Research and standardisation in nanotechnology: evidence from Germany


Nanoscience and nanotechnology are science fields which are growing extremely dynamically. Germany occupies the top position in Europe and is only second to the US worldwide, which can be attributed to growing research promotion by the state. Based on a general conceptual framework on the role of different types of standards in the research process and technology life cycle, we argue that the market success of nanotechnology applications depends very much on the development of corresponding standards, which clarify not only terminology, measurement and testing methods, but also regulate safety and health aspects and specify interfaces. Other countries, European and international standardisation organisations have launched first initiatives rather early. However, Germany was not able to translate its excellent starting position in nanotechnology research into a leading position in standardisation initiatives, which pave the way for future commercialisation of nanotechnology and also the basis for the next generation of research activities. Based on a survey among stakeholders of German nanotechnology research, we are able not only to provide a first empirical validation of our conceptual model on the role of standards in the research process, but also to define the major problems at the interface between research and standardisation, and finally, to recommend possible options for their solution.

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  1. 1.

    Blind (2004) presents some empirical evidence of the trade and growth impacts of standards at the sector and macro level.

  2. 2.

    Certainly not all output from research is relevant as input for standardisation. However, research about questions of terminology, metrology, measurement and testing methods, but also questions about risks for health, safety and the environment and all topics addressing interfaces or compatibility of technological components are in general relevant contents for standardisation processes. Regarding the recursive channel from standards to research, the standards are most relevant for the issues mentioned but in general the basis for all research activities.

  3. 3.

    According to a global database of organisations active in nanotechnology cited by Hullmann (2006), around 120 institutions were active in nanotechnology in the year 2003, which confirms the relatively large share of our sample in relation to the population of organisations in Germany and therefore also its representativeness.

  4. 4.

    The respondents actively participating in standardisation attribute a higher relevance to standards.

  5. 5.

    In a survey among participants of the 5th Framework Programme, the more than 500 respondents ranked the contributions to standards last among all channels of recognition. Therefore, we can assume some sample bias according to our sampling method.

  6. 6.

    Although we asked for individual motivations, the achievement of companies’ or institutes’ objectives is also in the interest of the researchers, especially since research budgets depend closely on the overall performance of companies.

  7. 7.

    It is statistically more important for companies how to get in touch with relevant standardisation bodies than for the representatives of research institutes, whereas for the latter the personal reference as author is statistically more relevant than for companies.

  8. 8.

    This structure confirms also that German stakeholders in standardisation are not so heavily involved in the future challenges of nanotechnological standardisation, neither quality and safety issues nor (even) compatibility questions. Due to the small sample size, we do not find statistically significant differences between the two stakeholder groups and the four types of standards.

  9. 9.

    The significance level of a χ2-test is 0.026.

  10. 10.

    The overview in Table 1 draws on a survey of standardisation activities in nanotechnology conducted by Peter Hatto, expert in nanotechnology standardisation involved in standardisation activities in the UK, at the European and the international level, but is complemented by the few recent activities in Germany.

  11. 11.

    DKE is the German organisation responsible for elaborating standards and safety specifications in the area of electrical engineering, electronic and information technologies. It is a joint organisation of DIN and VDE (German Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies), with the juridical responsibility for running DKE being in the hands of VDE.

  12. 12.

    Using an econometric analysis, Blind (2001) impressively shows the positive influence of standards on the foreign trade success of products in measurement and testing technology, but also in other product groups (Blind 2004) and underlines thereby the objective postulated in the German standardisation strategy (DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung 2004), to safeguard Germany’s position as a leading industrial nation through standardisation.

  13. 13.

    This type of standard also serves to reduce product variety, which then allows cost savings in mass production.

  14. 14.

    Cf. also the examples of standardisation in the area of information and communication technology in Blind et al. (2004).


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The research undertaken for the paper was co-funded by the European Commission under the 6th Framework Programme with the project INTEREST (Integrating Research and Standardisation), contract no. 503 594. Furthermore, the authors thank two anonymous referees for valuable comments to improve the paper. However, the presented content is in the sole responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Knut Blind.

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Blind, K., Gauch, S. Research and standardisation in nanotechnology: evidence from Germany. J Technol Transf 34, 320–342 (2009).

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  • Nanotechnology
  • Research
  • Standards
  • Technology transfer
  • Policies

JEL Classifications

  • O31
  • O33
  • L15