This article began by noting the recent hype in the electronics market, both positive and negative, that has surrounded nanotechnology and appears to be growing less extreme: today, rosy projections of a “trillion-dollar” nanotechnology based electronics market in 10 years or apocalyptic predictions about a “Faustian bargain” or a “Pandora’s box” are heard less often. However, while the hype may have slowed somewhat, it is still there. Growing public awareness combined with the complex, diverse nature of the technologies that are commonly grouped together under the heading of nanotechnology virtually invites misunderstanding, if not actual misrepresentation. For example, in 2010, a respected journalist wrote a series of stories for AOL News with the title, “The Nanotech Gamble: Bold Science, Big Money, Growing Risks,” that faulted the U.S. government’s performance in identifying and protecting the public against alleged health hazards posed by nanotechnology. One interviewee asked rhetorically, “How long should the public have to wait before the government takes protective action? Must the bodies stack up first?” So stinging was the piece to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) that the director of the NNCO felt compelled to issue a formal rebuttal. According to the rebuttal, the author “takes an alarmist perspective,” “uses irrelevant examples,” and fails to balance the risks against the benefits of nanotechnology. As some observers have noted, the debate over the AOL News article (which was still simmering when this report was written) is at best a distraction from the research that needs to be done. Business, academia, the media all have an incentive to attempt to cash in on nanotechnology in the electronics market. Various manufacturers have tacked “nano” onto their products and processes, whether or not they deal in nano-size elements, in an attempt to boost sales. Companies that have nothing to do with nanotechnology have “nano” in their names to make them sound more technologically advanced than the competition. Some academic researchers worry that the nano buzzword is being misused to bring in research dollars for dubious technologies and applications, at the expense of legitimate research. Hype inevitably carries with it the risk of a backlash, because it can create unrealistic expectations for nanotechnology. Then, when expectations are not met, people tend to withdraw or worse turn oppositional. A blog entry on The Bespoke Investment Group’s website observed that: “Back in the ‘good ‘ole days’ of the mid-2000s, investors were riding a bull market wave and looking for ‘the next big thing.’ One of those ‘next big things’ was nanotechnology. Ever since the collapse began in 2007, however, the nanotech craze seems all but forgotten. As a result, legitimate nanotechnology products and applications are hurt along with the rest, as funding and markets dry up. The dot.com boom and bust provides a cautionary example of the dangers of hype, but nanotechnology has a more tangible nature because it is a set of technologies. This report takes a realistic look at the nanotechnology field in the electronics market and tries to provide a road map to the technologies and applications that are most likely to be commercialized in the next 5 years.
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