Administration and Congress See Promise in Nanotechnology "This new technology is very exciting and might lead to discoveries that will change the way almost everything, from building materials to vaccines to computers, are designed and made." - Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)
As reported in FYI #44, the field of nanotechnology is garnering a lot of interest within the Administration and in Congress. With a $227 million increase for nanotechnology research, President Clinton has made the "National Nanotechnology Initiative" one of the major science and technology priorities in his FY 2001 budget request. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC - made up of the Administration's Cabinet members with science and technology responsibilities) have spent significant effort studying the potential of this field and putting together supporting documents to back up the President's initiative.
According to supplemental documents from Clinton's FY 2001 budget request, "The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures with fundamentally new molecular organization." Supporting materials from the NSTC state that "control of matter at molecular levels means tailoring the fundamental properties, phenomena, and processes exactly at the scale where the basic properties are determined. Therefore, by determining the novel properties of materials and systems at this scale, nanotechnology could impact the production of virtually every human-made object - everything from automobiles, tires, and computer circuits to advanced medicines and tissue replacements - and lead to the invention of objects yet to be imagined.... As the twenty-first century unfolds, nanotechnology's impact on the health, wealth, and security of the world's people is expected to be at least as significant as the combined influences in this century of antibiotics, the integrated circuit, and human-made polymers."
President Clinton's FY 2001 initiative would nearly double the federal investment in nanotechnology research over FY 2000 funding, increasing it by $227 million to a total of $497 million. The investment would be spread across many R&D agencies, with approximately 70 percent of the new money going to university-based research, to help produce a new generation of scientists skilled in this field. The investment strategy would build upon previous work, and be balanced across various mechanisms and activities: long-term fundamental nanoscience and engineering research; grand challenges; Centers and Networks of Excellence; research infrastructure; and the ethical, legal, and societal implications of progress in the field.
Under the FY 2001 budget request, NSF would receive $217 million for the initiative, an increase of $120 million, or 124 percent, over FY 2000. Other R&D agencies would receive the following amounts: DOD: an increase of $40 million (57%) to $110 million; DOE: an increase of $38 million (66%) to $96 million; NASA: an increase of $16 million (400%) to $20 million; Commerce Department: an increase of $10 million (125%) to $18 million; and NIH: an increase of $4 million (13%) to $36 million.
Congressional response so far seems generally supportive of federal investment in nanotechnology. At the Senate Science and Technology Caucus's April 5 Roundtable Discussion, Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) said, "research in nanotechnology is extremely important to future rates of innovation in the country. Innovation is the key to our comparative advantage in the global economy, yet federal investment in the physical sciences that help drive innovation - math, chemistry, geology, physics, and chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering - are all declining, as are the number of college and advanced degrees in these areas.... It is vitally important that we increase our investment in the physical sciences, including nanotechnology, if we are to see increases in productivity and incomes in the years ahead."
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), added that nanotechnology is "a fantastic new area of technology" with the promise of many commercial applications, but progress "will only occur if the federal government continues its investment in basic science." At a hearing of the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research last June, subcommittee chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) agreed that "it seems obvious" that the U.S. should "aggressively pursue research in this area." However, whether congressional appropriators have sufficient funds and see fit to support the research at the level requested by the President remains to be seen. Congress plans to begin drafting the appropriations bills later this month.
Further information on the Administration's nanotechnology initiative can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/EOP/OSTP/NSTC/html/iwgn/iwgn.fy01bud suppl/toc.htm
Audrey T. Leath