NSF & Congress
Summary: House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Basic Research Hearing
on the State of Nanotechnology and Its Prospects for the Future
June 22, 1999
The House Science Committee Subcommittee on Basic research
examined the state of nanotechnology and its prospects
for the future in a hearing on June 22.
Dr. Eugene Wong, Assistant Director for Engineering,
described how techniques for working at the scale
of nanometers (a human hair is about 10,000 nanometers)
have transformed the way scientists and engineers
think about materials, electronics, medicine, and
energy technologies. By exploiting properties that
exist at the molecular level, it is possible to design
and synthesize materials that will find applications
in microcomputer chips, new types of batteries, artificial
photosynthesis, medical diagnosis and treatment, as
well as a host of strong, lightweight materials.
Dr. Richard Smalley, a Nobel Laureate at Rice University,
spoke eloquently about the potential for understanding
and applying nanotechnology in biological systems
as a way of providing treatments for cancer. Research
on carbon nano-tubes is expected to result in fibers
100 times stronger than steel, at only one-sixth the
Dr. Paul McWhorter, Sandia National Laboratories,
narrated a video of micro-machines made of silicon
with features smaller than a human red blood cell.
He predicted that micromachines will have the same
profound impact on our lives in the next 30 years
that microelectronics have had in the past 30 years.
Dr. Ralph Merkle, Xerox PARC, envisioned a pervasive
change in manufacturing with the growth molecular
nanotechnology. A complete understanding of the self-replicating
processes of DNA should lead us to the ability to
develop programmable self-replicating assemblers capable
of making a wide range of products from non-biological
All of the witnesses emphasized the need to capitalize
on the early advances in nanotechnology with increased
funding for a coordinated interagency research initiative.
Currently, nanotechnology research accounts for about
$230 million in the Federal research portfolio. Committee
members were interested in how we monitor what other
nations are doing in nanotechnology and how an enhanced
interagency effort would be managed.