The Federal Government has invested over $20 billion in nanotechnology research over the past 13 years, yielding fruitful work that has successfully helped create the building blocks of nanoscience. Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released the Report to the President and Congress on the Fifth Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The report, PCAST’s fifth review of the NNI, concludes that the nanotechnology community is at an important turning point.
The NNI vision is to help realize a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry with cross-cutting societal impact in fields as diverse as medicine, energy, and computing. The report recommends that the Federal Government accelerate its activities aimed at facilitating the commercialization of the past decade’s worth of Federally sponsored research, thereby enabling the Nation to reap the benefits of this investment. To help focus the commercialization process, PCAST calls for the nanotechnology community to take on a series of national nanotechnology Grand Challenges.
Specific nanotechnology Grand Challenges provide a way to turn revolutionary scientific advances into products that leverage existing opportunities and meaningfully address existing needs. In the report, PCAST recommends that the Federal Government establish and execute a process for engaging the nanotechnology community to identify specific Grand Challenges that best support these goals. PCAST also provides some specific recommendations regarding the formulation of the Grand Challenges and innovation prizes and public-private partnerships to support them, as well as a focus on manufacturing challenges. Finally, the report details several program management updates to leadership initiatives, advisory input, evaluation metrics, and other areas to ensure the continuing success of the NNI.
New Federal activities can catalyze the creation of business partnerships among academic researchers, entrepreneurs, the venture capital community, and industries that produce promising nanotechnologies, while simultaneously harnessing the manufacturing sector to scale up these technologies for commercial application. In doing so, the Government and its partners in other sectors must also ensure that these advances are developed in an ecosystem that is sensitive and supportive to the progress the community has made addressing environmental, health, and safety issues associated with nanotechnology.
As the National Nanotechnology Initiative embarks on this revolutionary shift towards commercialization, continued support of fundamental research remains critical. Just as the last decade of research has given rise to the present opportunity for commercial applications of nanotechnology, new technologies developed a decade from now will be built on the exploration and discovery of today. Support for creative and high-risk research will help sustain this country’s advanced nanotechnology infrastructure and keep the most talented scientists and engineers in the United States, even in the face of global competition.
The NNI has helped build the world’s leading nanotechnology research and development enterprise, and potential breakthroughs in drug delivery, energy technology, smart sensors, clean water, quantum computing, and more are within reach. Nanotechnologies may be small, but their present and future impact is enormous.
Read the full report here.
Michael McQuade and Mark Gorenberg are members of PCAST and co-chairs of the PCAST NNI Review.
PCAST is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. For more information about PCAST, please visit the PCAST website.