May 4, 2006 3:29 PM PDT

Politicos suggest more Fed spending on nanotech

WASHINGTON--U.S. senators on Thursday said they're excited about nanotechnology's potential and are eager to throw more tax dollars into speeding the burgeoning materials from the laboratory to the marketplace.

"Unfortunately the federal government has not made the economic development aspect of nanotechnology much of a priority," Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, said at a hearing on commercialization of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the science of making products out of components measuring 100 nanometers or less. (For comparison's sake, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide.) The National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015, the global marketplace for nanotech goods will reach $1 trillion and employ 2 million workers--and politicians emphasized that they want the United States to take the lead.

Smith and Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, introduced a bill last fall that proposes setting aside up to $24 million in federal funds over three years to create as many as eight "Nanoscience to Commercialization Institutes" at public universities or federal laboratories throughout the nation. The centers would be charged with partnering with private-sector companies to secure additional financial support and guidance.

That's in addition to the nearly $1.1 billion last year--and more than $6 billion since 2001--allocated by the Bush administration for its National Nanotechnology Initiative, an umbrella group that coordinates research and related activities among nearly a dozen federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Defense and Energy Departments, and the National Institutes of Health.

In the long run, analysts expect the science to make a major impact on everything from medicine to electronics to energy. A recent study found that 148 of the world's largest 1,331 companies have nanotechnology projects under way, with that number expected to double by 2008 and corporate R&D spending to balloon to $12 billion by then.

The Senate proposal for the new commercialization institutes drew praise at Wednesday's hearing from panelists representing the academic and business side of nanotechnology. Sean Murdock, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, which bills itself as the "collective voice" for the emerging industry, said such a move has the "potential to significantly impact job growth and development through a modest federal investment."

Jerry Gwaltney, city manager of Danville, Va., described how his rural town of less than 50,000 residents is attempting to lower an above-average unemployment rate and lure other high-tech businesses through the presence of Luna nanoWorks, a nanomaterials manufacturing facility. "When you get the bill passed, I want one," he told the senators, referring to the proposed institutes.

More than one panelist called for more than just federal research dollars. Robert Rung, executive director of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, said in his written testimony that federal and state tax credits would also help encourage new investment.

Some companies have already brought the tiny materials to the shelves of stores--particularly sporting goods, including stronger, lighter-weight tennis rackets and baseball bats and golf balls capable of making slight corrections in their flight. Other researchers have explored using nanomaterials to concoct fumeless paint, detect cancer and even cure smelly feet.

One major question mark that remains is whether nanotechnology could pose health hazards. With scant data in that area, industry experts are working on designing a framework for researching and pinpointing potential hazards when screening nanomaterials. Meanwhile, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency have begun taking preliminary steps to determine whether additional regulations, other than an existing bevy of laws governing toxic materials, would be needed.

That "uncertainty" could be one of the biggest barriers to nanotechnology's increased commercialization, said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Technologies at the federally funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. That project recently estimated that 230 commercial products worldwide currently use nanotechnology. "Companies are unsure about the regulatory intentions of the government right now," he said.

Smith acknowledged that health and safety concerns warrant further scrutiny but said he wanted to avoid premature, heavy-handed governmental intervention. "We should not unfairly hinder this emerging field of science," he said.

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6 comments

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Standards world be nice and let's get too it.
Totally. Nan-tech is the future especially for space vehicles and nano-medicine that could probably reconstruct a body or organ with a laser with atomic accuracy.

A Little worrisome that there are no decent standards or laws set yet when nano-tech is already in the store. Does it really take that long to so some simple tests? It's not like steel, it could be like a poison such a s mercury very easily.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Standards world be nice and let's get too it.
Totally. Nan-tech is the future especially for space vehicles and nano-medicine that could probably reconstruct a body or organ with a laser with atomic accuracy.

A Little worrisome that there are no decent standards or laws set yet when nano-tech is already in the store. Does it really take that long to so some simple tests? It's not like steel, it could be like a poison such a s mercury very easily.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Positive Future, but more needs to be done
It is great that after 5 years or so, they are now understanding the potential of nano-technology.

My question is with new advances, is the United States willing to become the leader in this field, or sit idling while other countries surpass us? Will our workforce consist of manufactoring labs in other countries or will we be able to draw in the talent from those unemployed from car builders, or steel mills, or other jobs slowly dwindling in our more service orientated job? And are we willing to provide reasonable and cheap educational and or training for those willing to take part in the new nano tech world?

I can see the benefits from weaponry to medical science, from space to environmental management. I would like to believe that the United States has it in itself to become the first nation to provide an unprecedented amount of scholars toward this.

I think lately we have too much focus on war and terror, as they are important, but we also need to focus on a long term plan, a vision for the future.

Nano-technology could be the new revolution. I am glad to hear that smaller towns are willing to open their land for development, but most reside in caution as the chemicals and process of creating new wonders will come at a cost. Coal, car, steel, pharmaceuticals and others have damaged the environment significantly.
Posted by bishopsring (5 comments )
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Classes at RPI are 51% forign students
I live in Albany NY. We have several of the nations nano labs right around here. We also have Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It is one of the few offering nano courses and degrees. One of our local TV stations interviewed the professor. She admitted that 51% of the students are Chinese. Something like 63% are foreign students.
Wonderful stuff....
Posted by gfsdfge (130 comments )
Link Flag
Positive Future, but more needs to be done
It is great that after 5 years or so, they are now understanding the potential of nano-technology.

My question is with new advances, is the United States willing to become the leader in this field, or sit idling while other countries surpass us? Will our workforce consist of manufactoring labs in other countries or will we be able to draw in the talent from those unemployed from car builders, or steel mills, or other jobs slowly dwindling in our more service orientated job? And are we willing to provide reasonable and cheap educational and or training for those willing to take part in the new nano tech world?

I can see the benefits from weaponry to medical science, from space to environmental management. I would like to believe that the United States has it in itself to become the first nation to provide an unprecedented amount of scholars toward this.

I think lately we have too much focus on war and terror, as they are important, but we also need to focus on a long term plan, a vision for the future.

Nano-technology could be the new revolution. I am glad to hear that smaller towns are willing to open their land for development, but most reside in caution as the chemicals and process of creating new wonders will come at a cost. Coal, car, steel, pharmaceuticals and others have damaged the environment significantly.
Posted by bishopsring (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Classes at RPI are 51% forign students
I live in Albany NY. We have several of the nations nano labs right around here. We also have Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It is one of the few offering nano courses and degrees. One of our local TV stations interviewed the professor. She admitted that 51% of the students are Chinese. Something like 63% are foreign students.
Wonderful stuff....
Posted by gfsdfge (130 comments )
Link Flag
 

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