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A Call for Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges

Today, the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Request for Information seeking suggestions for Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges for the Next Decade.

Today, June 17, the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking suggestions for Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges for the Next Decade. A Grand Challenge is an ambitious but achievable goal that requires advances in science and technology to achieve, and that has the potential to capture the public’s imagination.

Under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), scientists, engineers, and educators are building a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry. The collective effort of this community to achieve the vision of the NNI has greatly accelerated the discovery, development, and deployment of nanotechnology to address broad national needs.

In a recent review of the NNI, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology called for government agencies, industry, and the research community to identify and pursue nanotechnology Grand Challenges. Through today’s RFI, we want to hear your game-changing ideas for Grand Challenges that harness nanoscience and nanotechnology to solve important national or global problems. These Grand Challenges should stimulate additional public and private investment, and foster the commercialization of Federally-funded nanotechnology research.

What would a nanotechnology-inspired Grand Challenge look like? Although nanoscale science and technology is a broadly enabling discipline, not every worthwhile Grand Challenge is going to be solved using nanotechnology. But we believe there are compelling, ambitious challenges where the known benefits of nanoscale science and technology are likely to play an important role in solving the problem. Here are some examples developed by the NNI agencies, working with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and OSTP (see the RFI for more details):

By 2025, the nanotechnology R&D community is challenged to achieve the following:

  1. Increase the five-year survival rates by 50% for the most difficult to treat cancers.
  2. Create devices no bigger than a grain of rice that can sense, compute, and communicate without wires or maintenance for 10 years, enabling an “internet of things” revolution.
  3. Create computer chips that are 100 times faster yet consume less power.
  4. Manufacture atomically-precise materials with fifty times the strength of aluminum at half the weight and the same cost.
  5. Reduce the cost of turning sea water into drinkable water by a factor of four.
  6. Determine the environmental, health, and safety characteristics of a nanomaterial in a month.

What would you propose? Read more about what makes an effective Grand Challenge and how to propose your own Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges for the Next Decade and comment on these examples here. Responses must be received by July 16, 2015 to be considered.

Lloyd Whitman is Assistant Director for Nanotechnology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP.