PORTLAND, Ore. President Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act on Wed. (Dec.3), which has been approved by both Houses of Congress after months of haggling.
The $3.7 billion appropriation will be divided among eight government agencies: National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture (NSF, DOE, NASA, NIST,
EPA, DOJ, DOT, DOA, respectively).
According to California House Representative Mike Honda,
nanotechnology "the worldwide market for nanotechnology products and services could reach $1 trillion by 2015."
Honda co-drafted the original 2003 Nanotechnology Act of $2.36 over three years for an average of $787 million per year. In contrast, the current 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act authorizes $3.7 billion over four years or $925 million per year, a $138 million per year average increase.
"Its a little more money than before now we are spending about the same as the Europeans and Asians, but the important thing is that it will make the effort permanent and there is specific support for
commercialization," said Vicki Norton, a partner at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop LLP (Los Angeles).
The bill authorizes the President to create a permanent National Nanotechnology Research Program (NNPR) to replace the expiring National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) already in place. The new NNRP, according to the bill, is a "coordinated inter-agency program that will support long-term nanoscale research and development leading to potential breakthroughs in areas such as materials and manufacturing, nanoelectronics, medicine and healthcare, environment, energy, chemicals, biotechnology, agriculture, information technology, and national and homeland security."
Besides the usual goals of keeping the U.S. at the front of the pack strategically worldwide, the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act specifically encourages the (further) development of networked facilities where academic, National Lab and industry aims can coalesce a specific endorsement of the success of the first six Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers begun with $65 million from the National Science Foundation in 2001.
The Centers are located at Columbia University in New York City, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, Harvard
University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Rice University in Houston, Texas.
"You are also going to see better coordination among the centers, because there has been more structure put in place," said Tom Thomas, another partner at Pillsbury Winthrop.
The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act encourages many U.S. groups to participate by specifically citing as a goal the granting of multiple awards to many small research groups of less than $1 million, and sets $3 million to $5 million as the figure of merit for Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center grants.
The Act also elaborates a list of "grand challenges" to design materials that are stronger, lighter, harder, safer, and self-repairing, including nanoelectronics, optoelectronics, and magnetics. Healthcare applications are specifically cited as are nanoscale processes, environmental solutions, energy management and energy conservation.
The Act also sets as a grand challenge the development of biologically oriented nanodevices for detection and mitigation of biothreats to humans, as well as a blanket endorsement of devices for national and homeland security.
In an attempt to coordinate all these diverse goals and programs, the President is also directed by the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act to establish a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
To answer to the dire predictions of doom sayers fearing runaway nanobots, the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act also authorizes public hearings and expert advisory panels, as well as an American Nanotechnology Preparedness Center that will study nanotechnology's potential societal and ethical impact.