December 4, 2003 1:52 PM PST

Nanotech bill gets Bush's approval

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President Bush approved a bill that will provide $3.7 billion to nanotechnology projects over four years.

The 21st Century Nanotech Research and Development Act seeks to fund research and promote the commercial evolution of nanotechnology, the science of building products out of components that measure less than one-billionth of a meter.

Funding from the bill starts next October, the beginning of the government's fiscal year for 2005. Bush also has requested $849 million in funding for nanotechnology projects for fiscal 2004. Nanotech funding has increased 83 percent since 2001, according to the White House.

Although the field has drawn equal doses of hype and skepticism, researchers and scientists in the field say that nanotechnology will have a significant impact on a number of fields, including electronics, medicine and energy.

"Woven into a cable, carbon nanotubes could provide electricity transmission lines with substantially improved performance over current power lines," the White House stated.

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When components get that small, they begin to exhibit different chemical and physical properties. Silicon, which generally conducts electricity, can serve as an insulator. Carbon, meanwhile, becomes stronger than steel in the right form. Some have theorized that scientists may have to develop a new type of periodic table to categorize these properties.

Some nanotech products, such as stain-resistant pants, are already on the market, but more elaborate ideas are in the works. General Electric is devising specially designed molecules that can find and highlight cancerous cells in the early stage of development.

Japan, China and a number of European countries are investing in the field as well. Last year, members of Belgium's royal family held a party at a nanotech conference in San Francisco.

The U.S. government invested approximately $2 billion in nanotech projects between 2000 and 2002, according to a study released earlier this year from Lux Capital. The European Union, meanwhile, will invest more than $1 billion in nanotech research projects between 2002 and 2006.

 

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