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