Newt goes nano: Ex-House speaker named to science/business alliance

By Steve Crosby
Small Times Managing Editor

Dec. 13, 2001 — He was named Time magazine’s man of the year in 1995 for leading the Republican revolution in the U.S. Congress.

He anticipated — six months before thousands died on Sept. 11 — America’s vulnerability to “catastrophic attack” and called for the creation of a Cabinet-level homeland security agency.

Now, Newt Gingrich is warning that the United States needs to put more of its resources into science and education if it wants to lead the world in nanotechnology, the next great wave of technological advancement.

Gingrich announced today in Washington that he has joined the NanoBusiness Alliance as honorary chairman. The alliance is an association of business, science and academic interests founded this year to advance the emerging nanotechnology industry.

“Nanotechnology is one of the least talked about, yet fastest growing and influential sectors of the global economy,” said the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gingrich, who has spent the past two years studying and speaking about the role of science in America’s future, agrees with those who predict small technology will lead to fundamental breakthroughs in medicine, computers, manufacturing and the environment. And he foresees the potential for a mind-numbing creation of wealth — a thousand trillion dollars is one number he has cited — that will overshadow the economic gains spawned to date by the computer age.

“If you … take the impact of physics from the transistor to the laser to modern computing, and try to quantify how much that’s added to the economy, it will be a staggering number,” Gingrich said in an interview with Small Times. “I think what you’re dealing with, between nanoscale quantum behavior and biology, it’s clearly bigger than the impact of physics on the 20th century.”

Gingrich’s high-profile endorsement is a welcomed boost for those working to attract the public awareness and venture capital needed to accelerate the migration of small tech from the laboratory to the marketplace.

“Newt Gingrich has long been the strongest voice in nanotechnology among America’s policy and governmental leaders,” said F. Mark Modzelewski, an appointee in former president Bill Clinton’s administration who now heads the NanoBusiness Alliance. “The emerging nanotechnology sector has gained a brilliant and tested leader.”

Gingrich said he expects to serve the alliance in an advisory role, occasionally speaking at small tech workshops. “I thought it was a very useful way to try to get the business community to understand the tremendous commercial opportunities of the next generation in this area. I have spoken at a fair number of National Science Foundation workshops on nanoscale science and technology and it’s an area where I feel very comfortable trying to bridge science, business and government in ways that can accelerate our development of a better future.”

Gingrich, 58, is chief executive of The Gingrich Group, an Atlanta-based communications and management-consulting firm, and serves as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

In essays and speeches since leaving the Congress in 1999, Gingrich has called for a dramatic increase in U.S. spending on science education and research to support the nation’s science-based future. He would triple the National Science Foundation’s $4.5 billion annual budget, based on NSF estimates that two-thirds of their best research applications go unfunded each year.

He would overhaul science and math education, citing American industry’s reliance on foreign high-tech employees. “I am not at all comfortable that we’re making the investments and we’re making the reforms necessary to sustain our momentum. We rely heavily on non-Americans for the scientific and technical knowledge that is the heart of our culture.”

And Gingrich would give every 4-year-old a computer.

“Look, we believe in free textbooks, which was great in the age of printing. But if we believed in free textbooks, we ought to believe in a laptop computer and every child having a 24/7 access to learning. It’s simply the Information Age equivalent of a free textbook in the Industrial Era.”

America will be competitive in the global small tech race only if Washington makes it a funding priority, Gingrich said.

“In nanoscale science and technology, the Japanese are about at the same level we are. Everybody else is further behind,” he said. “Three years ago, or four years ago, we were actually behind both Europe and Japan. We know, thanks to some intelligent investments, and one of the places I do give Bill Clinton credit, is that the (National Nanotechnology Initiative) was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Worldwide revenues from nanotechnology will grow from $45.5 billion today to more than $500 billion by the end of this decade, according to the NanoBusiness Alliance. Venture capital investment in nano will hit $1 billion in 2002, up sharply from the $100 million invested in 1998, an alliance study forecasts.

Related Story: NanoBusiness Alliance releases nanotechnology survey


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