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Mapping out the nanotech economy

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Nanotech is big in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area, and one group has the map to prove it.

A mashup Google map of all companies, organizations, universities and government agencies engaging in nanotechnology was made public on Thursday by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. The mission of the project is to raise public awareness about nanotechnology's rise in the global economy.

Images: 'NanoMetro' mashup

The "NanoMetro Mashup" map revealed that the two greatest areas of concentration can be found in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Boston metropolitan area. But nanotechnology shouldn't be thought of as something limited to those coastal spots.

Forty-seven of the 50 states now have at least one nanotechnology company or academic research center. Texas joins California and Massachusetts as the states with the highest number of nanotechnology entities, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

The map is also color-coded by type of nanotechnology and searchable by ZIP code. The different sectors are categorized as electronics, energy and environmental applications, imaging and microscopy, medicine and health, materials, tools and instruments, academic and government research, and organizations.

"We're not saying it's perfect, but overall gives and is accurately reflective of where the nano hubs are around the country," said Julia Moore, the project's deputy director.

Moore pointed to numbers from Lux Research, a financial analysis firm, as to why such a map is important.

In 2006, worldwide spending on nanotechnology research and development reached $12.4 billion, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. Lux Research also predicts that by 2014, 15 percent of all manufactured goods, roughly $2.6 trillion worth, will incorporate nanotechnology.

"The most surprising thing for me was how many different places around the country were in an upper tier," said Natalie Chin, project assistant. "That second tier, they have the potential to become huge like Seattle, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh. The diversity of companies and universities, government labs and the research centers in those areas was really interesting," Chin said.

The nonprofit group, funded by the Smithsonian Institution, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trust as well as private donors, included on its map any company that identified itself as engaging in nanotechnology. Researchers drew data from four sources, including the International Nanotechnology Business Directory, according to Chin.

Moore said: "We don't pretend that we have been able to capture everything that's nano. There are companies that use and produce nanotechnology and who are not labeling them as such, and others who are producing product that isn't nano, but saying that it is."

Nanotechnology, broadly speaking, could include a wide range of scientific or high-tech endeavors that involve manipulating material as small as a nanometer. For comparison, a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.

"Eighty percent of the public knows nothing. This will help people realize that this little thing is big," said Moore.

Easily searchable and accessible, the map could also be used as an aid to local community groups concerned about the dangers that specific types of nanotechnology could potentially cause in their community if not regulated properly.

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