[Ed. Note: This has been cross-posted from strategy.nano.gov]
In the 1990s, I worked for President Clinton’s National Economic Council. Starting in 1998, I worked with a broad range of science agencies to develop the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which President Clinton unveiled in January 2000.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology concluded in their recent review of the NNI that the government needs to continue to support fundamental nanoscale science and engineering, but that the federal government also needs to place a greater emphasis on exploitation and commercialization. Below are a few ideas with respect to coordination and partnerships, the topic of this week’s questions being discussed on the NNI Strategy Portal:
First, we need to identify some particular drivers or applications of nanotechnology that are likely to be economically important, and will help meet critical national objectives. The NNI Signature Initiatives are one attempt to identify such areas, whether it’s extending Moore's law beyond the limits of today's silicon-based integrated circuits, or developing solar cells as cheap as paint. The NNI Signature Initiatives are a new way for Federal agencies to work together through greater program-level coordination. Do you have ideas about other ways that Federal agencies can work together, or examples from past efforts that we should consider? What’s the best way to involve industry in these signature initiatives?
A second idea to help the U.S. exploit and commercialize nanotechnologies is a greater emphasis on cost-effective, repeatable, high volume manufacturing. How do we incorporate nanoscale “building blocks” into complex, integrated, functional nanosystems? What partnerships would strengthen the U.S. nanomanufacturing base?
Third, it is worth exploring how the U.S. Government can support more university-industry collaboration as a way of accelerating the transition of ideas from the lab to the marketplace. For example, the semiconductor industry’s Nanoelectronics Research Initiative is a partnership designed to demonstrate novel computing devices capable of replacing the CMOS transistor as a logic switch in the 2020 timeframe. Is this a model that we could try to replicate in other industries? What other sectors would be interested in jointly funding university-based research that is beyond the time horizons of individual firms? Do we have the funding mechanisms to support large-scale, government-industry-university collaborations?
A partnership model to effectively engage the research community in agenda-setting is the Computing Community Consortium (CCC). With support from the National Science Foundation, the CCC allows the computer science community to establish a vision for the field and quickly mobilize the community to pursue “big ideas.” Could this type of consortium work for the nanotechnology research community?
Over the next 10 years, we will continue to see new products with significant improvements in performance and functionality. Please take some time to post your ideas and join the discussion at the NNI Strategy Portal. The Administration needs your insight and expertise as we support research to build “a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.”
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy