On 10 March 2000 the NASDAQ hit an all-time high, heralding the peak of the dotcom boom. Two years later, it lay in ruins as the companies tanked. Will this surge go the same way?
It’s an all too-familiar sight; stock brokers and deal-makers trampling each other underfoot to get in on the action; investors greedily absorbing every news report of another breakthrough without any hesitation.
This new-age technology is going to solve all the world’s problems, or so it seems. “Just make the stuff from atoms, what could be simpler?” say punters.
But let’s not forget that market behavior is based on the assumption that individuals all make rational decisions. That very assumption is in itself, irrational. Herd mentality and mass reaction have very little to do with reason and foresight.
Not that nanotech hasn’t changed the world. From solar energy to computer chips; from medicine to food production; fuel cells, water treatment – there’s almost no industry that is immune to nanotech’s Midas touch.
Some market leaders have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Companies unheard of two years ago now dominate the Fortune 500. Financial ratios and common sense have gone out the window as nothing seems impossible.
Is this history repeating itself? Will the hype fizzle away, leaving us in the trough of disillusion, before the industry matures? And how many fortunes will be lost in the process?
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Nanotechnology refers to the research and process of controlling matter and materials on an atomic and molecular scale. Structures that are less than 100 nanometers in size are usually included. The field of nanotechnology includes molecular manufacturing, a bottom-up approach of assembling structures and materials from atomic components, as well as the development and use of nanomaterials – nano-scale particles of common materials like carbon and silver, that exhibit radically different properties.
Nanotech generally relies on advanced chemical synthesis, using atomic bonding properties of atoms and ions to construct molecular structures, as well as devices like the Atomic Force Microscope, which can deposit chemicals in a desired pattern on a substrate at the nano-scale. Nanotech approaches also use focused ion beams and gasses to deposit or remove materials with almost molecular precision.
The use of biological molecules such as DNA also holds great promise for creating self-assembling structures and devices.
2010: Energy crunch
Although world attention was diverted from the looming energy crisis by the Credit Crunch, the spotlight is back on alternatives to fossil fuel, as soon as economic recovery is underway. Nanotech offers a solution by exponentially boosting efficiencies of chemical energy systems, like solar panels and batteries.
Electronics like computer chips manufactured at nano dimensions require less power and produce higher performance, saving energy. Carbon nano-tubes provide the building blocks for strong, lightweight materials, as well as electronic sensors and transmitters.
2013: Biotech surge
Aided by nanotech, biotech industries help to fuel the current boom. Everything from genetically engineered bacteria that excrete diesel to gene therapy for replacing cosmetic surgery. But biotech has one big drawback – it’s expensive, as organic procedures require sterile controlled environments to yield reliable results.
Despite this fact, the well-heeled are ordering replacement bladders and other body parts.
2016: Mini recession
Following the cycle of decades, the bull market turns and there is a global slump. But it’s not big enough to be called a recession, nor does it evoke headlines of a “CRISIS!” The shine comes off some of the biotech and greentech stocks, and a fair dose of reality sets in.
Tech investors re-arrange their portfolios and wait for the next big thing. And some are betting it will be nanotech. They’ve heard how nanomaterials make great catalysts and super-conductors.
2018: Solar shines
Nanotech solar energy is now cheaper than coal. The latest solar panels use self-assembling structures as thin as paint, ‘printed’ onto flexible and solid surfaces like ink. Now whole walls and buildings can become solar energy collectors. This revolution in power production creates entirely new business models for energy utilities and construction companies.
Synthetic nanomaterials lie at the heart of this revolution. But can one patent a molecule? An international legal debate rages, as China decides to mass produce these materials without licensing them.
2020: Mega nano boom
The NASDAQ soars above 5,000 for the first time in 20 years. Investors scramble not be left behind. Tech is the investment darling, and hairdressers and shoe-shine boys repeat the well used phrase: “Are you getting into nanotech yet?”
But like the heady dotcom boom of 2000, the wise money is already bailing, knowing that this bubble, like previous ones, will inevitably burst.