Chubais Says Nanothieves a Big Headache

In a sign the government might be taking nanomania a bit too seriously, Nanotechnology Corporation chief Anatoly Chubais rolled out plans last week for a war on nanothieves — companies who inaccurately use the "nano" prefix to hawk wares ranging from breast implants to concrete.

"We will implement a system of standards to weed out swindlers who use the term 'nano' in the names of their companies and products just to get the attention," Chubais said at a nanotechnology conference.

The iPod Nano, it turns out, has nothing to fear yet, as the proposed standards will only apply to goods produced in Russia.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said at the same event that the parliament would adopt laws setting technical regulations determining which companies would be entitled to use the term in their name or those of their products.

"No nano-scent and nano-concrete, if they don't use real nanotechnology," Gryzlov said.

As it turns out, there actually is a company called Nanoconcrete.

"All of this talk about nanotechnology is rubbish," said Pavel Tsivirko, vice president of the construction materials producer, based in the Leningrad region town of Volkhov.

Tsivirko said that when his company was founded several years ago they planned to use nanotechnologies actively.

"We very soon understood that nobody in the construction market is actually interested in getting a better quality material," Tsivirko said. "What we do now is more of alchemy, as there are neither the resources nor the money for real nanotechnology."

"The main thing is to grind molecules better," Tsivirko said, explaining his company's method. "We use cathode-reconstituted solutions and big carbon molecules."

Nanotechnology refers to procedures for the control of matter on an atomic or molecular scale to improve their qualities or performance.

Tsivirko doesn't claim that the process involves nanotechnology and said he probably wouldn't bother to get it certified or look for financial support from the Nanotechnology Corporation even if it did. He said the corporation was created "just for laundering money."

Established last year to attract investment in the nanotechnology sector and raise production technology levels in the country, the state-run corporation was set up with 130 billion rubles ($4.65 billion) from federal budget.

The corporation has political support at the highest level, labeled a "presidential initiative" and being supervised by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

"We are only interested in the position of a global player on the world nanotechnologies market," Ivanov said at last week's forum, adding that the government would invest $10 billion in the development of nanotechnologies over the medium term.

Some businesses, however, have managed to create nanoproducts without any government support.

"My company began producing nanosocks for men about eight months ago," said Sergei Moskalenko, head of Biz-one, which produces hosiery products in the Moscow region town of Elektrostal.

The material in the socks that the company produces contains nanoparticles of silver that are woven into the cotton molecules, helping prevent foot odor and excessive perspiration.

They are available in clothing stores around Moscow, the Moscow region and St. Petersburg at prices ranging from 180 to 340 rubles ($6.50 to $12).

Moskalenko said a scientist had approached him with the idea of producing the socks 1 1/2 years ago, and before beginning production he voluntarily applied for and received a certificate from the Health and Social Development Ministry and the Kurchatov Institute, which oversees nanotechnology research.

Moskalenko said consumers had yet to grasp just how wonderful the socks are.

"But we expect a surge in demand very soon," he said. "To help this, we are planning to reduce prices next year through perfecting production techniques."

The responsibility for granting the certificates will pass to the Nanotechnology Corporation certification center.

"We are now putting into practice a system of certification for health-sensitive products containing nanoparticles," Viktor Ivanov, the head of the center, said in a telephone interview last week.

Ivanov said it would take up to two years to put the system together, so the field would remain pretty much open in the meantime.

"I am a biologist by education, and I know how nanotechnology works," said Alexei Samarkin, a Saratov-based Internet retailer who sells nanoshampoos and body lotions for people suffering from dry hair and skin as well as dandruff and psoriasis.

Samarkin said he bought the cosmetic products, called "The Harmony of Pure Metals," from the producers in the Moscow region. No one answered the telephone Monday at the number Samarkin provided for the supplier.

"The ultra-dispersion system of chrome, iron and copper molecules working together guarantees success," Samarkin said. "These products do not require certification. The main thing is that they work."

The shampoos and lotions sell for 130 to 160 rubles per bottle, largely on the strength of the 'nano' prefix.

"It is sexy, it attracts investment and generates profits," Leonid Melamed, Chubais' predecessor as head of the Nanotechnology Corporation, said in February, the technology web site reported.

As if to prove the point, and perhaps as an indication that with nanotechnology, smaller doesn't always mean better, at last week's forum a group of scientists from Chuvashia State University presented their project for the development of a silicon breast implant produced with the help of nanotechnology.

"We can prove that this breast is really nano," said Valery Kechakov, one of the authors of the project. "What we need is about 5 million rubles to begin production on an industrial scale."