Although he was unable to attend Israel's first international conference on nanotechnology in Jerusalem on Monday because of his state visit to the Czech Republic, President Shimon Peres would have relished the fact that there were 800 participants - 150 of them from abroad and many at the top of their fields. In a videotaped message to the NanoIsrael conference at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel, Peres said he "started to talk about nanotechnology a few years ago. I believe I was the first to promote it here. I became a laughingstock because people said it was not serious. Now the potential is clear. I am glad the money we were able to collect has been divided among research institutes and universities." Peres, who is due to return early to attend Tuesday's Knesset presentation of the new government, declared that nanotechnology "offers great promise to all humankind. Nothing is new in nano; what is new is that we have discovered it... All things existed before, but we weren't able to see it." One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and nanotech involves the development of new materials, structures or objects up to 100 nanometers in size either by the "bottom up" approach in which atoms or molecules assemble themselves under chemical, electrical or other influences, or a "top-down" approach in which nanosized objects are cut down from larger entities. One such innovation is the "nano nose" developed by Tel Aviv University chemistry Prof. Doron Shabat. Using molecular techniques in nanotechnology, he developed new molecules that can magnify weak traces of minuscule substances such as pollution in water or explosives, as well as biomarkers in cancer, by "sniffing" them out. The "bionic nose" is actually a molecular sensor that can amplify such substances tenfold and make them detectable. The prototype is ready and will be used experimentally to improve healthcare, safety and security. The two-day conference is being chaired by Prof. Uri Banin, a Hebrew University chemist and director of the university's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and Prof. Nava Swersky Sofer, who initiated it and until recently was president and CEO of Yissum, the university's technology transfer company. Dan Vilenski of the Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative (INNI) compared the potential of nano today with that of semiconductors after World War II. "Then, people said semiconductors would never contribute to mankind, but now it is a trillion-dollar industry." INNI, he said, wants to persuade decision makers and industry that nano is a real business here with a great potential, worthy of commercial investment along with research and development in the academic world. Plenary speakers on the first day explained how nanocrystals were being developed to produce solar-energy cells; nanoelectrooptical techniques were being used to develop probes and other tools; nanowires are being designed to convert and store energy and how painless microneedle devices will be used for drug delivery. Meanwhile, it was announced at the conference that the establishment of a new Israeli consortium on nanotubes has been approved. These tiny devices can be used to strengthen light plastics, offer ballistic protection for vehicles, minimize combustion of burnt substances, dissipate heat and improve fuel cells, among others. Rafi Koriat, academic and industry liaison for INNI as well as founder and current CEO of Korel Business Ltd., and Prof. Yachin Cohen initiated the consortium.