If you were to ask your students to identify the big issues affecting businesses at the present time, they would probably include the effects of the recession, the impact of the social media, the growth of emerging economies such as India and China, e-commerce and new technology. However, if pressed on new technologies, it is unlikely that they would mention nanotechnology; yet developments in this field are set to revolutionise the nature and production of the goods and services we buy every day.

I first posted about a nanotechnology in January this year. Since then I have read articles about nanotechnology advances, but only in specialist sections of the media and not in a prominent position. The mainstream press appears slow to recognise the significance of this technological revolution.

Nanotechnology is the science of building machines at a subatomic level on the scale of molecules, a few nanometers wide, far smaller than a cell. The applications of nanotechnology are already to be found all around us. It can be employed to create new materials and devices with uses in industries such as medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. The BBC recently carried articles reporting on significant developments. The first described the use of nanowire to produce micro-sized computer chips. It also identified further applications in the manufacture of smart fabrics and clothing, which can generate power from the wearer’s natural movement. The most recent concerned the creation of the ‘world’s lightest material’, which researchers say is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam with “extraordinarily high energy absorption” properties; potential uses include next-generation batteries and shock absorbers.

Nanotechnology has already been used in some ground breaking ways. Helen Storey, the fashion designer, has brought the worlds of art and science together by creating  biodegradable  fabrics to reduce waste and by designing a range of  ‘catalytic clothing’ impregnated with photocatalysts – light-sensitive substances (containing nano-titania particles) which purify the air around the wearer as they walk. These can also be added to fabric softeners to turn all clothing into pollution-eating materials. Similar photocatlysts are used in self-cleaning glass and building coatings to reduce pollution staining as well as offering radical methods of water purification.


Class assignments

1. This exercise could be conducted towards the end of the business and management course when concentrating on strategic issues through an holistic approach to the programme.

  • Ask your students to list 5 big issues that are affecting global business at this moment
  • Collate the issues and tally the results to produce the top 5 for the class
  • Split the class into 5 groups and allocate each group a big issue
  • Each group selects three firms in three different industries and examines how the issue allocated will affect the selected firms in terms of their marketing, financial and human resource operations over the next 3 – 5 years

2. Break your class into groups to examine the potential of nanotechnology. Each group:

  • Investigates the present applications of nanotechnology
  • Suggests another potential application of the technologies identified
  • Prepares a presentation to potential financial investors explaining the application, identifying a target market and outlining a marketing plan