Senate Science and Technology Caucus Holds Briefing on Nanotechnology About three weeks ago the Senate Science and Technology Caucus had a roundtable on one of the most prominent S&T topics being discussed in Washington this year -- nanotechnology research. Several senators attended this briefing, which was somewhat like a hearing except conducted on a more informal basis. Appearing before the senators were Don Eigler of IBM, James L. Merz of the University of Notre Dame, Alton D. Romig, Jr. of Sandia, and Richard E. Smalley of Rice University. There was, as expected, much interesting discussion that afternoon. Passages from two of the presentations follow:
Richard E. Smalley, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry:
"The physical sciences (chemistry, physics, materials science) need a big boost. Funding in these critical areas have been flat for many years. As a direct consequence a severe shortage of bright young faculty has developed in these areas, and few young American boys and girls are electing to go into these areas in graduate schools through the U.S. But this is precisely the area from which the nanotechnology revolution will come. Chemistry, physics, and materials research are at the core of nanotechnology. These are the fields that discovered the atom and understood its inner workings, and developed the science of combining them in precise structures, and developed tools with which these nanostructures are probed and visualized. These are the fields that are developing the requisite fundamental knowledge, and the computational algorithms to realistically predict behavior. As nanotechnology develops, the critical, core areas of physics and chemistry in our nation's universities will become much more intimately coupled to engineering, to industry and society as a whole (Biotechnology is doing this now for large sections of the classic life sciences.) This greater relevance and higher-level funding will attract American youth to these classic core fields of science as never before. Trained in the physics and chemistry of nanotechnology they can reasonably expect to get high paying, high technology jobs that are of great social significance."
Don Eigler, IBM Fellow at Almaden Research Center:
"Why is IBM concerned about the federal government's role? Simply put, the job has got to get done and there is no way we can get the job done on our own. An economically viable and multi-industry era of nanotechnology will require a large knowledge base from which to grow, and a university-based infrastructure which produces well trained people. The federal government is the primary source of funds for university-based fundamental research. This research is the base from which new technologies are derived. This is NOT research that will get done in the private sector. The information technology industry does have a major R&D responsibility and it is investing heavily in R&D. However, competitive pressures cause the bulk of that investment to be short-term, and overwhelmingly devoted to the D side of R&D. Very few companies are able to invest in research that may not pay off for ten years or more. Despite this, the information technology sector has more than doubled its annual R&D investment over the past decade to its current level of about $30B. However, industrial R&D cannot replace government investment in long-term fundamental research. Federal and private research are largely complementary, not overlapping, activities."
Richard M. Jones