Last week, many big names from the Federal government’s past and present efforts in science and technology came together just outside Washington, DC, at the “NNI Innovation Summit” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)—the multi-agency cooperative effort designed to catalyze breakthroughs in nanoscale science and engineering.
President Obama’s science and technology advisor, John P. Holdren, opened the Summit and was joined by past science advisors John Marburger and Neal Lane in a conversation about the past and future of the NNI. In a spirited conversation, all three recognized the transformative impact of the NNI while noting the critical need for interdisciplinary education and the development of a trained nanotechnology workforce to maintain the Initiative’s great momentum. Dr. Holdren emphasized this Administration’s focus on science and technology and highlighted its commitment to responsible development of nanotechnology with appropriate attention to environment, health, and safety issues. He also highlighted some of the recommendations from the recent assessment by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, including that report’s call for Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives focused on specific technologies such as nanoelectronics and nanomanufacturing.
Since its inception in 2000, the NNI has set the pace around the globe for ground-breaking interdisciplinary research and infrastructure development that is critical for nanotechnology innovation. The NNI has catalyzed remarkable advances in electronics, medicine, energy, manufacturing, and many other areas, enabling a broad spectrum of applications that range from the evolutionary to the extraordinary. Starting with a roughly $500 million investment by half-a-dozen agencies, the NNI has developed into an engine of innovation that interconnects 25 Federal science departments and agencies and has invested a total of $12 billion in one of the world’s fastest moving areas of science and engineering.
Last week’s highly anticipated meeting brought together senior leadership in the Federal government, including Energy Secretary Steve Chu and directors from many NNI agencies, as well as distinguished leaders and innovators from industry and academia. The event was kicked off on Wednesday with the NNI Strategic Plan and Opportunities Workshop, which focused on the NNI Strategic Plan, with a packed program of presentations by NNI agency representatives. Wednesday was also the first day of the Nanotechnology Innovation Showcase, an exhibition of about 100 of the latest developments from a wide range of innovators in areas including advanced nanotechnology-based lighting sources, light-weight nanocomposite materials for body armor, and nanoscale medical therapies.
By Friday evening, as the inspiring gathering came to a close, there was a palpable sense of enthusiasm and optimism among attendees. The NNI is still a relatively young initiative, and there are many exciting nanotechnology developments on the horizon. As Dr. Holdren said in his closing remarks, “I hope that I will be able to join you 10 years from now, with the next President’s science advisor, to revel together in all that is new in the world of nano.”
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Travis Earles is Assistant Director for Nanotechnology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy