Changing of the guard

Which Mr. Smith will go to Washington on nano’s behalf?

At a hearing last summer, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) called nanotechnology the “next great global economic revolution.”

But Allen was defeated by Jim Webb in his Senate re-election bid, and regardless of whether nanotechnology fulfills Allen’s expectations, his enthusiasm will be hard to replace. At the state level, another prominent advocate of nanotechnology, New York Governor George Pataki, is leaving office and considering a run for the White House.

It is not clear yet who might replace them among nanotech’s leading government advocates – an especially acute concern given the decisions Congress makes about funding, the courts are making about patent law, and that regulatory agencies are making about product and materials development.

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Who might step forward as the point man or woman for nano issues concerns Stephen Maebius, an attorney for intellectual property law firm Foley & Lardner in Washington, and a member of the NanoBusiness Alliance’s advisory board.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has compared the importance of nanotech commercialization to “nothing less than the equivalent of President Kennedy’s commitment of landing a man on the moon.” Photo courtesy of Senator Ron Wyden

Maebius says two members of Congress who could become the most visible on nanotech issues are Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Smith, says Maebius, is a strong supporter of nanotech and there is a cluster of nano-related companies in his district, which includes Austin.

“Wyden has been pretty strong in his support of nanotech from the start,” Maebius said. “I think he’ll continue in his support, and with the Democrats in power now, I think he’ll be influential in the Senate.”

Wyden has compared the importance of nanotech commercialization to “nothing less than the equivalent of President Kennedy’s commitment of landing a man on the moon.” Wyden is a co-chair of the Congressional Nanotechnology Caucus, founded in 2004 by Sen. Allen. Wyden’s caucus co-chairs include Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).

Meanwhile, another “Smith” – Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) – has criticized the lack of U.S. R&D funding for nanotechnology and could emerge alongside his Oregon compatriot as a leading voice. Smith is the author of the Nanoscience to Commercialization Institutes Act, which provides $24 million to establish eight nanoscience institutes around the country to help bridge the gap between research and commercialization.

Rounding out the mix is Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who supports development of a Nanomanufacturing Investment Corporation that would combine federal funds and private capital into a development fund administered by the Department of Commerce; and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who last year introduced the Research Competitiveness Act, which creates a tax incentive for investment funds that back nanotechnology start-ups.

Among the states, Oregon’s Ted Kulongoski has emerged as a leading nano governor. In addition to voicing support for Wyden and Smith’s Congressional initiatives, Kulongoski led a team that raised $20 million in capital to fund ONAMI, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, and last year secured a $7 million appropriation from the Oregon legislature to support ONAMI. In Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell committed more than $50 million in funds to the Pennsylvania Initiative for Nanotechnology.
– Richard Acello


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