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That is the message from University of Otago research and enterprise deputy vice-chancellor Richard Blaikie, who made the comments after a public lecture in Dunedin on ''Seeing Small'', where he spoke about the history of nanotechnology and optics and its current applications.
Nanotechnology, which involves the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale, could add billions of dollars to the New Zealand economy, he said.
The Government was already taking positive steps to ensure there was growth in the sector, he said. This could be seen with the creation of Callaghan Innovation, which would aim to get the country's most innovative ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace more quickly once it became operational next month.
It was also important the number of companies involved in nanotechnology increased, which would give ''people the belief we can do this stuff here as well'', he said.
If the sector grew, New Zealand would be more likely to attract big players, such as computer chip manufacture Intel, to its shores. However, attracting the big companies was also dependent on other factors, including tax rates, he said.
At the public lecture, which was part of Otago University's latest annual ''Hands-on-Science'' school, Prof Blaikie spoke about the importance of nanotechnology, which had applications in everything ''from airbags to iPhones''.
He also spoke about the related field of optics and the quest to build microscopes that could see ''smaller and smaller'' things.
This goal was related to the massive industry around building smaller computer chips, with powerful lenses used to print semiconductors on silicon.
Prof Blaikie said the rapid progress of this industry had been amazing.
''I sit in awe and wonder at this technology. In 50 years, we have gone to a scale of electronics that we can see with our naked eye ... to one where there are now billions of transistors on a grain of rice circuit that we need advanced imaging techniques to print,'' he said.