China — Chinese Advances in Nano-Technology

The MEMS (micro-elctro-mechan­i­cal sys­tems) rev­o­lu­tion, has opened fron­tiers of sci­en­tif­ic devel­op­ments which will have great sig­nif­i­cance in nation­al defence and econ­o­my; it will ush­er in a ‘nano-era’ in the 21st cen­tu­ry encom­pass­ing; nanobi­ol­o­gy, nano man­u­fac­tur­ing, nanome­chan­ics, nano-elec­tron­ics, nanomi­crol­o­gy, nanocon­trol, nanosur­vey­ing and the study of nano­ma­te­r­i­al.

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A con­fer­ence of Nation­al Nan­otech­nol­o­gy Coor­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee was held in Bei­jing on 11th Jan­u­ary 2011, where in it was announced by the Chi­nese min­is­ter for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy, Mr Wan Gang that Chi­na would seek orig­i­nal break­throughs in nan­otech­nol­o­gy in the next five years and would have in place nation­al nan­otech­nol­o­gy pro­gramme to achieve the same. The Vice Pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences how­ev­er, indi­cat­ed that there were sev­er­al short­falls in the strides made in nan­otech­nol­o­gy and that clar­i­ty about the spe­cif­ic needs of the indus­try for nan­otech­nol­o­gy was still an issue.1.

In the same con­fer­ence it was brought out that, where­as, Chi­na had invest­ed 1.5 Bn Yuan in the peri­od 2001-05 on R&D in nan­otech­nol­o­gy, in the peri­od 2006-10 it had spent more than 3 times the amount, i.e. 5 Bn Yuan. Fur­ther, two nation­al lev­el research cen­tres in addi­tion to the Nation­al Cen­tre for Nanoscience and Tech­nol­o­gy were also estab­lished. Chi­na had also become the sec­ond largest patent appli­cant in the world in the field of nan­otech­nol­o­gy, with over 12,000 patents in 2009, as against 4600 in 2005.

Chi­na appears to be a late entry to the nan­otech­nol­o­gy scene as hard­ly any details were avail­able about its involve­ment in nan­otech­nol­o­gy pri­or to 2000. If reports com­ing out of Chi­na are to be believed, today it has become a mul­ti-bil­lion Yuan flour­ish­ing indus­try at urban cen­tres like Shang­hai, Bei­jing and Hangzhou. The tremen­dous strides in nan­otech­nol­o­gy have its roots in the late 1990s, when both the cen­tral and local gov­ern­ments pro­vid­ed large funds for its devel­op­ment under the Nation­al 863 Hi-Tech R&D plan with spe­cif­ic time lines. It would be worth­while to dis­cuss in brief the Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy and approach to devel­op­ment of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, which has appar­ent­ly spurred growth of nan­otech­nol­o­gy in Chi­na.

The Chi­nese believe that in today’s world war­fare implies not only weapons, but also a con­test in total­i­ty with the adver­sary involv­ing mil­i­tary, pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics and sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. Thus weapons need to be devel­oped keep­ing all these fac­tors in fore­front. There­fore when the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy is advanc­ing at a rapid rate and bet­ter and bet­ter weapons are being designed it is imper­a­tive that the mate­r­i­al base (R&D) of the defence econ­o­my be out­stand­ing­ly strong. In the words of Gen­er­al Mi Zhenyu:

“Weapons devel­op­ment is reliant on the devel­op­ment of the nation­al econ­o­my. It also encour­ages the growth of nation­al defence sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. Mil­i­tary high-tech­nol­o­gy also gave impe­tus to the devel­op­ment of the econ­o­my. Look­ing at this from two-dimen­sion­al space, this big “O” cycle could pos­si­bly expand fur­ther. Analysing it from a three-dimen­sion­al space, this kind of spi­ralling trend is per­fect­ly suit­ed to the objec­tive laws of mate­r­i­al devel­op­ment.”2.

The advance­ments in tech­nol­o­gy on the bat­tle­field bring about changes in mil­i­tary the­o­ry and tac­tics to be adopt­ed, which leads to a gamut of changes in strate­gic thought, defence struc­tures, com­bat doc­trines etc. In fact in his view, devel­op­ment of weapons “enhances man’s strate­gic con­scious­ness, deep­ens his strate­gic reflec­tions and increas­es the empha­sis on strate­gic pro­jec­tions”. Fur­ther Chi­na, sees itself a major force for the preser­va­tion of world peace along with the Third World coun­tries, this aspi­ra­tion demands that it should have a sound weapon devel­op­ment pro­gramme and the mil­i­tary where­with­al to pro­tect itself against aggres­sion from out­side its bor­ders.

Major Gen­er­al sun Bailin of the Acad­e­my of Mil­i­tary Sci­ence had expound­ed his views on nan­otech­nol­o­gy in an arti­cle “Nan­otech­nol­o­gy weapons on future bat­tle­fields” in Nation­al Defence, June 15, 1996.3. With ref­er­ence to the MEMS (micro-elctro-mechan­i­cal sys­tems) rev­o­lu­tion, he believes that it has opened fron­tiers of sci­en­tif­ic devel­op­ments which will have great sig­nif­i­cance in nation­al defence and econ­o­my; it will ush­er in a ‘nano-era’ in the 21st cen­tu­ry encom­pass­ing; nanobi­ol­o­gy, nanoman­u­fac­tur­ing, nanome­chan­ics, nano-elec­tron­ics, nanomi­crol­o­gy, nanocon­trol, nanosur­vey­ing and the study of nano­ma­te­ri­als. Fur­ther, he believes that both Nano and MEMS are in the dual use regime and hold tremen­dous poten­tial for growth in mil­i­tary pow­er and eco­nom­ics.

He has talked about:

  • Ant robots’ which could repli­cate them­selves and lie dor­mant in ene­my war equip­ment till acti­vat­ed to destroy them.
  • Blood ves­sel sub­marines,’ for mol­e­c­u­lar surgery.
  • Dis­trib­uted Bat­tle­field Microscale Sen­sor Net­works’ dis­pers­ing swarms of these mol­e­c­u­lar devices, which are prac­ti­cal­ly invis­i­ble, for gath­er­ing bat­tle­field envi­ron­ment infor­ma­tion.
  • Nanosatel­lites’ would be step for­ward of the infor­ma­tion gath­er­ing mol­e­c­u­lar devices and could form a local dis­trib­uted satel­lite sys­tem, or for com­plete 24/7 earth cov­er­age a total of 648 nanosatel­lites could be placed in orbit (with 36 nanosatel­lites placed even­ly into each of 18 equal­ly spaced solar sta­tion­ary orbits).

In his view the cru­cial mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy in the 21st cen­tu­ry would be nan­otech­nol­o­gy and nanoweapons would bring about pro­found and fun­da­men­tal changes in mil­i­tary thought and affairs.4.

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1. Xin­huanet Web site [Online web] Accessed on 29 Jan 2011 URL: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011–01/c_13686054.htm
2. Zhenyu­Mi (1998), China’s Nation­al Defence Devel­op­ment Con­cepts, Edit­ed by Michael Pills­bury, Chi­nese Views of Future War­fare, Nation­al Defence Uni­ver­si­ty Press , Wash­ing­ton DC, 1998.
3. Quot­ed in ‘Chi­nese Views of Future War­fare’, Edit­ed by Michael Pills­bury, Nation­al Defence Uni­ver­si­ty Press, Wash­ing­ton DC, 1998.
4. Bailin Major Gen­er­al sun (1996), “Nan­otech­nol­o­gy weapons on future bat­tle­fields” in Nation­al Defence, June 15, 1996; quot­ed in ‘Chi­nese Views of Future War­fare’, Edit­ed by Michael Pills­bury, Nation­al Defence Uni­ver­si­ty Press , Wash­ing­ton DC, 1998