ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 20
Financial Times

Centre for Nanotechnology being considered

By Manjari Peiris

Initiatives to establish a Centre to develop Nanotechnology in Sri Lanka are being taken into consideration very seriously now. Professor Tissa Vitarana, Minister of Science & Technology, is hopeful that it would make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s technology development process by becoming the driving force for emerging industries.

“Though this could be just a dream, many advances have been based on dreams.” he said. “From all the evidence available, it has perhaps the potential to outstrip all other technologies and lead to a new industrial revolution. This emerging technology is depended a lot on having the skilled human resources”.

He said there were a large number of minerals in this country, including traditional medicines, bio-diversities, etc. which are relatively untapped.

If these technologies can be applied, new industries can be created then to add a very much greater value to them than even the existing technologies. This can even contribute to up-scaling our existing industries to make them far more competitive in the work. So this is the type of vistas that is opening up, he said.

Professor Gihan Ameratunga, Head of the Nanotechnology Department, University of Cambridge, UK, explained that all technologies are based on some sort of fundamental science, whether it is electronics based on physics and mathematics or computer science and information science. Nanotechnology is the basic building block technologies which are physical materials and scale these materials down to Nanometer scales – tens of Naño meters.

Then they exhibit new properties which have not been seen before. A nanometer is a scale which is a millionth of a milli meter.

When a material is scaled down to a millionth of a milli meter, then the concept of surface and volume starts to merge. “From the concept of surface of volume starting to merge, we get new physics in chemistry appearing - the technology as to how you use this material which exhibits new technologies of physics and chemistry, to develop new devices, new chemical effects of new drugs which you have not seen before, in a very practical manner to the benefit of mankind,” he said.

“You don’t need to have an institute or a factory worth a million dollars. It is revolutionary as much as one is trying to synthesize new material; in this process it is not necessary to manufacture conventional high tech processes.

The facilities required are somewhat basic laboratory facilities together with analytical facilities, such as microscopes. These are to some extent standard laboratory equipments which would be found in post graduate departments across the world. So catalytic expenditure is not exorbitant to any industry,” he said.

Sri Lanka has a world class industry as in the garment sector and also in producing electronic components. These industries in order to be comparative and to become leaders in that field would want to apply nanotechnology in proprietary manner.

Professor Ravi Silva, Head of the Advanced Technology Institute of Surrey University, UK, simplifying on nanotechnology, said: “What we are trying to do is to design, manipulate and fabricate devices on the most basic or fundamental level. When you want to switch on an electronic device while you are moving an electronic device, one contacts to the other. In the case of Nanotechnology what we are trying to do is to scale those devices right down so small that ultimately we are talking of single electronics, may be from one contact to the other. Thereby it increases the speed of response and makes things smaller, so we are putting more building blocks on the same space. “Once you start putting different devices onto your chip area, it increases the efficiency.

Then it becomes a very efficient device that it cannot be improved further. If the electronic industry space was taken up by the motor car industry; you really should be able to travel 150 km in less than two seconds with a tea spoonful of petrol! If the electronic industry has brought a revolution to society and impact to man, the Nanotechnology revolution would be meant to be even greater. It is most significant when it comes to impact in everyday activities to man.”

(The writer is the Assistant Director – Media at the Ministry of Science & Technology).

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.