Northern Ireland Leads the way in Asian Nanotechnology Sector

Invest Northern Ireland has placed local research expertise firmly on the international map by sending the first UK nanotechnology missions to Asia, missions which are proving to be a major success for the local nanotechnology research sector.

A mission to China and Japan, followed by another to South Korea and Taiwan took place during November and were organised and funded by Invest NI. The missions, which comprised a team of four researchers and a representative of local industry led by Professor Robert Brown, Director of Nanotec NI, have been invaluable in promoting the world-class research capabilities contained in Northern Ireland’s two universities.  

Their aim was to seek mutually beneficial research collaborations between world-renowned universities and companies in Asia and Nanotec NI,a joint venture Centre of Excellence between Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Ulster, which will ultimately help to enhance and grow the emerging nanotechnology capability in Northern Ireland. 

“These pioneering missions form an integral part of Invest NI’s commitment to internationalising local R&D expertise and capability,” says Tracy Meharg, Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development, Invest Northern Ireland.

“As the first UK region to target collaborations within the rapidly growing Asian economy, Northern Ireland has demonstrated the high calibre of its local nanotechnology research sector and the global potential of its facilities and expertise. This will be reinforced by the successful establishment of mutually beneficial R & D partnerships with globally renowned research institutes which will ultimately benefit both the Asian and Northern Ireland economies by the eventual creation of new and exciting industries based on nanotechnology.”

Professor Robert Brown believes that the missions have allowed the Nanotec NI team to identify a significant number of potential areas for collaboration with prestigious institutions including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National NanoDevice Laboratory in Taiwan, the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials,and the University of Tokyo.

“International collaboration is an important element for any university research programme,but it’s especially critical in nanotechnology,” he comments. “Countries like those we have visited in Asia represent huge opportunities for Nanotec NI researchers to benefit from leading edge expertise and resources in key nanotechnology areas.  Likewise we can offer potential partners in these countries access to world-class research capabilities and facilities available at both our universities in Northern Ireland.”

Student placements are another important means to furthering partnership with overseas institutes and Nanotec NI has since had several approaches from Chinese Government-funded students wishing to come to Northern Ireland to workalong side local nano-researchers.

In addition to identifying potential research collaborations, the second mission to Taiwan and South Korea also resulted in Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology - one of the leading global electronics multinationals, expressing initial interest in Nanotec NI research on single crystal semiconductors, an area of increasing demand within the growing Asian electronics assembly industry.

“In the changing Asian marketplace where value-added goods such as semi-conductors are in increasing demand, this development clearly indicates the future direction of one of the world’s most significant marketplaces and how local knowledge and industry can tap into its potential,” adds Tracy Meharg.

Nanotechnology is the science of building devices at the molecular and atomic level. A nanometer is a millionth of a millimetre or one 80,000th of a human hair. Studying and manipulating objects at a molecular scale has already provided significant advancements in sectors including biotechnology,textiles and electronics. Current and future research in nanotechnology has the potential to benefit society worldwide by advancing discovery toward the better use of natural resources, improved healthcare, enhanced economic competitiveness, cleaner manufacturing and cheaper, cleaner, more widely available energy.