The exhibitions and seminars at nano tech 2012 covered areas that included biotechnology, ICT and electronics, and the environment and energy. This year there were exhibitors from 22 countries (35% of the exhibitors and 26% of the booths) including first-time attendees from Belarus, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg.

Notably, researchers from Japan's major research organizations – the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology; the National Institute for Materials Science; RIKEN; the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization – were present in force, perhaps reflecting the increasing number of "reach-out programs" initiated by these government-run research establishments.

An increasingly large area of the huge exhibition was occupied by exhibitors from Asia-Pacific countries including China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, reflecting their increasing investment and scientific advances in nanotechnology.

The recent turmoil caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the floods in Thailand has led to greater awareness of developments in nanotechnology to address real-life issues. For exhibitors from Asia-Pacific this was clearly reflected, in the Thai pavilion, in the theme "Nanotechnology for natural disaster mitigation".

"The floods in Thailand in 2011 were a wake-up call for nanotech researchers in Thailand," said Professor Sirirurg Songsivilai, executive director of the Thailand National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC), located north of Bangkok. "This experience led us to direct our resources for the development of nanotechnology to prepare for and prevent disasters, as well as for dealing with emergency situations during and after such calamities. The floods severely disrupted the activities of our scientists at the NANOTEC research facilities at the Thailand Science Park. We had to close for two months."

NANOTEC has defined five main areas of nanotechnology for the mitigation of natural disasters: (1) water-filtration technology for cleaning water in areas contaminated with heavy metals and fertilizers; (2) long-life insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets and mosquito-repellent lotions; (3) smart fertilizers that respond to the life cycle of plants such as rice, sugarcane and orchids; (4) nano-marking as safety tags for products containing nanoparticles; (5) smart soil consisting of carbonaceous soil or biochar from water hyacinth or biomass to condition soil.

"During the floods it was not possible to remove bacteria from water using conventional water purification technology," explains Songsivilai. "To overcome this situation we have developed a portable 'SOS-water' system, which consists of solar-powered water-purification technology able to remove bacteria and supply clean water to 10,000 people." Conditions after flooding can lead to infection including severe cases of diarrhoea. "Tracking infection after flood waters recede is vital," said Songsivilai. "We are developing nanoparticle-based assays for medical diagnostics to detect and monitor infection."

Other projects include new detergents that are not harmful to the environment and crops – such as rice – that are more resilient to flooding. "Paddy fields were devastated by the floods," explains Songsivilai. "The main reason is that rice plants grow rapidly when immersed in water. Under normal conditions this is not a problem, but when there is a flood and the water recedes, the long shoots of rice plants collapse and the crop fails. So we are developing rice plants that do not grow suddenly when there is a flood. In effect we want the rice plants to 'stay calm' during the flood because growing suddenly in response to the water will destroy them."

Perhaps the most eye-catching invention for handling flooding is the nano-sack or N-Sack. The material is made to be superabsorbent using hydrogel and nano-coating. "This may replace conventional sandbags for flood management," said Songsivilai.

nano tech 2013 is scheduled for 30 January–1 February 2013 at Tokyo Big Sight, Japan.