x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Egypt gets close to nano-scale research

Nanotechnology is generally defined as the ability to manufacture and manipulate objects that are a 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Egypt has joined Saudi Arabia as one of two Arab countries capable of conducting advanced research into some of the world's smallest structures. An agreement to set up a nanotechnology research centre in the most populous Arab country was signed yesterday after the chief executive of IBM Samuel Palmisano met the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and prime minister Ahmed Nazif. "The seat of one of the world's oldest civilisations is now an emerging player onto the world stage of a new, globalised economy," Mr Palmisano said.

Nanotechnology is generally defined as the ability to manufacture and manipulate objects that are smaller than 100 nanometres across - 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. A nanometre is 1,000 millionth of a metre. IBM has historically been a leading researcher in the field. In 1990, its researchers achieved a world first when they moved individual atoms into a pattern spelling the company's three-letter name.

In February, the company announced that a similar nano-tech research centre would be opened in Saudi Arabia, in co-operation with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. Extremely small nano-scale materials are believed by scientists to hold enormous potential for cleaning oil spills, desalinating seawater, and detecting and fighting disease, along with a host of other applications. Their potential in the energy, petrochemical and water industries is particularly relevant to Middle Eastern countries.

Along with other microchip makers, IBM builds chips with transistors smaller than 65 nanometres across. An industry-wide shift from the 45-nanometre standard is taking place, with IBM already speaking of chips built from components just 22 nanometres wide. The company recently revealed its scientists had made a breakthrough in being able to manipulate the properties of an individual atom, opening the door to future chips that may use atomic-sized transistors.

Since 2004, Egypt's government has been led by a cabinet that is keen to modernise and diversify the ailing economy. Technology investment zones like the flagship Smart Village development, on the outskirts of Cairo, have quickly filled with a mix of local, regional and international IT businesses. It has become a frequent stopover point for the chief executives of technology companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and Intel, all of which have boosted investments in the country and signed special research agreements with its government.

Hany Helal, Egypt's minister of higher education and scientific research, said the IBM deal was the "key to the implementation of Egypt's science and technology strategy", and reflected a "profound commitment to investing wisely in the development of highly skilled, capable young people". tgara@thenational.ae