The claim has often been made that nanotechnologies will contribute to the global development process. In 2005, a careful study identified specific areas where nanotechnologies could help developing countries achieve the millennium development goals. This article examines whether the research agenda of nanotechnology in the intervening period, as reflected in publications, has followed the directions identified at that time, in three key areas, water, energy, and agri-food. We find that the research community has taken up the broad directions indicated in the earlier study, although not so often the detailed applications of specific nanoscale techniques or phenomena. However, the impact on global development is unclear, both because the same applications can be useful in both developed and developing countries, and because the conditions in developing countries may not match the socio-technical requirements of the applications.
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Because of the heterogeneity among the so-called “developing countries,” we avoid lumping them into one category and instead refer either to low and middle income countries (referring to World Bank measures of national income per capita), or later in the article to their status on the human development index. The phrase developing country will therefore appear in this article only when it was used by the original author(s), and then it will appear in quotation marks. We will refer to the World Bank category of high income countries as affluent.
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The US National Nanotechnology Initiative defines nanotechnology as “the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nm, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale (NNI 2011). At this scale, the properties of materials are different with respect to their physical, chemical, and biological properties than at larger sizes. These new characteristics open the possibility of development of new materials with novelty properties.
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A set of large low and middle income countries that are growing quickly and are therefore seen as particularly interesting in global competitive terms.
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This work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation through a graduate fellowship to Thomas Woodson and support from the Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University under Cooperative Agreement No. 0531194. All opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Crop-specific search terms for the agri-food analysis
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Cozzens, S., Cortes, R., Soumonni, O. et al. Nanotechnology and the millennium development goals: water, energy, and agri-food. J Nanopart Res 15, 2001 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11051-013-2001-y
- Millennium development goals