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Nanotech R&D Increasing At "Extraordinary Rate"

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 676 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... U.S. NANOTECH FUNDING HEADS FOR $1 BILLION HORIZON By
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      U.S. NANOTECH FUNDING HEADS FOR $1 BILLION HORIZON
      By Samuel K. Moore
      Spectrum Online
      June 1, 2002

      http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/resource/jun02/nnano.html

      With its request for US $710.2 million in nanotechnology research funding
      for the 2003 fiscal year, the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI),
      the umbrella program coordinating nanotechnology research for 10 government
      agencies, is accelerating its R&D efforts at an extraordinary rate. The
      program has grown more than five-fold since its formal inception in 1997,
      and in the President's budget, the NNI is requesting a 17 percent increase
      over fiscal year 2002.

      A further increase may be imminent as well, now that the U.S House of
      Representatives has stepped in, proposing a bill on 7 May that would raise
      the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) contribution by almost 8
      percent. But the program is still small potatoes in some ways, and Europe
      and Japan are in a funding frenzy of their own.

      By 2001, more than 30 countries had activities or plans in nanotechnology.
      These range from broad general science programs, such as those in the United
      States and France, to industry-focused programs like Taiwan's. The United
      States' proposed 2003 funding would make up about 30 percent of the
      estimated $2.15 billion worldwide government spending on nanotechnology.
      According to NSF figures, the country is likely behind Japan by tens of
      millions in research funding, but ahead of Western Europe by about $200
      million. With respect to Europe and Japan, the United States does not have
      the commanding lead in nanotechnology that it holds in biotechnology and
      information technology, says Mihail C. Roco, the NSF's senior advisor on
      nanotechnology. "In nanotechnology, it's a more balanced field."

      Securing the bucks

      Despite the big noise nanotechnology makes in the media, it is not a large
      part of the federal R&D pie. The proposed FY2003 NNI budget would comprise
      only a thin slice­0.3 percent of the total. Proponents, of course, want a
      bigger cut, but physical sciences, under which most of nanotechnology falls,
      has not faired well in recent budgets...

      William B. Bonvillian, legislative director and chief counsel to Senator
      Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), suggested that those in nanotechnology look to
      the grass roots support structure that biomedical science has developed for
      itself, one that doubled the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) budget
      in the 1990s. "Pharmaceutical and biotech companies watch out for NIH's
      underlying funding," he told technologists and bureaucrats at the NNI
      conference in May in Arlington, Va. "Nothing like this exists in physical
      sciences."

      Bonvillian pressed nanotechnologists to help get Congress involved. The 7
      May bill in the House of Representatives may be a good start, putting the
      NSF's budget on track to double over the next five years. But nanotechnology
      funding will only be sustained if the initiative is turned from a
      discretionary program put forth by the executive branch of government to a
      semipermanent legislated one, he says. However, he understood there might be
      some trepidation about involving the legislative branch. "Congress is not
      known for its rational scientific thinking," he acknowledged.

      Shifting focus

      The focus of research has begun to shift from making nanoscale objects to
      scaling up their manufacture and using them. The NNI is driving some of this
      change by emphasizing manufacturing in its FY2002‹03 funding. The two other
      "grand challenges" for those years are the use of nanotechnology in
      detection of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons and explosives
      (in large part a reaction to last year's terrorist attacks), and the use of
      technology for nanoscale instrumentation and metrology.

      Some things haven't changed, though. While four more government agencies
      have officially joined the NNI this year, the big spenders remain the same.
      At a proposed $221 million, the National Science Foundation is the top
      funding agency, but it is followed closely by the Department of Defense's
      $201 million. Clifford Lau, deputy undersecretary of defense for
      acquisitions, technologies and logistics, and an IEEE Fellow, says DOD's
      work in nanotechnology began in electronics in the 1980s, and he sees
      applications in new lightweight bullet-proof armors and more powerful
      explosives.

      The bulk of NNI funding goes to public research organizations -- 75 percent
      to universities and 22 percent to national laboratories. The remaining 2
      percent is slated for industry. Roco would like to see greater industry
      involvement, possibly through programs such as the Small Business Innovative
      Research (SBIR) program, which makes grants to small businesses for
      high-risk R&D.

      Education remains a top priority as well. "The critical aspect will be the
      preparation of the workforce," says Roco. He calculates that to get to a
      projected $1 trillion market in 10‹15 years, 2 million people worldwide will
      have to be working in nanotechnology.

      The importance of a trained workforce was echoed by the heads of major
      university-based nanotechnology centers, each of which has an educational
      component that extends as early as elementary school. "Probably the most
      important contribution of a university to industry is students who know what
      they're doing," said Robert Westervelt, principal investigator of the
      Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at Harvard University (Cambridge,
      Mass.).

      The National Nanotechnology Initiative's Web site is at:

      http://nano.gov

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