Government Nanotechnology Funding: An International Outlook*
Chair, WH/NSTC/Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee
Senior Advisor, NSF, email@example.com.
Chair, National Science and Technology
Council's Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology,
(*) Based on the presentation made at the Cornell
Nanofabrication Center, September 15, 2000.
All natural and living systems are governed by atomic and molecular behavior
at the nanoscale. Research is now seeking systematic approaches to create
revolutionary new products and technologies by control of matter at the
same scale. Fundamental discoveries and potential implications of nanotechnology
to wealth, health and peace have captured the imagination of scientists,
industry and government experts. The National Nanotechnology Initiative
(NNI) has become a top national priority in science and technology in
U.S. for fiscal year 2001, with a Federal nanotechnology investment portfolio
of $422 million. Nanotechnology is expected to have a profound impact
on our economy and society in the earlier 21st century.
The vision, research and development strategy, and timeline of the nanotechnology
initiative are presented by using several recent scientific discoveries
and results from industry.
INTELLECTUAL DRIVE TOWARDS THE NANOWORLD
The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic, molecular
and macromolecular levels in order to create materials, devices and systems
with fundamentally new properties and functions. Building blocks are atoms
and molecules, or their assemblies such as nanoparticles, nanolayers,
nanowires and nanotubes. The relative arrangement of the elementary blocks
of matter into their assemblies leads to new properties and functions
even for the same chemical composition. For example, the arrangement of
the carbon atoms at nanoscale is the only difference between soft graphite,
hard diamond, and conducting nanotubes. Machines with complex functions
on the scale of a virus or a human cell are envisioned.
Scientific discoveries and technological innovations are at the core
of human endeavor. Besides the societal needs of wealth and health, there
is an intrinsic need for intellectual advancement, working at the frontiers.
The intellectual drive towards the nanoworld has sparked the current developments
in nanoscale science and engineering. Nanotechnology will allow us to
reach beyond our natural size limitation and work directly at the building
blocks of matter. This holds the promise for a new renaissance in our
understanding of nature, means for improving human performance, and a
new industrial revolution in coming decades. We are beginning not only
to see, touch, smell, and uncover unique phenomena at the building blocks
of matter, but also to manipulate them and manufacture under control for
a given purpose. Understanding the nature and manufacturing at the nanoscale
may have wide implications on our civilization in long term. Because of
the high risk – high return, long term, broad based and interdisciplinary
nature of the research and development (R&D) and the potential societal
benefits, nanotechnology has received national public attention and support
in U.S. (NSTC, 1999 and 2000). Interest towards nanoscale research is
growing in virtually every industrial nation.
A RICH NATURAL THRESHOLD
The first level of organization of atoms and molecules into "defect free"
coherent structures such as crystalline grains, clusters, or biomotors
is at the nanoscale. This scale is between a single atom and bulk behavior;
that is, between a fraction of nanometer to about 100 nanometers as a
function of the material structure and phenomena under consideration.
At the nanoscale, living and non-biological materials can interact and
establish hybrid systems, and interactions are determined by a rich information
on surfaces. Most of the specific phenomena manifest at distances just
under 10-20 nanometers. This is the scale where the basic building blocks
of matter are established, where the fundamental properties are defined
and can be adjusted as a function of the size, shape and pattern of the
matter at the nanoscale. The way in which the matter is organized further
into larger structures also plays an essential role on the bulk behavior.
In nanotechnology, we are looking to engineer products by control at the
nanoscale and integration along larger scales.
Establishing understanding and manufacturing methods at the building
blocks of matter is a historical opportunity in human development. The
ability to rearrange matter on a nanoscale is potentially a very economical
way to obtain functionality, with the promise of becoming the highest-added-value
manufacturing approach. The matter can be rearranged at this scale by
using weak interactions, such as electrostatic dipole, hydrogen bonds,
van der Walls forces, hydrophobic/hydrophilic interactions, complimentary
DNA hybridization, fluidic assembly, and other assembling and patterning
approaches. Guided selfassembling is an example where the arrangement
of molecules is made under control by an external magnetic field, electric
field, flow field, templating or other means. Manipulation of matter with
atomic/molecular precision by weak interactions requires relatively low
energy dissipation, significantly lower that changes at the subatomic
level or changes at larger scales for obtaining the same property or function.
It may become the ultimate manufacturing approach once one would achieve
fundamental understanding of phenomena and processes at that scale.
Nanoscale is a complex interdisciplinary playground. A nanoscale system
requires time- dependent investigations of various simultaneous phenomena
among a large number of components and scales.
THE VISION FOR NANOTECHNOLOGY R&D
At the end of 1996, we have identified nanotechnology as a dormant opportunity
with immense potential, and we began the process of establishing a vision
for the field, what should be achieved, and how to reach the best outcomes.
Pervasive scientific drivers toward the nanoworld and the promise of high
societal return were the reasons. Discovery of novel material structures
with fundamentally new properties, new tools demonstrating nanoscale phenomena,
new molecular assembling and fabrication techniques leading to nanoscale
manufacturing, were facts suggesting a set of general and unitary principles
for a variety of disciplines and areas of application. The promise to
better understand nature, a new world of products that are not possible
otherwise, highly efficient manufacturing of almost all human made objects,
molecular medicine and an avenue to long term sustainable development
were the main societal drivers.
Education will move from the microscopic to molecular concepts at all
levels, and more general and creative research will be stimulated. A significant
benefit is the synergism among disciplines and areas of relevance. Nanotechnology
R&D should encourage studies on societal and educational implications.
Current scientific breakthroughs that act as internal stimuli for further
nanotechnology R&D. Nanoparticles and nanolayers with different functions,
tubes and wires of various materials, three-dimensional molecular assemblies
and tissue replacements, have been synthesized. Novel tools such as the
nano-mechanical tweezers and various microscopes have been developed.
Quantum behavior at room temperature and quantum corral have been demonstrated.
New processes include guided selfassembling, biomimetic templating, and
fabrication with atomic precision. Ultrasmall devices have been designed
and tested, including molecular electronics devices, nanobiomotors, nano-
electro-mechanical systems (NEMS). Examples of area of relevance are revolutionary
computing (chemical, DNA-based, quantum computing, spin electronics),
preparation of chemicals and biostructures, new drug synthesis and delivery
methods into human body, multifunctional nanostructured composite materials,
to name only a few. The main scientific drivers are discovery of new phenomena
at nanoscale, methods of measurements and modeling of large number of
nano-objects, understanding the connection between nanostructure and function,
manipulation with atomic and molecular precision, assembling and connecting
at nanoscale, understanding modern biology and the synergism with information
The promise of nanoscale science and engineering for understanding the
nature, improving health, wealth, sustainable development and peace acts
as an external stimulus for the field. Here are several examples based
on research in progress or envisioned by private sector:
- Manufacturing: The nanometer scale is expected to become a highly
efficient length scale for manufacturing. Materials with high performance,
unique properties and functions will be produced that traditional chemistry
could not create.
- Electronics: Nanotechnology is projected to yield annual production
about $300 billion for the semiconductor industry and few times more
for global integrated circuits sales within 10 to15 years.
- Improved Healthcare: Nanotechnology will help extend the life span,
improve its quality, and extend human physical capabilities.
- Pharmaceuticals: About half of all production will be dependent on
nanotechnology - affecting over $180 billion per year in 10 to15 years.
- Chemical Plants: Nanostructured catalysts have applications in the
petroleum and chemical processing industries, with an estimated annual
impact of $100 billion in 10 to 15 years.
- Sustainability: Nanotechnology will improve agricultural yields for
an increased population, provide more economical water filtration and
desalination (such as the DARPA flow through capacitator with aligned
carbon nanotube electrodes), and enable renewable energy sources (such
as highly efficient solar energy conversion); it will reduce the need
for scarce material resources and diminish pollution for a cleaner environment.
For example, in 10-15 years, projections indicate that such nanotechnology-based
lighting advances have the potential to reduce worldwide consumption
of energy by more than 10%, reflecting a savings of $100 billion dollars
per year and a corresponding reduction of 200 million tons of carbon
These examples show that nanotechnology has the potential to significantly
change a large cross-section of the economy in the next decades in industrialized
countries. Technology drivers include extension of Moore's law behind
microelectronics, biologically based devices and biomimetics, new functional
materials (constructive, catalysts, pharmaceutics, etc.), quantum technology
and portable electronic devices.
A ROLE FOR ENGINEERING
Physical, chemical, biological, materials and engineering sciences have
arrived to nanoscale about the same time. Engineering plays an important
role because when we refer to nanotechnology we speak about ‘systems’
at nanoscale, where the treatment of simultaneous phenomena in multibody
assemblies would require integration of disciplinary methods of investigation
and an engineering system approach. The manipulation of a large system
of molecules is equally challenging to a thermodynamics engineer researcher
as it is to a single-electron physics researcher. They need to work together.
Engineering needs to redefine its domain of relevance to effectively take
this role in conjunction with other disciplines. Several reasons for an
increased role of engineering are:
- Nanotechnology deals with systems at nanoscale, which are hierarchically
integrated in architectures at larger scales. Typically, the number
of components is in the range of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands.
Such components are defined by their collective behavior.
- Multiple phenomena act simultaneous. Nanotechnology requires the
integration of the methods of investigation from various disciplines
in order to understand macroscopic phenomena, define transport coefficients,
optimize processes and design products. Various methods need to be considered
at different length scales. For instance, multiscale modeling of dynamic
fracture would require finite element simulation of continuum elasticity,
then atomistic simulation of Newton’s equation and thereafter electronic
simulation of Schrodinger’s equation.
- Nanotechnology implies the ability to manipulate the matter under
control at the nanoscale and integrate manufacturing along scales. Main
challenges are creation of tailored structures at the nanoscale, and
combination of the bottom-up and top-down approaches to generate nanostructured
devices and systems. Further challenges are integration of living and
non-living structures, replication and eventually self- replication
methods at nanoscale, and development of new concepts that would allow
economic scale-up for industrial production.
- Development of tools and processes to measure, calibrate and manufacture.
The engineering community needs to redefine the role of engineering from
analysis, design and manufacturing mainly at the macro- and micro- scales
towards the ‘nanoscale engineering’; improve education and training of
engineers to better understand phenomena and processes from the atomic,
molecular and macromolecular levels; and address problem-driven and interdisciplinary
nanotechnology R&D where engineering plays an important role.
COHERENCE WITH OTHER SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING MEGATRENDS
Six increasingly interconnected megatrends in science and engineering
are perceived as dominating the scene for the next decades:
- Information and computing
- Nanoscale science and engineering
- Biology and bio-environmental approaches
- Medical sciences and eventually enhancing human physical capabilities
- Cognitive sciences concerned with exploring and enhancing intellectual
- Collective behavior and system approach to study nature, technology
Such advancements evolve in coherence, with multiple areas of confluence
and with temporary divergences. For example, information technology helps
to simulate and visualize the nanoworld, and nanoscale tools help measurement
and manipulation of DNA. Nanoscale science and engineering is expected
to grow in close synergism with the digital revolution and modern biology.
It is the most exploratory and a condition for the development of the
other two in the next 10-15 years. Melding of human development with science
and engineering development is also notable. Fundamental discoveries and
revolutionary innovations at nanoscale create a tension between the society’s
quest for more control over nature in the future, and society’s strong
desire for stability and predictability in the present. The development
of nanoscale science and engineering is considered in this broader perspective.
TIMELINE OF THE NATIONAL NANOTECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE
A planning activity at the national level to advance nanoscale science
and engineering R&D has been underway in the U.S. since October 1998 when
the Interagency Working Group on Nanoscience, Engineering and Technology
(IWGN) has been established by the National Science and Technology Council
(NSTC). The plan would ensure that the fundamental sciences and key technological
opportunities of nanotechnology would reach their potential sooner, that
a flexible and balanced infrastructure and educated workforce would be
available for nanotechnology development, and key technological grand
challenges would be addressed (Roco, 1999). NNI was proposed at the White
House, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Committee of Technology
at the meeting on March 10, 1999.
The nanoscale science, engineering and technology budget of all U.S.
Federal agencies of $116 million in fiscal year 1997 has increased to
about $255 million in 1999 and $270 million in 2000 (NSTC, 2000). The
report “Nanotechnology Research Directions” (Roco, Williams and Alivisatos,
eds., NSTC, 1999) calls for a national initiative in fiscal year 2001
that will significantly increase the Federal government annual investment
to about half billion dollars. On May 12, 1999, Richard Smalley, Nobel
Laureate, concluded in his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Science,
Technology, and Space that “We are about to be able to build things that
work on the smallest possible length scales. It is in our Nation's best
interest to move boldly into this new field.” On June 22, 1999, the Subcommittee
on Basic Research of the Committee on Science organized the hearing on
"Nanotechnology: The State of Nano-Science and Its Prospects for the Next
Decade". The Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith, Michigan concluded the
hearings stating that "Nanotechnology holds promise for breakthroughs
in health, manufacturing, agriculture, energy use and national security.
It is sufficient information to aggressively address funding of this field.”
On November 18, 1999, the Presidential Council of Advisers in Science
and Technology (PCAST) Nanotechnology Panel met and prepared a recommendation
to the Administration. The White House announced NNI in January 2000 and
submitted the NNI plan to Congress in February 2000. NSTC has established
the Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET)
as part of the Committee on Technology in August 2000. Its goal is to
work towards NNI implementation, facilitate interagency collaboration
for nanoscale R&D, continue to define the vision for nanotechnology, and
provide a framework form establishing federal R&D priorities and budget.
Twelve departments and independent agencies participate at this moment.
President Clinton announced the initiative on January 21, 2000, at Caltech:
"Imagine the possibilities: materials with ten times the strength of steel
and only a small fraction - shrinking all the information housed at the
Library of Congress into a device the size of a sugar cube - detecting
cancerous tumors when they are only a few cell in size". Some of our research
goals may take 20 or more years to achieve, but that is precisely why
there is an important role for the federal government". Since January
2000, research in these three areas has progressed much faster then expected.
A White House letter signed jointly by the Office of Science and technology
Policy and the Office of Management and Budget and sent to all agencies
in the Fall 2000 has placed nanotechnology at the top of the list of emerging
fields of research and development in the U.S.
NNI will ensure that investments in this area are made in a coordinated
and timely manner, and will accelerate the pace of revolutionary discoveries
now occurring in nanoscale science and engineering. This effort will:
Expedite long-term, fundamental research aimed at discovering novel
phenomena, processes and tools, including nanoscale systems that are
important in biology and in the environment
Address the synthesis and processing of engineered, nanometer-scale
building blocks for materials and system components,
Develop new device concepts and system architecture appropriate to
the unique features and demands of nanoscale engineering,
Apply nanostructured materials to innovative technologies for commerce
(manufacturing, computing and communications, power systems, energy),
health, environment and Earth sciences, and national security,
Educate and train a new generation of skilled workers in the multidisciplinary
perspectives necessary for rapid progress in nanotechnology, and
Address the societal implications of the scientific and technological
advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
The key challenges and opportunities of the NNI have been addressed in
a series of publication: “Nanostructure Science and Technology” (Siegel
et al., eds., NSTC, 1999; this is a worldwide comparative study); “Nanotechnology
Research Directions” (Roco et al., eds., NSTC, 1999; it provides a vision
for the next decade); “National Nanotechnology Initiative: The Initiative
and the Implementation Plan” (NSTC, 2000; goals and plans for fiscal year
2001); “Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” (Roco
and Bainbridge, eds., workshop proceedings, 2000); and “Nanotechnology
- Shaping the World Atom by Atom” (NSTC, 1999; brochure for the public).
THE NNI IMPLEMENTATION PLAN IN THE FIRST YEAR
The NNI enacted by Congress in November 2000 will expand the Federal
nanotechnology investment portfolio to $422 million dollars in fiscal
year 2001, a 56% increase over the previous year. The research and development
priorities have been developed in consultation with experts from academe,
private sector and government laboratories, as well as through the coordination
of the funding agencies. The investments of six U.S. departments and independent
agencies are shown in the following table.
DOD (including DARPA, ARO, AFOSR, ONR)
$4 million (with ATP)
$16 million (with ATP)
$10 million (without ATP)
NSF will make the largest investment of $150 million in fiscal year 2001.
NSF programs embrace topics from chemistry, materials, molecular biology
and engineering to revolutionary computing, mathematics, geosciences and
social sciences. The first 'nano' program on Nanoparticle Synthesis and
Processing has been initiated in 1991, and the National Nanofabrication
User Network has been established in 1994. About 650 projects with over
2,700 faculty and students, and more than ten centers, were supported
in fiscal year 2000.
Nine areas for "grand challenges" are targeted by all participating funding
agencies in the first year of NNI:
- Nanostructured materials by design-stronger, lighter, harder, self-repairing,
- Nanoelectronics, optoelectronics, and magnetics
- Advanced healthcare, therapeutics, and diagnostics
- Nanoscale processes for environmental improvement
- Efficient energy conversion and storage
- Microcraft space exploration, and industrialization
- Bionanosensors for communicable disease and biological threat detection
- Applications to economical and safe transportation
- Applications to national security.
New grand challenges on instrumentation, nanoscale manufacturing, focused
on single molecule, and improving human performance are under consideration
for the second year (fiscal year 2002). The NSTC interagency subcommittee
is actively seeking input from research groups, professional societies
and industry on new, exciting challenges to be considered for next years.
The NNI implementation plan in fiscal year 2001 (October 2000 - September
2001) includes the proposed funding themes and modes of support by the
U.S. funding agencies, as well as coordinated activities in order to increase
the synergism, avoid unnecessary overlapping, and create a balance and
flexible infrastructure. The following program solicitations for fiscal
year 2001 proposals have been issued as part of the NNI implementation
plan (full information is available on http://nano.gov) (Schultz, 2000):
- National Science Foundation: “Nanoscale Science and Engineering”,
for interdisciplinary team research, centers and exploratory research
- Department of Defense: “Defense University Research Initiatives on
Nanotechnology (DURINT)” for research projects and equipment (see also
- Department of Energy: “Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology”
for materials, chemical and engineering sciences
- DARPA: “Simulation of Bio-Molecular Systems” for R&D projects
- NASA, announcements related to NASA labs and academic institutions
- NIH, various components through various participating NIH institutes
The NSF program solicitation on Nanoscale Science and Engineering is
part of the NSF contribution to NNI in the first year (see http://www.nsf.gov/nano).
The program is focused on biosystems at nanoscale, novel phenomena and
structure, quantum control, novel devices and architectures for integrated
nano-systems, nanoscale processes in environment, multiphenomena/multiscale
modeling and simulation, as well as societal implications studies and
education. Interdisciplinary teams, synergistic centers and exploratory
research are encouraged in this solicitation, while single investigator
research and education are supported throughout all NSF programs.
Nanoscale science and engineering R&D is mostly in a precompetitive phase.
International collaboration in fundamental research, long-term grand challenges,
metrology, education and studies on societal implications will play an
important role in the affirmation and growth of the field. NNI develops
in this context. The vision setting and collaborative model of NNI has
received international acceptance, and most industrialized countries are
establishing or are planning to establish their own programs. Opportunities
for collaboration towards an international nanotechnology effort will
increase once those national programs are in place. Priorities for research
and education will be topics addressing development of humanity and our
civilization. Examples include understanding single molecules and operation
of single cells, improving health and the human performance, assembling
tools for the building blocks of matter, high productivity in manufacturing,
highly efficient solar energy conversion and water desalinization for
The vision of the NNI includes a path to discoveries of new properties
and phenomena at the nanoscale, working directly at the building blocks
of matter with cross-cutting approaches and tools applicable to almost
all man made objects, and development of highly efficient manufacturing.
This is completed by the promise of better comprehension of the nature,
increased wealth, better healthcare and long-term sustainable development.
The vision has been adopted by a broad coalition of academe, private sector,
government R&D laboratories, and U.S. funding agencies. President Clinton
announced the research and development program in January 2000, and in
November 2000 the U.S. Congress enacted the $422 million NNI budget for
fiscal year 2001.
Nanoparticle synthesis and processing is an essential component of nanotechnology
because the specific properties are realized at the nanoparticle, nanocrystal,
nanotube or nanolayer level, and assembling of precursor particles and
related structures is the most generic route to generate nanostructured
Science, technology, and economic factors are expected to bring nanotechnology
to a central role in our lives in just one to two decades. We are just
at the beginning of the development curve. In medium term, a five-year
national effort is needed to reach the uprising section of that curve.
The NNI strategic plan emphasizes exploratory research areas, support
for R&D nanotechnology grand challenges, education and training at all
levels, and establishing a balanced and flexible infrastructure. Nanotechnology
may offer the answer for enhanced productivity, new products beyond existing
technology, longer and better quality of life, sustainable development,
and superior national security. We may be limited only by our ability
The contribution of the NSTC/NSET members in the development of a national
vision for nanotechnology research and development in the future is acknowledged.
Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the position of NSET or NSF.
J. Murday, "Science and Technology of Nanostructures in the Department
of Defense", J. Nanoparticle Research, Vol. 1, no. 4, 1999, pp. 501-505.
NSTC, "Nanotechnology - Shaping the World Atom by Atom", brochure for
the public, NSTC, Washington, D.C., 1999.
NSTC, "National Nanotechnology Initiative: The Initiative and Its Implementation
Plan", Washington, D.C., July 2000.
M.C. Roco, R.S. Williams and P. Alivisatos, eds., "Nanotechnology Research
Directions", NSTC, Washington, D.C., September 1999 (also Kluwer Acad.
Publ., Boston, 2000, 316 pages).
M.C. Roco and W. Bainbridge, eds., “Societal Implications of Nanoscience
and Nanotechnology”, Proc of Workshop at NSF, version Dec. 4, 2000
M.C. Roco, "Towards a U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative", J. Nanoparticle
Research, Vol. 1, no. 4, 1999, pp. 435-438.
R.W. Siegel, E. Hu and M.C. Roco, eds., "Nanostructure Science and Technology",
NSTC, Washington, D.C., August 1999 (also Kluwer Acad. Publ., Boston,
1999, 336 pages).
W. Schultz, "Crafting a National Nanotechnology Effort", C&EN, 2000,