House passes new nanotech bill

February 11, 2009: The US House of Representatives has passed the NNI Amendments Act (H.R. 554), which reauthorizes the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The bill, which passed by voice vote, will strengthen and provide transparency in federal research efforts to understand the potential environmental, health, and safety risks of nanotechnology. It is identical to a bill that passed the House last year, but died when the Senate ran out of time to act on it.

“Nanotechnology is already in our cell phones, cosmetics, paints and refrigerators,” Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, said in a statement released after the vote. “It will soon help to protect the lives of our police officers and military servicemen, and is showing promise in the treatment of cancer and in promoting wound healing. There is no doubt that the potential of this technology is vast.

“The bill passed today foster commercialization while ensuring public health and safety, and build upon a successful interagency effort in nanotechnology.”

The National Nanotechnology Initiative, or the NNI, supports cooperative research efforts across a spectrum of disciplines. It has done this in part by establishing a network of national facilities supporting nanoscale research and development.

The new nanotech bill requires that the NNI agencies develop a plan for the environmental and safety research component of the program that includes explicit near-term and long-term goals, specifies the funding required to reach those goals, identifies the role of each participating agency and includes a roadmap for implementation.

The bill also assigns responsibility to a senior official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee this planning and implementation process and to ensure the agencies allocate the resources necessary to carry it out.

“A well-designed, adequately-funded, and effectively-executed research program in this area is the essential first step to ensure that sound science guides the formulation of regulatory rules and requirements,” Gordon said in the statement. “It will reduce the current uncertainty that inhibits commercial development of nanotechnology and will provide a sound basis for future rulemaking.”

The bill also encourages public-private partnerships and authorizes large-scale, focused, multi-agency research and development initiatives in areas of national need. Efforts could be organized around developing a replacement for the silicon-based transistor or developing new nanotechnology-based devices for harvesting solar energy.

The Senate is working on its own version of the legislation.


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