Net's nanotechnology quick guide.

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