Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in Switzerland: Market Report

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Switzerland, a Central European, landlocked country located to the north of Italy and east of France, covers an overall area of 41,277 km2. As of 2014, its population was 8,140,000.

Switzerland’s economy is wealthy, high-tech, and largely privatized. The country is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and has worldwide free trade agreements. Based on its per capita gross domestic product, it is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The 2013 GDP of the country was $685.4 billion. One of the highest revenue generators is its financial services sector.

Nanotechnology Organizations

Several organizations and networks in Switzerland are devoted to supporting and studying nanoscience. Given below is a short introduction to one of them:

Swiss MNT network—The Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) recognizes this network as an R&D Network. The network offers Swiss companies access to a broad array of cutting-edge technologies.

Nanotechnology Companies

Nanotechnology is a diversified field that finds applications in a number of industries. Mentioned below are the key nanotechnology companies in Switzerland, together with a short introduction to each of them.

ABB

Based in Zurich, Switzerland, ABB is a world leader in power and automation technologies. With the strength of 145,000 employees, the company operates nearly in 100 countries. The company’s business includes five divisions that are in turn set up with respect to the industries and customers they serve. ABB’s success has specifically been guided by a strong dedication toward research and development.

Seven corporate research centers of the company are maintained across the globe, with continuous investment in R&D through all market conditions. The outcome has been a long history of innovation. ABB developed or marketed several of the technologies underlying the modern society, from high-voltage DC power transmission to a groundbreaking approach to ship propulsion.

Currently, ABB is the largest supplier of power grids, industrial drives, and motors, as well as the largest provider of generators to the wind industry across the world.

EULITHA

EULITHA was established in the Canton Aargau of Switzerland in 2006. Its founders have spearheaded the advancement of Extreme Ultraviolet Interference Technology at the Paul Scherrer Institute. The company entered the market with products that were based on its EUV technology and has widened its product range by adding sophisticated electron beam lithography technology.

Nanoimprint lithography (NIL) is a rapid and efficient technology to replicate a stamp’s nanoscale patterns on a substrate. NIL stamps produced by EULITHA are highly uniform because of the holographic nature of its lithography method. PHABLE (or “photonics enabler”) is a patented technology platform created by EULITHA for the economical fabrication of periodic nanostructures required in various photonic applications.

The applications are nearly endless and include nanoparticle production, wire-grid polarizers for LCD displays, nanopatterned sapphire substrates (NPSS) for LEDs, nanowire LEDs, and nanopatterned solar (photovoltaic) cells.

Nano Bridging Molecules

NBMolecules® is a privately owned Swiss life science/medical device research and development company dedicated to the development of innovative surface treatments for orthopedic and dental implants. The SurfLink® patented surface treatment enables more rapid and better integration of implants into living bone, also called “osseointegration.” This is specifically because of SurfLink®’s biomimicking properties.

NanoDimension

NanoDimension is a U.S. and Europe-based venture capital firm focused on establishing and promoting companies that develop innovative technologies at the nanoscale.

Nanograde Ltd

A high-tech spin-off company of ETH Zurich, Nanograde Ltd offers tailored development and manufacture of ink formulations and nanoparticles. Nanograde provides project assistance in prototype or product development by which Nanograde’s collaborators can benefit from the wider knowledge base.

Nanograde is the global leader in the customized development of specialized nanoparticles and inorganic inks. Nanograde has the potential to precisely custom-develop novel materials based on the requirements of the industry. Nanograde’s knowledge base and technology allow short development cycles and ultra-fast proof of concepts. All this make Nanograde the perfect partner to accelerate futuristic innovations.

NanoScan Ltd

NanoScan Ltd commercializes nanotechnology by creating new solutions, products, and application segments, and also by improving current techniques. Its objective is to offer the global market with high-resolution scanning probe microscopes that meet the current and future analytical requirements on nanometer-sized surface structures.

NanoScan’s inception started in 2003 when initiators at the Institute of Physics at the University of Basel created a prototype of their high-resolution Magnetic Force Microscope with the potential to enhance the resolution by a factor of 10 when compared to other existing microscopes.

Seagate Technology, a renowned manufacturer of hard disk drives, purchased the prototype tool in 2003, which works to their full satisfaction. NanoScan (formerly SwissProbe) is the winner of the Swiss Technology Award 2003, proving its potential to venture into new dimensions of nanotechnology.

Nanosurf

Nanosurf is a leading supplier of user-friendly scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) and atomic force microscopes (AFM). Professionals across the globe trust the company’s products and services for measuring, analyzing, and presenting 3D surface information. Their microscopes stand out through their absolute reliability, elegant and compact design, and easy handling.

Nanosensors

Nanosensors was founded by Dr Olaf Ohlsson, a nanotechnology pioneer. The company leads the global market with its novel, high-quality scanning probes for scanning probe microscopy (SPM). For over a decade, Nanosensors has contributed to various scientific innovations in the field of nanotechnology.

Nanovis

Nanovis creates, manufactures, and commercializes nanotechnical systems for surface treatment of inorganic and organic solids, like ceramic, plastic, metal, or glass parts. In recent years, demands on cleaning and surface technology have rapidly increased. Several companies are looking for integral and cost-effective solutions, without any strain on humans or the environment.

The company’s dedicated team has several years of experience in interface and surface technology and in offering solutions to demanding cleaning tasks. The aim of the company is to implement current expertise to enable serial production equipment, which is sold directly as well as globally through distribution partners.

TurboBeads

TurboBeads are highly magnetic nanocarriers that have covalent chemical capabilities on the surface. The high magnetic properties enable rapid and efficient isolation from even large liquid volumes. With a number of chemical functionalities, TurboBeads are available as off-the-shelf products, and tailored functionalities are created on demand.

Nanotechnology Education and Research

Switzerland has a number of universities that offer educational and research opportunities in nanotechnology. Listed below are some of the universities in Switzerland and the academic courses or research opportunities they offer.

Swiss Nanoscience Institute

The Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI) emerged from the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) “Nanoscale Science” and includes a priority program of the University of Basel. The institute integrates basic science with application-oriented research. The several research groups in the institute focus on various subject areas such as Atomic and Molecular Nanosystems, Nanobiology, and Applied Projects in Nanoscience, Nanotechnology and Nanoethics.

Swiss Master of Advanced Studies

Swiss Master of Advanced Studies offers a Master’s program in Nano and Micro Technology.

EMPA

Laboratory for Mechanics of Materials and Nanostructures—The laboratory provides research opportunities to explore mechanical materials properties from nano- to macro-scale using analytical, experimental, and computational methods. The laboratory supports research works in Materials Mechanics and Nanomechanics, and Nanostructuring of metals.

Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory

The laboratory is a part of EPFL Lausanne, and supports research on different subjects in the field of silicon micro/nanoelectronics with particular focus on the design, technology, and modeling of nanoscale solid state. The lab is involved in investigating new materials, novel device concepts for future nanoelectronic systems, and innovative fabrication methods.

Fribourg Center for Nanomaterials

The center is a part of the Fribourg University and supports interdisciplinary research activities of the Faculty of Sciences of the University.

ETH Zurich

The university hosts the following centers and groups:

  • FIRST – Center for Micro and Nanoscience—FIRST is a technology and cleanroom facility for sophisticated micro- and nanotechnology.
  • NANO-PHYSICS Group—Supports research work on the fabrication of ultra-small semiconductor structures with the objective of experimentally examining new, strange, and unpredicted physical systems.
  • Nanotechnology Group—Conducts research work in Nanoscience.

University of Basel

The university promotes nanoelectronics, where the electrical properties of circuits and devices with dimensions of several micrometers (one-thousandth of 1 mm) to 1 nm are investigated.

Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center

The center, which is an initiative of IBM, supports exploratory studies through its sophisticated exploratory cleanroom fabrication facility integrated with “noise-free” labs.

Recent Developments

The Swiss Nano Convention was launched in May 2015 for Swiss and International pioneers from the fields of science and industry, in the area of nanotechnology. It was collaboratively organized by the “who-is-who” of the Swiss nano scene. It was modeled to meet the great minds in nanoscience and technology.

From October 2012, the IBM lab in Zurich, Switzerland, has been performing further exploratory studies on carbon nanotubes. They have been able to overcome the challenge of picking up items with a diameter of just 1 nm and placing them on a desirable place by developing nanotubes that can stand up straight.

During 2012, Francesco Stellacci from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Bartosz Grzybowski from Northwestern University, led a group of Swiss-American researchers in creating a simple, low-cost nanoparticle-based system. It was in the form of a type of nano-velcro, developed to detect and trap toxic pollutant from lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Since February 2012, Switzerland has started to develop closer relations with Japan to further develop the field of nanotechnology. A number of Swiss companies and institutions presented their potentials at “nano tech 2012” in Tokyo. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) launched the EU FET flagship initiative “Guardian Angels,” which would function from Tokyo.

From November 2012, EU’s Horizon 2020 research program has started promoting huge investments to create materials and machines that are developed from an atomic or molecular scale. In the same way, the European Commission has proposed an investment of nearly €6 billion for nano and other cutting-edge technologies. Food security has turned out to be a much-debated issue, with the world facing a population growth from 7 billion at present to 9 billion by 2050. Experts predict that nanotechnology could help offer some solutions.

However, this shift toward the application of nanotechnology to agriculture without comprehensive research is being debated by researchers at Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station (ART) in Zurich and the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture in Berne. They consider that direct use of fertilizers and plant protection products that contain nanomaterials could be detrimental not just to soil health but also to microorganisms that thrive underneath the Earth’s surface.

In May 2012, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and the German Risk Dialogue Foundation reported the results of a 2011 survey, which showed that the awareness of consumers about the application and advantages of nanotechnologies was less. The survey also showed that consumers’ knowledge was always accurate. Thus, the survey collectors suggested enhancing the transparency of information to consumers in relation to products, as well as re-evaluating the communication approaches used by public authorities, industry, and the scientific community.

Swiss scientists from ETH Zurich have also questioned research work published earlier that suggested the use of carbon nanotubes for seawater desalination in ultrafast water transport. Their simulations revealed that a 200 times flow increase was feasible which is a discrepancy compared to the results published previously, indicating that the flow increases as high as 100,000 times.

ETH Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Zurich obtained a qNano system from Izon Science. This instrument will be useful in developing nanomedicine, and the purchase followed closely with the initial visit by NanoKTN in 2011.

Mettler Toledo has also launched microgram weights with nominal values from 0.05 mg to 0.5 mg. According to the claims of the company, these products were mainly developed to meet the requirements of the nanotechnology market.

Switzerland’s Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) was 2.99% of its GDP in 2008, which was more than the OECD median. From 2004 to 2008, this figure had been growing at 3.8% every year. The Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) message for 2008–2011 proposed a target of 6% growth in public R&D expenditure.

Due to the GFC, this was revised back to 3.7% from 2013 to 2016, though the Swiss economy was not much affected by this economic catastrophe. The flourishing economy of Switzerland has led to a large proportion of R&D expenditure to be funded by the private sector. The nation hosts some of the leading corporate R&D investors in the world.

R&D activities should flourish if the funding from the private sector persists, together with their promotion of entrepreneurialism and a positive tone set by the ERI. Developments should also be expedited by making more knowledge available through firm international ties. The nanotechnology sector in Switzerland is sure to grow in the future, where areas such as pharmaceuticals are of specific interest.

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