September 7, 2003, Updated September 19, 2012

The purpose of the Congress is to bring together a critical mass of important stakeholders in nanotechnology, to talk about its applications in industry, and how it is possible to promote commercialization.When Shimon Peres appears in Washington DC this week to deliver a crucial keynote address, it will not be in any of his current roles as Labor party leader, Nobel peace prize laureate, nor even as a highly-respected elder statesman for Israel. Instead, Mr. Peres will be speaking in his newest role: that of nanotechnologist.

That role was taken on last spring with a speech given before the Knesset, during which Peres unequivocally declared Israel’s need to be among those nations leading the development and commercialization of this fundamental new technology.

Nanotechnology is defined as any fabrication technology in which objects are designed and built by the specification and placement of individual atoms or molecules or where at least one dimension is on a scale of nanometers.The term ‘nanotechnology’ was coined by K. Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation, where he predicted that nanotechnology could give rise to replicating assemblers, permitting an exponential growth of productivity and personal wealth.

“I believe it is possible to raise funds for this national scientific project, from governmental, public and industrial sources, thus enabling universities, research institutes and the industrial sector to enter the nanosphere as soon as possible,” Peres told the Knesset.

Peres’ engagement at the World Nano-Economic Congress(being held September 8-10 in Washington DC) is something of an ideal romance. Mr. Peres sought a major international platform from which to launch Israel’s nanotechnology initiative. Coincidentally, the organizers of this Congress – perhaps the first of its kind ever held – sought a man of Peres’ diplomatic stature in order to draw the attention of other influential leaders, and help to mobilize participants and resources.

“Our intention with this Congress is to bring together a critical mass of important stakeholders in nanotechnology,” said event director Dexter Johnson, “to talk about its applications in industry, and how it is possible to promote commercialization.”

“Mr. Peres is known for his interest in promoting technology in Israel, and will bring the discussion to a much higher, more strategic level,” Johnson said. “We aren’t just working with directors of research or heads of academia, we now have important government leaders.”

The featured keynote address by Peres, entitled “Perspectives on Scientific and Technological Leadership”, will be followed by those of other notables from government, science and industry, including Nobel chemistry laureate Richard Smalley, Intel research director David Tennenhouse, U.S. congressman and nanotechnology legislator Mike Honda, undersecretary of technology for the Bush administration Phil Bond, and over 50 other speakers. The three-day Congress is expected to draw 400-500 participants.

Peres’ keynote address represents only part of the Israeli effort underway to tap into the vast network of U.S. researchers and industrialists involved in ‘nanospace’. Like their Israeli counterparts, the Americans are still determining the ways and means to move nanotech out of the laboratories and into practical use.

One of the desired outcomes of the conference, according to USISTF interim executive director David Miron-Wapner, is “to develop a strategic plan of action that will increase opportunities for interaction” among Israeli and U.S. interests. “This is the first opportunity we’ve had to get everyone in the same room,” Miron-Wapner noted.

Einat Wilf, director of the Israeli Nanotechnology Trust, sees Peres’ public appearance and Israel’s involvement as “an opportunity for us to learn, to meet top people in the field, and to establish key relationships.”

Israel’s current standing in nanotechnology varies widely, depending on which information you use. From a purely academic perspective, Israel ranks among the very top industrial nations, according to a 2002 study sponsored by the European Commission. That study showed that, on a normalized basis, the number of Israeli nanotech publications and patents ranked second and third in the world, respectively, after countries like Switzerland and Germany. (The U.S. ranks only fourteenth and sixth, respectively.) The study concluded that such high standings indicate a stronger capacity to transfer nanotech research into real-world applications.

However, recent industrial surveys by Israel’s own Nanotechnology Committee and the European analysis firm Cientifica show that in terms of actual infrastructure and investments in the industrial sector, Israel is failing to stay in the ranks of leading-edge nations. (Those surveys also affirm that the lion’s share of industrial infrastructure and investments are being contributed by the U.S. and Japan.)

Some key players sense that – as has occurred historically in Israeli high tech – a fruitful synergy can be created in nanotech by combining practical Israeli scientific know-how with U.S. industrial capital and capabilities. As a result, in the last six months, Israeli interests led by Peres, the Nanotechnology Committee, and others, have greatly intensified efforts to kick-start investments and capitalization in Israeli nanotech.

Among the more adventurous projects established to address Israel’s investment challenge is the Israeli Nanotechnology Trust. This private, non-profit trust was initiated by Peres in order to raise a substantial portion of the projected $300 million that is considered essential over the next five years in order to ensure Israel’s continuing participation in the commercialization of nanotechnology.

Other upcoming plans include organization of the first annual Israel Nanotechnology Conference in November. This conference is intended to draw together Israeli leaders with North American counterparts in the Jewish community, as well as international leaders in business, science and technology, in order to focus on the challenges facing the Israeli nanotechnology initiative.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director