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Nanotechnology: Potential for Revolution

States and cities all over the country are competing for nanotech cluster status. But is this emerging science living up to the hype?

Jennifer LeClaire  (Oct/Nov 08)
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Location Challenges
Nanotech interests large and small face similar challenges - attracting talent, fighting the publicity machine, and dealing with environmental groups. There is so much hype in the market that if you come out with something real, the market hardly believes it can be true, according to Romano. "The PR machine has been blowing smoke in the press about carbon nanotubes that have been around for quite some time," he says. "This is hardly a story anymore."

What is a story is when environmental groups get vocal about their belief that nano-materials are bad for the environment and the industry needs better testing. "The bad press cycle seems to run its course and go away, so companies just need to sit tight through it," says Marlene Bourne, president and principal analyst of Bourne Research in Scottsdale, Arizona. "It's important to have good testing and data, so being in a world-class nanotech research area helps."

For all the publicity highs and lows, the key challenge for these nanotech hubs and emerging clusters is talent. "This is a very specific subsector of engineering and material science and it demands well-educated and motivated people," says Singer. "The supply is nowhere near the demand for these positions. If you are a company doing research in this area, you are probably better off locating in or near one of the world class centers instead of trying to blaze a trail in the wilderness because it will be easier to recruit talent."

So the universities and companies - and by affiliation, the locations - that can attract the top talent may ultimately become the big winners in the nanotech race.
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