Nanoscience or megawaste?

Turning developing countries into significant R&D players has occupied the minds of policy-makers and academics alike. So when a once-in-a-millenium case study comes around, it offers plenty of opportunities to investigate how easy it is to catch up with the big league of R&D nations.

In a recent working paper two scientists assess China’s progress in nanotechnology. The results are striking. On one hand in less than a decade the number of Chinese nanotechnology publications have grown to outnumber those from Japan accounting for close to 20% of the world’s nano-related publications. On the other hand the number of Chinese nanotechnology patents remains below 1%, a clea indication that the linkage between academia and the market needs improvement.

A second set indicator reveals interesting differences between China and the leading science nations. In China, the government bears the brunt of the expenses (corporate money accounts only for a third of total invesment). In the other countries the private sector more often that not invest as much – and sometimes twice as much as in the USA – as the government.

So far China has managed to accumulate a lot of scientific knowledge (and spent a lot of money). Let’s hope that it does not all go to waste.