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Critical Areas for a Successful National Nanotechnology Initiative

The committee held an open meeting on August 30 and 31, 2001, at which it received briefings from all agencies with current NNI funding and from several agencies planning on participating in the NNI. The agenda for the meeting can be found in Appendix A. In addition, the committee had access to the publications listed in Appendix B. Based on consideration of that information and on members’ own experiences, the committee has developed a list of topics that it believes are critical for the eventual success of the NNI. Many of these correspond to areas already identified by NNI leaders for attention. The topics are grouped here under five headings, which roughly correspond to the questions contained in the charge to the committee. While it can make limited comments at this time, the committee believes that NNI managers at both the initiative and agency levels must consider these topics as they manage, plan, and prioritize for the NNI if they are not already doing so. The committee plans to address its charge in detail in its final report.

PROGRAM MANAGEMENT

  • Structure and interagency coordination of the NNI. To achieve the full benefits of the NNI, meaningful interagency planning and coordination are necessary. The briefings provided to the committee at its first meeting have not made clear the operational structures of the NNI. Specifically, it is not yet clear how the interagency nature of the initiative will affect the establishment of research priorities within and among the agencies and what approaches will be used to evaluate the outcomes of research funded by NNI.

  • Metrics. The agencies participating in NNI have certain data on the initiative’s performance, such as the number of research proposals received, the percentage of proposals worthy of funding, and the relative proportions of individual investigators and multidisciplinary research teams. Such information is valuable for measuring the need for NNI funding and for verifying that there are sufficient numbers of skilled research teams to appropriately use the increased levels of funding for nanoscale research. The committee will be examining such data in the course of its study. It is not yet clear about what metrics agencies will be using over the next 3 to 10 years to evaluate the results of their NNI investments or about the metrics for the NNI as a whole. Recognizing that devising metrics to measure the success of R&D programs is not straightforward, the committee looks forward to future dialogue with NNI managers on this topic.

BALANCE OF RESEARCH PORTFOLIO

  • High-risk proposals. Advancing nanoscale science will require that sufficient numbers of high-risk proposals are funded. This may be difficult for performance-driven



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Preliminary Comments, Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative 2 Critical Areas for a Successful National Nanotechnology Initiative The committee held an open meeting on August 30 and 31, 2001, at which it received briefings from all agencies with current NNI funding and from several agencies planning on participating in the NNI. The agenda for the meeting can be found in Appendix A. In addition, the committee had access to the publications listed in Appendix B. Based on consideration of that information and on members’ own experiences, the committee has developed a list of topics that it believes are critical for the eventual success of the NNI. Many of these correspond to areas already identified by NNI leaders for attention. The topics are grouped here under five headings, which roughly correspond to the questions contained in the charge to the committee. While it can make limited comments at this time, the committee believes that NNI managers at both the initiative and agency levels must consider these topics as they manage, plan, and prioritize for the NNI if they are not already doing so. The committee plans to address its charge in detail in its final report. PROGRAM MANAGEMENT Structure and interagency coordination of the NNI. To achieve the full benefits of the NNI, meaningful interagency planning and coordination are necessary. The briefings provided to the committee at its first meeting have not made clear the operational structures of the NNI. Specifically, it is not yet clear how the interagency nature of the initiative will affect the establishment of research priorities within and among the agencies and what approaches will be used to evaluate the outcomes of research funded by NNI. Metrics. The agencies participating in NNI have certain data on the initiative’s performance, such as the number of research proposals received, the percentage of proposals worthy of funding, and the relative proportions of individual investigators and multidisciplinary research teams. Such information is valuable for measuring the need for NNI funding and for verifying that there are sufficient numbers of skilled research teams to appropriately use the increased levels of funding for nanoscale research. The committee will be examining such data in the course of its study. It is not yet clear about what metrics agencies will be using over the next 3 to 10 years to evaluate the results of their NNI investments or about the metrics for the NNI as a whole. Recognizing that devising metrics to measure the success of R&D programs is not straightforward, the committee looks forward to future dialogue with NNI managers on this topic. BALANCE OF RESEARCH PORTFOLIO High-risk proposals. Advancing nanoscale science will require that sufficient numbers of high-risk proposals are funded. This may be difficult for performance-driven

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Preliminary Comments, Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative agencies to do, as by definition risky investments may not produce the desired results. However, such risk is clearly appropriate for many of the involved agencies, such as NSF, DARPA, NASA, and NIH. Further data are needed for the committee to determine whether the proportion of high-risk proposals being funded is appropriate. Long-term planning. Most advances in nanoscale research will require patient, long-term funding, but because agency planning is often driven by annual budget cycles, NNI managers face challenges in developing long-term research plans. The committee has concerns about the implications of short-term budget cycles for the long-term success of the NNI, and it will be seeking further information from NNI managers on the budgeting and prioritization process for the initiative. Short-term success. The committee believes that nanoscale research is only beginning to be recognized for its full potential and that it will give researchers scientific and engineering challenges for decades to come. However, short- term success will be valuable for encouraging continued support for the NNI and continued private sector involvement in the research. The committee urges agencies not to overlook the need for some short-term projects, particularly in their interactions with industry, and it will be examining the balance between short- and long-term goals in the NNI portfolio. Grand challenges. The criteria for choosing NNI grand challenges have not yet been discussed but are clearly important. Future discussions will consider long- and short-term goals and potential payoffs in relation to the funding of grand challenges, especially whether the challenges are appropriate given the base of current scientific knowledge. NON-NNI NANOSCALE RESEARCH AND PARTNERSHIPS International program comparisons. To ensure the appropriateness of the NNI portfolio, it is important that program managers have reasonably complete knowledge of foreign nanotechnology funding levels and portfolios, as well as other countries’ efforts to educate future scientists and engineers for nanoscale work. The 1999 report Nanostructure Science and Technology: A Worldwide Study6 provided a baseline understanding of international efforts before the announcement of the NNI in February 2000, in the Clinton administration’s budget request. The committee understands that such international comparisons are often difficult to make: First, there is the problem both in the United States and abroad of defining which research funding should be considered funding for nanoscience or nanotechnology and, second, this definition varies from country to country. Differences in how national bureaucracies are organized compound the difficulty. State and local nanotechnology initiatives. A number of state and local governments have established nano-related initiatives. NNI program managers need to track such efforts in order to have a comprehensive picture of current U.S. nanotechnology activities. 6   National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology, Interagency Working Group on NanoScience, Engineering, and Technology. 1999. Nanostructure Science and Technology: A Worldwide Study, September. Available online at <http://itri.loyola.edu/nano/final>.

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Preliminary Comments, Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Private-sector research and development. The private sector will play an important role in advancing specific areas of nanotechnology. It is important that NNI managers have as complete information as possible on private-sector research efforts, including focus areas, expenditures, partnerships, and maturity of research, in order to understand how the NNI might leverage these efforts. The committee was pleased to learn that the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) has begun gathering information in all three of the above areas and plans to build a comprehensive database for use by all NNI member agencies. The committee will be following NNCO progress in this area. University-industry partnerships. Successful university-industry partnerships, research agreements, and funding opportunities at all levels of education can greatly accelerate advances in nanoscience and technology and enhance the transfer of nanotechnologies to commercial systems. NNI must devise appropriate mechanisms for fostering those partnerships, and the committee has requested farther data on current and planned efforts. IMPORTANT AREAS FOR INVESTMENT Multidisciplinary research. It is clear that the most promising advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology lie at the intersection of traditional science and engineering. Such advances will require interactions among researchers from different fields of science and engineering. The effectiveness with which NNI uses its resources to foster a multidisciplinary culture is of considerable importance. The “biology challenge.” Biological systems are the only true extent example of complex nanosystems at work, and biology is an obvious source of ideas for nanotechnology. Furthermore, nanotechnology is expected to have some of its initial impacts on biotechnology and medicine. However, the integration of biology with physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering presents a significant challenge despite the many important successes that have been demonstrated at these interfaces, and the committee believes particular attention to such integration may be required. The June 2000 symposium “Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Shaping Biomedical Research”7 represents one step toward meeting this challenge. “Beyond nano.” The committee notes that advances at the nano scale will be meaningless if they cannot be interfaced with technology at larger scales to produce usable devices. Achieving the objectives of the NNI will require the integration of nanoobjects and nanoscale phenomena into larger hierarchical systems. Particular attention will be required at the 100 to 1000 nm scale. Infrastructure. The NNI implementation plan correctly recognizes that nanoscale research requires a specialized infrastructure. The committee is pleased to see that agencies such as DOD, DOE, and NIST are building or planning new research facilities that can accommodate such special requirements. 7   National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Consortium. 2000. Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Shaping Biomedical Research, Symposium Report, June, Bethesda, Md.

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Preliminary Comments, Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS Direct societal impacts. The NNI implementation plan recognizes that the societal implications of nanotechnology must be taken into account so as to ensure that technical advances will be adopted. Advancements in nanotechnology could have significant social, economic, and political implications. The September 2000 NSF workshop “Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology”8 is evidence that NNI managers are giving serious consideration to these issues. More data gathering is required before the committee comments on whether efforts in this area are adequate. Education of future scientists and engineers. NNI managers already recognize the importance of educating current and future scientists and engineers to work in nanoscale research. Many agency representatives who addressed the committee indicated that the United States must accelerate its training of scientists and engineers, particularly at the interfaces between traditional fields, to meet future personnel demands. The committee wishes to gather further data on the educational aspects of the NNI for its final report. 8   National Science Foundation. 2001. Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: NSET Workshop Report, March.

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Preliminary Comments, Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative APPENDIXES

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