The importance of nanotechnology as a strategic route in developing scientific research and economic growth has been recognized by most South American countries for the last fifteen years. Brazil has very much taken the lead and was investing in the development of nanotechnology as long ago as 2001, followed closely by the other large economies in the region, Mexico and Argentina. These three countries are not just the largest economies in the region but are also those that have a history of advanced scientific development.
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Brazil and Nanotechnology
In 2001, Brazil started systematic support for the area, led by the Minister of Science and Technology (MCT) with the creation of the first research networks in nanotechnology. In 2004 they launched the National Program for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, the first of its kind in the region. Brazil has also concentrated on collaborations with other developing countries with advanced nanotech sectors such as China, Korea, and India. In 2012 in São Paulo, they hosted a Brazil-Canada workshop on nanotechnology. The workshop, which was set up by Nanotechnology Coordination at the Brazilian Ministry for Science Technology and Innovation, and the Energy and Nuclear Research National Institute (IPEN), looked to find potential joint nanotechnology projects. This was followed by workshops in 2013 at the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) in Canada and in May 2014 in Belo Horizonte Brazil, focusing on “Sustainable Nanomaterials: Production and Applications of Nanocellulose”.
In October 2018 the Brazilian Ministry for Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communication (MCTIC) launched a National Action Plan on nanotechnology. The plan outlines strategies for further development of nanotechnology in Brazil and is the first volume in a series of national action plans on several key enabling technologies.
Focuses on Research
Currently, the biggest emerging terms in Brazilian nanotechnology focused research papers on “graphene oxide” and “reduced graphene oxide”. Since the emergence of graphene, the topic has become important in Brazil as the country holds one of the biggest natural graphite reserves in the world and is currently the world’s third-largest graphite producer. A hub for graphene research is the state of Minas Gerais, where organizations such as start-up company Neographene and technology center CT Nano are expected to make further progress in the development of graphene products.
Mexico and Nanotechnology
Mexico lacks a National Initiative of Nanotechnology, although efforts have been made to establish networks of nanotechnology research from around the same time as its beginnings in Brazil. Nevertheless, Mexico has more than 60 universities and public centers undertaking nanotechnology research. Perhaps the most significant being the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which has more than a dozen departments and institutes in México City and other campuses where nanotechnology research is being undertaken. Other centers are the Nano Cluster of Nuevo Leon (CNNL), a specialized incubator for nanotechnology funded by CONACYT, the public national laboratories & Nuevo Leon State Government and IPN: Center for Nano/Micro S&T (CNMN): Mexico City. This research has found its way into the industry with several companies making international inroads with their products. It is worth noting that there have been issues with nanotechnology research in Mexico. In 2011an an eco-anarchist group calling itself Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS) claimed responsibility for a letter bomb sent to the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in a 5,500-word diatribe against nanotechnology that it published online. It was not an isolated incident.
Argentina and Nanotechnology
As with Brazil and Mexico, Argentina sees nanotechnology research as a way for the country to “compete at the international level in the application and development of micro and nanotechnologies that increase the earned value of products for internal consumption and export.”
Though significantly behind Brazil and Mexico, the Science and Technology Secretariat placed nanotechnology as a priority area in 2003 and began organizing research networks. In 2005, the Argentina Foundation for Nanotechnology (FAN) was created by the Economy and Production Ministry, to stimulate training and create a technical infrastructure to promote nanotechnology and its adoption by industry. The Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, created by the Bariloche Atomic Center, was upgraded in 2009. Other laboratories include the newly-built Center for Material Science & Technology, also a joint project of CONICET with the National University of Mar del Plata.
Other South-American Countries in the field of Nanotechnology
Other smaller countries in Latin America are undertaking nanotechnology research but on a scale that is far behind those top three. Some examples are the LANOTEC (Laboratory of Nanotechnology) in Costa Rica, the CEDENNA (Center of Nanosciences and Nanotechnology) in Chile, or the CEAC (Center of Advanced Studies) in Cuba. Despite this, it is apparent that Brazil and Mexico are striking out and increasing the gap.
Interestingly, hardly any public funds in Latin American countries allocated for nanotechnology were spent on studies of risk, which is of concern given the awareness in developed countries, where the issue was raised early in the process. The lack of interest by governments to promote health and environmental risk studies is a gap in nanotechnology R&D that has implications in the development of the sector as it matures.