Preparing one’s luggage

Belarus to ‘jump’ on board of accelerating ‘nano-train’
By Tatiana Kovalevich

Nano-technologies are the science of the future, although some are sceptical as to whether their industrial application will reach fruition any time soon. Various countries are already investing heavily, hoping to keep at the cutting edge of innovation, taking advantage of emerging trends. Without doubt, Belarus could take its place among those leading the way.

Technology is about to leap forward, with a ‘window’ of opportunity opening before us, enabling us to make a sharp jump. The last time that this happened, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan became industrial leaders within a few decades, without any prior indication. Research convincingly proves that nano-technologies will be at the heart of the next technological cycle.

The Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Sergey Chizhik, notes, “It’s a sensible move, since our entire world is built on the ‘nano-’ principle — from top to bottom, from atoms to molecules. The arrival of spring sees green leaves appearing ‘from nothing’; new technologies appear in a similar fashion, when previously successful branches begin to exhaust their potential. Traditional manufacturing relies on non-renewable resources: energy and materials. Belarus boasts good intellectual potential so we should be paying attention to creating high value added products, where each kilogram is valued at dozens of thousands of dollars.” He mentions the precision instruments industry and pharmaceuticals, as well as the nano-industry.

The state is creating suitable sterile environments, with vibration reduction protection, to allow nano-technologies to be explored. Naturally, highly-precise instruments are needed to measure nano-particles. These primary investigations are vital, so that Belarus can find its niche in this emerging sphere. Ultimate breakthroughs are yet to occur, making this a truly exciting time for science. Pleasingly, in 2011, around $15m was generated from this infant industry: a small but notable foothold.

In fact, 27 new developments have commercial potential. “These enable us to say that we can shape this industry. I’d like to underline that I’m referring to the industry rather than science,” notes the Head of the Economic Ministry’s Science and Innovation Policy Department, Dmitry Krupsky. The opening of the fullerene molecule in the early 1980s was the first signal for the development of the new branch. Since then, around 1,500 related companies have been set up worldwide, primarily in the USA. According to Mr. Krupsky, another 5-7 years will pass before we see the new industry really start to assert itself in the same way as computers, the Internet and IT software.

Mr. Chizhik adds that nano-technology is already finding application, such as in microcircuits, uniting computer technology within mobile phones. In addition, pharmaceutical enterprises are developing medicines with nano-particles, which can target problems specifically. Nano-technologies have application in farming, such as the processing of seeds to increase crop yield. Undoubtedly, some areas will make more use of nano-innovations than others.

Training is underway to maximise staff potential in Belarus. There are already 870 specialists in the Republic connected with nano-technologies and leading Belarusian universities have begun teaching corresponding courses. Of course, jobs do not yet exist for such graduates but 1,650 young people will have studied in this sphere by 2017. The recently established Association of the Nano-Industry could connect universities and industry and, of course, a ‘stock’ of potential employees is needed. “Practice shows that the more people we have boasting a particular speciality, the wider is the range of potential entrepreneurs,” notes Mr. Krupsky. For example, if a radio-technical institute hadn’t been established in Minsk — one of the five mathematical centres in the Soviet Union — we would hardly have such a developed IT industry today. It’s difficult to make progress from empty space.
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