Clive Davenport, President MANCEF; Director, CSIRO Future Manufacturing Flagship, Melbourne Australia
Corresponding author: [email protected]
Recently a half page full colour advertisement appeared in newspapers depicting thousands of runners in red T-shirts, black shorts and running shoe's, all lined up and ready to race, as far as the eye could see. The title of the picture is "Win a race across the world". This is Nike connecting the global running community.
The challenge was to get 1 million people across the world running in an event called "The Nike Human Race 10K". Apart from the event advertising, this global running community is connected via the web through a small electronic monitoring module placed under the insole of a running shoe and wirelessly connected to either an Apple iPod or Nike wristband.
At the end of a run the iPod or wrist band is plugged into a computer connected to the web. The data from the monitoring module is uploaded onto the "Nike Plus" website and the runner's details and distance logged. Runners can perform independently, join teams or run in competitions with others similarly logged into the web. School students have joined in and are running competitions between schools.
As of late August, according to the website, runners had logged a total of 124million km. The Nike site is an outstanding example of bringing people together in a global community. The Nike/Apple product relationship is also an outstanding example of two totally different disciplines coming together. Whilst both are lifestyle businesses, one is in electronics whilst the other is in apparel. Micro and nanotechnologies have the power to create great opportunities at the convergence of disciplines.
MANCEF's (the global Micro and Nanotechnology Commercialisation Education Foundations) mission is:
"To connect the global micro and nanotechnology community focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the world"
Every year MANCEF holds an international COMS conference in a different city of the world. On average 300-400 people attend and over the 3-4 days we have a great opportunity to meet and greet and immerse ourselves in the latest challenges for our community. In a world of 6 billion people, those we touch, who meet to share experiences are such an infinitely small number. So how do we do something significant to change this situation. How do we truly connect our all the members of our global micro and nano community?
Micro and nanotechnologies are global activities with opportunities and applications so vast that no one country can succeed in all. There are opportunities for everyone, however we may never realise many of these unless we work together in collaboration bringing expertise from different sources. 250 people talking together at a conference are hardly going to unite the world in this task. What about the million or so others who could help us in this undertaking?
So lets consider some of the ways in which we can communicate and work together.
- Academics are actually very good at networking around the world. Many have collaborative research projects writing papers together, exchanging students and visiting each other.
- Seminars and workshops are a way of reaching further numbers in a more informal yet enriching setting.
- National and regional networks such as the New Mexico Nano network help to draw together and retain members from year to year.
- Major conferences and expos such as COMS, NSTI Nano (US), Nano Tech, (Japan) and Hannover Messe (Germany) draw people from around the world.
- In Europe there is connectivity across national borders via the European Framework Program which is funding multi nation projects. The program also provide an opportunity to link with groups in certain other countries such as Australia.
- Around the world there are business groups just like MANCEF that are looking at the same issues. Groups such as the Asia Nano Business Forum, the Australian Nano Business Forum, NBCI (Japan), Micro Machine Centre (Japan), ION (UK), Nano Business Alliance (US).
- Then we have news groups, newsletters, magazines and journals such as Micro Manufacturing, MST News and Small Times.
And yet for all that, it is still a relatively limited number who actually get to share experiences, information and knowledge in a common forum.
On an individual basis we probably have our million participants but how do we unite all of them?
Enter the web - the most powerful medium of the modern age. An information powerhouse. Yet an amazing tool that unites our children, changing the way they communicate via platforms such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube enabling them to explore their world. And that world is no longer the local neighbourhood, that world stretches around the globe. Our children are quite possibly better connected that we are!
This phenomenon is known as "social media networking".
Is this the tool for the global micro, nano community? If so, how do we harness this power?
These "new" platforms allow us to upload videos, share our personal experiences, join discussion groups, make contacts we never thought possible building constantly creating a rich environment.
So let's take a little tour of what is currently available. The web as we know it is a wealth of information.
- Google shines - everything at our fingertips.
- Sites such as AZoNano are a mine of information receiving approximately 400,000 hits a month.
- Plaxo and LinkedIn expand our reach - receiving requests from individuals to join their network.
- YOUTUBE is a must for sharing videos - just enter "nanotechnology" and you will see dozens of videos - it's a great education tool and a great place to see amazing things.
- Likewise enter "nanotechnology" into myspace.com and you get listings of people with shared interests in the subject.
- Enter "nanotechnology jobs" and we are directed to sites all over the net.
The web is a great source for almost everything as long as you're prepared to go searching for what you need.
As a communication tool we can find personalised presentations via webcasts and podcasts. Many of our international consultants and advisers place their PowerPoint presentations on their websites, complete with voiceovers.
"Second Life" is a powerful tool for establishing virtual worlds. You can create your own "Avatar" virtual person and explore a whole new world. Educational institutes and universities are using "Second Life" for delivering learning via lectures and projects. However, there are some serious concerns about "Second Life" due to reports that it is not only a great experientiation environment but that it also has an evil / lawless side as well.
It doesn't take long to realise that there are thousands and thousands of people out there with their own interests all existing in their own worlds.
Several months ago a group of Facebook developers were asked if Facebook was an environment in which a Nanotechnology Hub could be created ie. a one stop social media network hub. After significant consultation (bounced around the world on a video weblink) it was agreed that Facebook wasn't the best environment for a business based activity. In the process several developers made reference to "ning.com".
"ning.com" is certainly a hive of activity for parties interested in creating their own nanotechnology groups (or any other group). Entering "nano technology" in a "ning.com" search box produced a nanotechnology group in Hungary with 364 members - about the same number of attendees we see at a COMS conference! Today "ning.com" has a broad range of nanotechnology groups in a wide variety of application areas. Unfortunately many are of a low standard and poorly supported, some with only one member, most likely the founder - hardly the requirement for a credible global community hub.
Some sites are offering giveaways to lure members, others are supported by a wonderful array of advertising offering "Beautiful Ukraine Girls seek foreign men for marriage. Browse 1000's of photos" or "A friend is in love with you. Find out who it is!" - hardly the place for our world nanotechnology leaders to participate in meaningful discussion and dialog.
Many sites give a whole new meaning to Richard Feynman's well worn nanotechnology quote "there is plenty of room at the bottom" - alas there appears to be plenty at the bottom on the web. So lets consider what's at the top.
AZoNano is possibly the most powerful nanotechnology information site on the web. MANCEF has already established a group for members. Everyone in the nanotechnology community are invited to join. In order to maintain a "clean" community AZoNano have put in place a membership screen to filter out undesirables.
Another site worth mentioning is http://www.bridge8.com.au where you can check out a blog produced by Kristin Alford of what's happening in the micro and nano world including keeping you up-to-date with all the activities at the recent International COMS2008 conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, via running dialog, podcasts and photos.
The question remains - is there an overpowering need for a truly independent nanotechnology networking hub. An exciting environment that the community members have as their browser start-up screen enabling a quick glance at the latest issues first thing every morning. A living hub. A hub with a heart beat!
A profession hub powered by the very professionals for which it is intended, with a home page that is enticing to our younger generation as well. A non-commercial hub that fosters open dialog between members yet presents vital information of interest such as positions available, interest or application groups and forums, researchers outcomes on offer for commercialization, collaborative projects, funding opportunities, "help wanted" and education materials.
One of the serious challenges for our brave new nanotechnology world is our future workforce - how do we inspire the children of today to pursue science and engineering? Lets consider a well designed social hub engaging with younger people, with games and participative interactive environments featuring some of the very clever materials being produced around the world.
It wasn't that long ago that we needed very serious video conferencing facilities to broadcast live images around the world - now it can be done from a mobile phone. Just watch our younger generation SMSing, blogging, sharing photos and video chatting. Our globe trotting young backpackers have unwired the world.
Our children may well be showing us the way by which we connect our global micro and nanotechnology community. Are we up for the challenge?
Presented at COMS 2008, Mexico
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