Presidential panel says NNI is sound

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WASHINGTON, Mar. 23, 2005 — A government advisory panel Tuesday outlined a draft report on the state of nanotechnology in the United States and found while the U.S. is a leader — if not the leader — in nanotechnology worldwide, continued support is needed to help the nation maintain its edge.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) was expected to discuss the draft report and make final changes. The final report is expected to be released some time this spring, according to PCAST Co-Chairman E. Floyd Kvamme, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm.

“We’re clearly in the lead now” in nanotechnology, said John Marburger, PCAST’s other co-chairman and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a briefing with reporters. “We’ll be a player for a long time.”

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The report, called for by the 2003 law authorizing federal nanotechnology funding, was aimed at reviewing the federal National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and providing recommendations on how to improve it. PCAST was picked by President Bush to serve as the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel called for by the 2003 law.

Overall, pretty good grades

The draft report examined four issues: the current state of the program; how federal money is being spent and the program managed; whether the program adequately addresses societal concerns and potential risks related to nanotech; and how the program can be improved.

The report generally gave high marks for how the NNI has been managed and how federal money is being invested.

According to figures from the draft report, the private sector in the United States leads the world, spending more than Asia and Europe on nanotechnology research and development. While Kvamme noted that private-sector funding figures were difficult to obtain, the United States accounts for nearly half of the $4 billion in private-sector investments made in nanotech.

While the United States is a leading investor in nanotechnology, “a lot of folks are getting interested,” Kvamme said.

In terms of government support at the federal, regional and state level, the United States is on par with Asia and Europe. The United States provides about a third of the $4.6 billion in public money spent on nanotech.

President Bush’s fiscal year 2006 budget proposed spending $1.05 billion on nanotech activities at the 10 agencies that receive funding under the NNI. This amount is slightly less than what Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2005.

The group noted in particular that state support for nanotechnology is strong. States provided about $400 million in funding for nanotech in 2004, according to the draft report.

“States are spending a mountain of money,” Kvamme said, adding that much of the state focus is on business development.

The report also noted that the United States is leading the world in the number of nano-related patents and about 50 percent of nano-related journal articles are from the U.S.

The report also outlined areas of nano research that show the most progress in the next five years with breakthroughs expected in nanocomposites, nanomembranes and filters, medical diagnostic devices, and chemical and biological sensors.

Areas for improvement

PCAST found that the NNI is generally well managed and the funding well spent. According to the draft, the program is providing balanced funding, focused on a diverse array of areas, while interagency cooperation is good.

The report also examined whether the program is adequately addressing the societal concerns and potential risks associated with nanotech. The report outlines several initiatives currently underway to address these issues.

But one area that Kvamme said appears to need more focus is workplace safety and ensuring that those who work with nanomaterials are adequately protected. “There’s little evidence that the final materials will be a problem,” he said. “But in the workplace, we just don’t know.”

The group said policy makers should continue to monitor the NNI to ensure program areas are appropriate and also urged continued “robust funding.”


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