Switzerland: Big Focus on Small Science
Nanoscience research and investment in Switzerland is gearing up to make 2007 another banner year for fostering start-ups, graduating and attracting new researchers, commercializing products and maintaining a very favorable climate for financing investments.
Swiss private companies and universities continue to cultivate a nanotechnology focus in many of their traditional areas of expertise, including:
- Life Sciences – Miniaturization and special coatings for medical devices. New nano-instruments for diagnosis and treatment, and even micro-implants to administer drugs.
- Instrumentation and Tooling – High-precision tools for measurement and manufacturing in MEMS, micro and nanofabrication.
- Chemistry – Processes and products for designing and manufacturing micro-components, and emphasis on new molecular compounds and nanoscale self-assembly.
- Textiles – Various nano-coatings for textiles, ranging from anti-microbial to cut down on infections all the way to new “conductive” coatings to enable wearable computing
Beyond these sectors, Swiss industry and academia have ambitions to blend these distinct disciplines to create new nanotechnology science and solutions.
Swiss Look To Marry Nanotech and CleanTech
“Long term, the challenge for nanotechnology research is what we call ‘system generation’ or ‘multi-disciplined integration’, to combine the disciplines of physics, biology and chemistry to create new, complex applications,” said Daniel Bangser, Trade Commissioner, Consulate General of Switzerland in Chicago.
“Our universities and industries are well-established in these disciplines, so Switzerland is positioned to help nanoscience exploit the synergies between them to create novel applications,” Commissioner Bangser added.
One intriguing target of the Swiss System Generation approach will marry nanotechnology with the emerging area of Clean Technology (CleanTech).
“The fields of pollution detection, air purification and water treatment are all interesting areas to us,” Commissioner Bangser said. Swiss researchers are already at work in these areas:
Pollution detection: New efficient sensors for detecting diesel exhaust pollutants such as NOx have been developed, using technology based on tungsten trioxide nanoparticles deposited on micromachined silicon substrates. For the detection of carbon monoxide, a miniaturized ceramic sensor array with nanocrystalline tin oxide as the sensing material has been implemented.
Air purification: For the oxidation of carbon monoxide and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), as well as diesel exhaust purification, catalysts have been invented that work with nano-clusters of noble metals such as palladium, platinum or gold fixed on fibrous woven fabrics. A different approach achieves the same results with nanosized semiconductor photocatalysts.
Water treatment: Efficient catalysts, which are stable and highly active, have been developed for the fast removal of various trace contaminants present in process waters. This is achieved by nanocrystalline TiO2 permanently fixed on glass rings. In a special set-up, this catalyst is also able to destroy cyanides from industrial effluents. In a different application, iron nano-clusters are immobilized on woven carbon fabrics or polyacrylnitrile, and are used for the treatment of industrial waste water to reduce the TOC (total organic carbon).
“Because environmental research is intensifying, the future prospects are excellent,” Commissioner Bangser said. “And new scientific findings at the nanoscale level and collaboration with the scientific community will help enterprises meet increasingly stringent environmental requirements and assure the sustainability of their processes and products.”
Swiss Encourage Private, Public Lab Collaboration
The Swiss also have a very strong climate of technology cooperation between universities and private firms.
“In Switzerland, we have programs where the major private, semi-public and public research laboratories make their skills and services available to private partners. They also actively participate in networked research programs and partner with private companies to foster innovation,” Commissioner Bangser said. IBM’s Research Laboratory in Rüschlikon, which is the European branch of IBM’s worldwide research organization, has long had a nanotechnology focus and has benefited from these public/private collaborations, he added.
Among the many Swiss research centers and groups collaborating with private firms, two of the largest are:
The National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) – serving as the impetus for the promotion of the life sciences, sustainability, and information technology (IT) and communications. The NCCR focuses on these nanotechnology areas: Nanobiology; quantum computing and quantum coherence; atomic and molecular nanosystems; molecular electronics; and self-assembly.
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) – engaged in research with: Quantum communication; optical nanotechnology; photonic components and systems; and designing novel supramolecular organic and non-organic compounds.
The Swiss also can boast being the home of the University of Berne’s Laboratory for High Energy Physics (LHEP).
Swissnanotech is a Gold Sponsor at Nanotech 2007, with a pavilion in which leading Swiss firms will exhibit their products and services. Visitors to the Swissnanotech Pavilion can learn more about these projects, as well as Swiss programs geared to help nanotechnology firms in the areas of financing, talent recruitment and facilities re-location.