Challenges in terms of their relative scientific and strategic importance.
Recommendation 3: The committee recommends that NNI support long-term funding in nanoscale science and technology so they can achieve their potential and promise.
Nanoscale science and technology will have continued and growing impact, with benefits seen in both the short and long-term. Establishing a proper balance between the short-term and long-term funding of nanoscale science and technology will be critical to realizing its potential. If an idea is truly revolutionary and promises higher impact successes, a longer period—and longer-term funding—is needed to demonstrate results. While funding some of these extraordinary ideas for a long time may be risky, achieving success in even a small number of them would produce breakthroughs that more than compensate for those that did not succeed.
Recommendation 4: The committee recommends that NSET increase multiagency investments in research at the intersection between nanoscale technology and biology.
The relevant scientific community currently recognizes the importance of nanoscale biological and biomedical research. NSET, with the advice of the proposed NNAB, must further encourage and promote investment at the intersection between nanoscale technology and biology if it wishes to lead in this area. NSF and NIH report an increase in the number of proposals in nano-bio areas. Since many of these proposals cross the boundaries of individual agency expertise and missions, the creation of multiagency research programs and review mechanisms is critical. The role of NSET, with the advice of NNAB, is to overcome agency barriers that might otherwise prevent the allocation of resources to research that cuts across disciplines and missions.
Recommendation 5: The committee recommends that NSET create programs for the invention and development of new instruments for nanoscience.
NSET must invest heavily in the development of new instruments if it wishes to substantially accelerate breakthroughs in nanoscale science and technology. Historically, many important advances in science happened only after the appropriate investigative instruments became available. Since one must be able to measure and quantify a phenomenon in order to understand and use it, it is critical that we develop tools that allow for more quantitative investigations of nanoscale phenomena. These should include analytical instruments capable of manipulating, tailoring characterizing, and probing at the nanoscale.
Recommendation 6: The committee recommends the creation of a special fund for Presidential grants, under OSTP management, to support interagency research programs relevant to nanoscale science and technology. These grants should be used exclusively to fund meaningful interagency collaborations that cross mission boundaries, particularly among the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.
The breadth of NNI and its fields of interest—from new materials development, to quantum computing, to cellular microbiology, and to national security—compels agencies to form more meaningful cooperation in their nanotecnology pursuits and to better leverage their investments for mutual benefit. While the NNI Implementation Plan lists major interagency collaborations, the committee has no sense that there is any common strategic planning occurring in those areas, any significant interagency communication between researchers working in those areas, or any significant sharing of results before they are published in the open literature. All NNI funds are currently directed by each individual agency to the projects and programs of that agency’s choice. Currently, NSET agencies have an incentive to collaborate on research only where they do not have and cannot acquire all the necessary skills in-house. This incentive has not been sufficient to develop any meaningful interagency research collaboration. Creation of a special fund strictly for meaningful interagency collaboration should motivate the best possible collaboration and leveraging of resources.
Recommendation 7: The committee recommends that NSET provide strong support for the development of an interdisciplinary culture for nanoscale science and technology within the NNI.
Nanoscale science and technology are leading researchers along pathways formed by the convergence of many different disciplines—biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, mechanical engineering,