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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > ONAMI > DC Report 2008 - Nano 2.0 and the Year of the ReAuThorization

Skip Rung
President and Executive Director

The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act is five years old and up for re-authorization. Significant progress and maturation in commercialization and organization of the EHS task have set the stage for higher expectations - and another five years of crucial work to contribute to human progress and maintain American economic leadership.

March 1st, 2008

DC Report 2008 - Nano 2.0 and the Year of the ReAuThorization

One of the fun things about going to COMDEX (for those old enough to remember what that was) or CES was collecting cloth tote bags and other free stuff to bring home to the kids. Returning from a trip late last night, I unpacked a string of really cute low-power, long-life, ultra-bright aquamarine LED lights (Evident Technologies; hint - there is no such thing as an aquamarine LED) and a coating applicator that will eliminate the need for my truck's windshield wipers during one of our Oregon drizzles (Nanofilm) - not to mention a flyer about the company's new IR-blocking composite film that will eliminate the need for double-paned windows. Which trade show did these come from? The U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Nanotech Showcase - where else? A little later on the House side, passers-by seeing the standers spilling out of a conference room into the hall must have wondered what sports figure was being grilled about steroids this week. But here again, the only performance enhancers in sight were nanomaterials, and the users were all the major divisions of the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Another year has passed in the nanoworld, and the assembled delegates of the NanoBusiness Alliance delivered abundant evidence that the promised products, businesses and impact are coming along just as promised. From steel for bridges to stents for bypass patients, the innovation continues.

A year ago, I wrote that the two big nano action items were commercialization and approach to EHS. As the re-authorizing legislation for the National Nanotechnology Initative is being written, this is still the case. There is much progress to report, and higher expectations for the return on the federal research investment in nanoscience are about to be set.

What's the progress?

Remarkable products - far too many to list - that save energy, improve health, and reduce manufacturing waste. Companies making these products that have high double-digit revenue. (Those light strings, by the way, are made by coating blue LEDs with opaque films of quantum dots that re-emit with the light color of your choice. They're still assembled in China, but the magic stuff - the QDs - is made here.)

Companies with tens and hundreds of high-wage jobs. Communities reinvigorated and reinvented (like Danville, VA - from tobacco to trimetaspheres).

A developing consensus (and a hot-off-the-press NNI strategy document to boot) on how to scientifically approach the EHS questions - which are demanding that engineered nanomaterials pass a standard of scrutiny many or most existing special chemicals and consumer products would find daunting to say the least.

A January 2008 rollout of the voluntary EPA Nano-Materials Stewardship Program (with many verbal company commitments to participate).

Rapid behind-the-scenes progress on the NanoHealth Enterprise public-private partnership (which I wrote about in December) as it formulates collaborative projects to thoroughly and reproducibly characterize key materials by category, to conduct reproducible and well-controlled biological effects assays, and to capture and share/compare all data (public and private) according to informatics standards for federated databases and toolsets.

The self-assembled NanoHealth Enterprise work and the NNI strategy (e.g. "coordinate agency efforts to address priority research needs", "facilitate partnerships with industry", "support development of consensus-based documentary standards") are wonderfully congruent - and it's been gratifying for us to watch the green nanotechnology approach we have believed in so long take shape across the nation.

The best way to learn about green nanotechnology

If you would like to learn about the serious science behind Greener Nanotechnology, join us at Hewlett-Packard's Corvallis site for our annual Greener Nano conference next week: Yes, that's a shameless plug, but if you are interested in this subject, you won't regret it!

And the upcoming expectations?

The new law is being written in committee and should see the light of day fairly soon. We expect to see some explicit/intentional language to indicate that "nano 2.0" funding will not back off at all from outstanding scientific discovery, but require an increase in commercialization outcomes - with multi-agency collaboration as required - as should be expected from a maturing initiative. There will also be (as is the case in the FY09 President's Budget Request) a significant increase in both the funding for "EHS" research (more precisely specified, as the new NNI strategy document does very well) as well as in the sophistication and collaborative nature of the strategy to keep biological effects understanding and safe & efficient manufacturing practices current with the dramatic growth in nano-enabled products.

Finally, we were challenged by nano-champion Senator Ron Wyden, author of the original bill, to raise the appeal of our public communication of the crucial importance of nanoscience to both the realization of green-collar futures and continued American global competitiveness. There were good reasons many of us technologists weren't hired into marketing (or presidential campaigns), so soundbite-gifted friends of science and technology progress are invited to e-mail ideas to

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