Email Print Share

Fact Sheet


April 1, 2003

The Potential of Nanotechnology. Science and technology on the scale of a nanometer--one billionth of a meter--is revolutionary. Nanotechnology refers to the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the scale of human cells or create materials and structures from the bottom up with novel properties. Nanotechnology could change the way almost everything is designed and made, from automobile tires to vaccines to objects not yet imagined.

Applications of nanotechnology are likely to include:

  • Materials with desirable properties such as high strength, chemical sensing or optical switching designed in from the start.
  • Information technologies such as quantum computing and computer chips that store trillions of bits of information on a device as small as the head of a pin.
  • Medical advances including improved drug and gene delivery, biocompatible materials for implants and sensors for disease detection.
  • Environmental benefits such as water purification, artificial photosynthesis of clean energy and pollution control systems.

A National Priority. Nanotechnology is at an exploratory stage. Long-term, fundamental research is needed to discover new phenomena, understand the basic building blocks, develop processes and tools at the nanoscale, create innovative technologies, and educate and train a new workforce. Federal investment is critical to reaching these national goals.

NSF leads the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), initially funded in fiscal year 2001, an effort to strengthen critical scientific disciplines and encourage interdisciplinary research and education. NSF also leads the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology. Together, these entities are developing a long-term vision, establishing federal priorities and coordinating the national program.

The Federal Budget. The fiscal year 2002 federal budget effectively spent $697 million for NNI research and development, $204 million through NSF. In fiscal year 2003, the federal government requested $774 million, including $221 million for NSF. In fiscal year 2004, the federal request totals $849 million, with $249 for NSF. Other agencies supporting nanotechnology include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Justice; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Institutes of Health; and NASA.

NSF Support. NSF's support spans multiple disciplines and is distributed across all seven directorates. NSF has fostered nanoscale science and engineering through investments in:

  • The research of individual investigators and small interdisciplinary teams. About 1,300 projects involving more than 6,000 faculty and students are supported in fiscal year 2003.
  • More than 15 large science and technology, engineering research and materials research centers in core research areas, including six Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSEC).
  • Instrumentation and facilities such as the National Nanofabrication Users Network (NNUN) and the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN). The NNUN's five university-based research hubs are focused on electronics, biology, advanced materials, optoelectronics and nanoscale computer simulation. The NCN, centered at Purdue University, is linking theory and computation to experimental work that helps turn the promise of nanoscience into new nanotechnologies.
  • Small business initiatives.

NSF Goals. NSF is focusing its growing investment in fundamental research and education on seven interrelated areas:

  • Biosystems at the nanoscale - the relationship among chemical composition, shape and function.
  • Nanoscale structures, novel phenomena and quantum control - how to overcome existing limits to miniaturization.
  • Device and system architecture – integrating nanoscale devices into measurement and control assemblies.
  • Nanoscale processes in the environment – new approaches to trapping and releasing nutrients and contaminants, including interactions with microbes.
  • Multi-scale, multi-phenomena modeling and simulation at the nanoscale – needed to understand, control and accelerate the development of new nanoscale processes and regimes.
  • Nanoscale manufacturing – the creation of devices and systems at the nanoscale.
  • Converging technologies – the convergence of nanotechnology with information technology, biology and the social sciences.

In addition to fundamental research, NSF invests in four additional program areas:

  • Grand Challenges – these challenges include nanostructured materials 'by design,' nanoscale electronics, manufacturing, environment, and healthcare.
  • Centers and Networks of Excellence – research and education centers and the Network for Computational Nanotechnology
  • Research infrastructure – instrumentation and facilities to establish in fiscal year 2004 a National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN).
  • Societal and educational implications of science and technology advances – analysis of the social, legal, ethical, and economic implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology, as well as support for student fellowships, traineeships and curriculum development.



Useful Web sites

NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering:
National Nanotechnology Users Network:
Network for Computational Nanotechnology:
National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network:
National Nanotechnology Initiative:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

mail icon Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page:
NSF News:
For the News Media:
Science and Engineering Statistics:
Awards Searches: