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Nanotechnology research and development funding almost doubled to more than $10 billion in 2004 from the previous year. Most of the increase was driven by a big jump in corporate and private funding, which grew by 160 percent, while government and academic research outlays on nanotech R&D increased by a vigorous, but less outstanding, 37 percent. Japan led the way, with expenditures approaching $4 billion; the United States, however, was not far behind, with spending of about $3.4 billion.

The expected payoff for all this investment could be huge, even over the next few years. Nanotech was already a $10 billion market last year, and that is expected to triple by 2008. Much of that growth will result from new nanomaterials. By 2008, more than $100 billion in products will likely involve some type of nanotechnology.

Still, only about half of Americans have heard anything about nanotechnology. Much has been made of the potential nanotech risks, from uncontrollable nanorobots to the breathing in of nanoparticles. Not surprisingly, public fears are directly correlated with the amount of knowledge that people have about nanotech: the less knowledge, the more fear.

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