Avoiding the knowledge apartheid

Development Policy,Peace & Security11 Aug 2010Lesley Tobin

Nanoscale research can potentially provide solutions to fundamental societal problems in areas such as the environment, health and energy. Success in such scientific investigations and their applications will inevitably impact positively on the global community, but only if society is able to engage through international collaboration and access to information and opportunities – without economic and political barriers.

In its Action Plan for Nanotechnologies[1], the European Commission (EC) places great emphasis on global collaboration, stating ‘International cooperation in N&N (nanoscience and nanotechnology) is needed both with countries that are economically and industrially advanced (to share knowledge and profit from critical mass) and with those less advanced (to secure their access to knowledge and avoid any “nano divide” or knowledge apartheid)’.

By networking scientists, researchers and organizations together, it is possible to appeal to motivational interests that transcend notions such as competitiveness and discrimination. This not only prevents a technology gap between developed and developing countries, but also ensures that developing countries have the opportunity to exploit nanotechnologies for their own benefit.

It is fundamental to this goal that complementary skills, knowledge and experience are shared, not only between EU scientists but between the EU and third countries. This maximises the potential of EU research by establishing collaborations with scientists and groups that have complementary experience in other regions, and by developing and exploiting shared resources.

The ICPC Nanonet Project is a four-year initiative funded by the EC that aims to foster such collaborations between Europe and International Cooperation Partnership Countries (ICPC), thereby assisting in the transformation of N&N from a resource-intensive to a knowledge-intensive industry across the globe.

Currently halfway through its four-year time frame, the project provides:

  • an electronic archive of nanoscience publications that is freely accessible to researchers around the globe and allows researchers to keep abreast of new S&T developments. It hosts almost 7000 items and all researchers are encouraged to archive their papers;
  • an electronic database of nanoscience organizations and networks in ICPC, and links to nanoscience researchers and stakeholders worldwide, allowing for the identification of research expertise and capacities in ICPC regions;
  • annual reports on nanoscience developments in eight ICPC regions: Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Mediterranean Partner Countries, Pacific, and Western Balkan Countries. These focus on areas for collaboration, funding, national, regional and inter-regional initiatives and networks;
  • online networking tools (forums, workshops) to actively network scientists and researchers. Any scientist or researcher can host a workshop; and
  • annual workshops, one each in the EU, China, Russia and India, which are webcast live to facilitate greater access.

A highlight of this year’s workshop in Beijing was a round-table discussion examining strategies and policies for international collaboration. Participating in the talks were 19 prominent nanoscientists and researchers from Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Holland, India, Iran, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. This in itself is evidence of what is achievable by the scientific community when the economic and political barriers are overcome or swept aside.


The summary and workshop proceedings can be seen on the free, limited-edition DVD, available from:

[1] Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009, COM(2005) 243.