Policy Roundtable on International Scientific Co-operation in Nanotechnology (Braga, Portugal, 22-23 June 2009)


The OECD policy roundtable comprised a one-day open conference and a one-day closed workshop for Working Party on Nanotechnology (WPN) delegates and invited experts. The event was sponsored by the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia and the OECD.

The conference (click here to download the agenda and presentations) clearly illustrated the differences in the experiences of countries in scientific co-operation depending on, amongst other factors, the nature of their research base, size of country, location and historical linkages. Throughout the world (e.g. countries of the European Union) researchers, organisations and countries are actively involved in many different types of co-operation. In others, international interactions are at an early stage and researchers are seeking to create awareness of their research base. Presenters included representatives from China, Korea, Brazil, NATO, Europe and North America. The participants heard about initiatives such as the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory) and IMEC.

The main purpose of the event was to identify and consider any nanotechnology-specific issues in international scientific co-operation. Key motivations for international scientific co-operation included:

  • Enhancing strengths and/or address weaknesses in national economic areas
    • to become more attractive to international companies by improving the  national research base through co-operative actions;
    • to strengthen the research base and thereby the industry base; and
    • to address issues facing society through nanotechnology
  • Improving basic research and strengthening national scientific capacity
  • Reaching a critical mass (in a country, region, technology) or creating a critical mass for a specific purpose (e.g. in order to better compete for funding)
  • Sharing of and access to equipment
  • Human resource formation
  • Maintaining currency in an area expanding at great speed, accessing the latest innovations, sharing information about current and future research needs within the scientific community
  • Addressing environmental, health, safety and regulatory issues in an international environment
  • Addressing wider national priorities e.g. peace and security

Some of the motivations were bottom up, e.g.:

  • Commonality of research area (e.g. materials and standards)
  • Communication of research work
  • Networking

...whilst in other cases the mechanisms fostering international scientific co-operation were top down, e.g.:

  • Memoranda of understanding, co-operation agreements (bilateral, multilateral)
  • National NT councils, initiatives, plans, roadmaps seeking to grow NT (especially since 2000)
  • Funding programmes made available for ISC (e.g. EU, national funds)
  • Brokering events activities by national governments.

The benefits of international scientific co-operation, as identified by speakers and participants included:

  • Better science, training and links between science and industry and society
  • Cost savings, reduction of duplication
  • Increase of mobility
  • Better access to equipment, information and knowledge
  • Enhanced international understanding
  • Bridging knowledge gaps and cross-pollination of ideas.

The challenges most relevant to nanotechnology were highlighted as being those related to:

  • Communication across disciplines and interdisciplinary working by researchers;
  • Interdisciplinary infrastructures relevant to nanotechnology;
  • Critical mass; and
  • Public engagement with and understanding of nanotechnology.

The roundtable discussions began the debate at the WPN on this topic. It will continue to be developed and explored over the next few months with a report being planned for publication in 2010.