As recently as two decades ago, most Americans had never heard of nanotechnology. They couldn't have known that work to manipulate materials at the molecular level would become a major area of research with promise to improve nearly every aspect of our everyday lives.
But in 2008, Oklahoma is home to businesses and higher education institutions capitalizing on nanotechnology. Most Oklahomans now know of nanotechnology and that it will be a money maker for the state, according a recent survey. What nanotechnology is
remains a bit fuzzy for most of us, but such is life when you're living in the technological fast lane.
It's difficult — if not impossible — to see what will get researchers excited 20 or even 10 years from now. But this much we know: Oklahoma has been wisely investing in research and technology for the past two decades, knowing that the payoff might not come for years. As the state begins its second century, that investment must grow.
In 2006, lawmakers created the Economic Development Generating Excellence fund at the behest of a blue-ribbon panel. The goal is a $1 billion endowment to help fund research and promising high-tech projects to help make the state's economy more diverse and prosperous. So far, lawmakers have deposited only about $150 million — far too little in a world where technology advances more quickly than ever before.
The state also is lucky to have the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, an agency pursuing technology-related economic development.
Lawmakers have no crystal ball accurate enough to predict what kind of investments might produce the biggest future payday. Investing in research and technology can be risky business, but it's a risk worth taking. That's especially true if policy-makers will continue putting money into the EDGE endowment and OCAST.