PCAST report says U.S. leads in nanotech R&D

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has released its first assessment of the U.S. government’s nanotechnology research efforts in a new report, The National Nanotechnology Initiative at Five Years: Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel.

WASHINGTON, DC - The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has released its first assessment of the U.S. government’s nanotechnology research efforts in a new report, The National Nanotechnology Initiative at Five Years: Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel. Among its findings, PCAST says the United States is the acknowledged leader in nanotechnology research and development and that the $1 billion the U.S. government will spend on nanotechnology R&D this fiscal year is roughly one-quarter of the current global investment by all nations.

Total annual U.S. R&D spending (federal, state, and private) now stands at approximately $3 billion, or one-third of the estimated $9 billion in total worldwide spending by the public and private sectors combined. In addition, the United States leads in the number of start-up companies based on nanotechnology and in research output as measured by patents and publications. The U.S. leadership position, however, is under increasing competitive pressure from other nations as they ramp up their own programs.

“This report is a thoughtful and highly informative assessment on the current status of the United States’ research programs for nanotechnology,” said John H. Marburger III, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The United States is currently the world leader in nanotechnology, but our international competitors are aggressively developing their own programs in this area.”

The NNI appears well-positioned to maintain U.S. leadership going forward, through both its coordinated interagency approach to planning and implementing the federal R&D program and its efforts to interact with industry and the public, according to PCAST.

The PCAST report also notes that the NNI recognizes the societal implications of nanotechnology-including environmental and health effects-must be taken into account and that the NNI is moving deliberately to identify, prioritize, and address such concerns. In the FY2006 budget, $82 million (8% of the total NNI budget) will be dedicated to addressing these concerns.

The report praises the NNI for organizing federal nanotechnology research and establishing a strong national research infrastructure across more than 20 agencies. However, it also makes several recommendations aimed at further strengthening the NNI:

  • Technology transfer: The NNI needs to take further steps to communicate with and establish links to U.S. industry to further facilitate technology transfer from the lab to the marketplace. PCAST calls attention to two areas that would augment the existing suite of activities and enhance commercialization of research results.
  • Environmental and health implications: The NNI should continue its efforts to understand the possible toxicological effects of nanotechnology and, where harmful human or environmental effects are proven, appropriate regulatory mechanisms should be utilized by the pertinent federal agencies. The report also recommends strong international coordination so that efforts are not duplicated.
  • Education/workforce preparation: A key to realizing the economic benefits of nanotechnology will be the establishment of an infrastructure capable of educating and training an adequate number of researchers, teachers, and technical workers. PCAST recommends that the NNI establish relationships with the Departments of Education and Labor to develop education and training systems in areas related to nanotechnology.
  • Societal implications: The NNI must support research aimed at understanding the societal (including ethical, economic, and legal) implications and must actively work to inform the public about nanotechnology.

For more information on PCAST and to view the full report, please visit www.ostp.gov/pcast/pcast.html.

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