Jochen Flackus: Nano- and biotechnologies in focus – Future “Made in Saarland”

Without a doubt: If nanotechnology in Germany is mentioned abroad to­­day the term “Nano-Valley-Saar” is heard on a regular basis. Thus the appreciation is expressed, which is now paid to Saar­land’s nanotechnology.

The basic idea behind this success sto­ry was simple: “The research of today is our source of a good standard of living for tomorrow”. The Leibniz In­­stitute for New Materials (INM) was founded in Saar­land in 1987. Here, investigating the world of small particles started soon­­er than in other re­­gions.

Twenty years after this decision, Saar­land can count itself as one of the leading nano- and nanobioregions in Eu­­­rope. Eleven spin-off companies work suc­cess­­fully and can compete in the glo­­b­­al mar­­ket. More than 1,000 sustainable jobs have been created by the spin-off companies developed since 1995.

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Successful networking of research and development
In order to promote cooperation be­­tween research, business, politics and society, the non-profit association Na­­noBioNet was founded in 2002 with financial sup­­port from the Saarland Ministry of Eco­nomics and Science. This association moderates an efficient network of universities, re­­search institutes, hospitals, businesses and ex­­perts from the fields of technology transfer, patenting, economy and financing. The members come from different industries, their common interest is in research and development and the practical applications of nano- and biotechnology.

Another important network with headquarters in Saarland is the competence centre cc-NanoChem, which is equally ac­­­tive nationwide and located at the Leib­­niz Institute for New Materials (INM).
NanoBioNet and cc-NanoChem cooperate closely with each other.

The players of the network support a variety of projects with the aim to further expand on the leading role in the area of nano- and biotechnology and to strengthen the region nationally and in­­ternationally as a competitive location. Main responsibilities include as­­sis­­t­­ing and training, promoting research and development and active public re­­lations. Whether it is through their pres­­ence at a shared booth or in a bro­­chure – NanoBioNet and cc-NanoChem provide for members on different platforms the opportunity to communicate competencies.

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Since 2006 the collaboration of the busi­­ness players has been intensified with the platform Saarland Empowering Na­­no, to actively promote Saarland’s competencies.
Together with the Economic De­­vel­op­ment (gwSaar) and the Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM), “Na­no made in Saarland” is advertised throughout the world.

Its customer base is international and encompasses all possible sectors.

Dwarfs with gigantic potential
The substantive foci of research and de­­velopment in Saarland are in chemical nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology. One concern lies in the antimicrobial, also known as antiseptic effect caused by several nano-coatings. In addition to the food industry, nanotechnology also opens new perspectives in med­­icine and pharmacology, both in analysis and therapy. Researchers hope for quicker diagnoses in or­­der to detect diseases at an early stage – such as cancer, cardiovascular diseas­es or vi­­­ral in­­fections – and they hope for innovative therapies by new molecules.

A world market
The job market for nano- and biotechnologists is currently located mainly in the large industrial research institutions. In Germany there are about 150 compa­nies with a main area of business in na­­­no­­technology, and approximately 600 es­­tablishments which touch on nano­­technology.
In Saarland, currently about 40 companies can be counted working in the field of nanotechnology and pharmaceutical biotechnology. A value of up to 18 billion euros is estimated worldwide by the year 2015, with 160,000 jobs in the field of nanotechnology alone.

 

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Fill young professionals with enthusiasm early on
NanoBioNet and cc-NanoChem are en­­gaged in particular to inspire students for nano- and biotechnology. To achieve that, Na­­noBioNet developed the Na­­no­School­­Box, an experimental kit for physics, chem­­istry or biology lessons, which could be dis­­tributed to secondary schools and vo­­cational schools thanks to the support of the state. However, also internationally the student experimental kit is a major export success and contributes to the re­­putation of the research location.

But not only students are in the fo­­cus when it comes to demonstrating and explaining a promising future in technology such as nanotechnology.
An­­­other focus, in addition to the academic training, is the training of skilled workers and technicians. Here Nano­Bio­­Net developed and organized its own training modules and workshops.

Prospects
Experts predict that big breakthroughs yet lie ahead in nano- and biotechnol­ogy. They will revolutionize computer tech­­nol­­ogy, open up completely new possibilities in medical diagnosis and therapy as well as produce materials with entirely new qualities that allow for new kinds of products. So far it is still not foreseeable how many of the optimistic expectations actually can be realized.

But what can already be said today: These technologies offer very good growth opportunities today and in the near future. And Saarland will profit from this.

Flackus_02The author studied political science, eco­­nomic policy and psychology at the University of Bonn and has been business director of the Leibniz In­­sti­­tute for New Materials (INM) since 2005. Jochen Flackus is CEO of NanoBioNet e.V. and a founding member of Saar­land Empowering Nano.