electrical engineering, and others. A critical factor in enhancing interdisciplinary research is the establishment of more academic laboratories in which interdisciplinary science is practiced. The agencies have done a good job of structuring multidisciplinary collaborations through their funding opportunities, but these collaborations do not necessarily lead to self-contained interdisciplinary groups in academia. Further, the overall value system used by the community to judge scientific quality continues to discourage interdisciplinary research, with negative impact on tenure, promotion, and the awarding of research grants. It is expected that the number of interdisciplinary groups will grow as it becomes evident that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary to tackle the interesting and complex problems that are part of nanoscale science and technology. However, creative programs that encourage such groups will accelerate this growth and must be part of NSET’s agenda.

Recommendation 8: The committee recommends that industrial partnerships be stimulated and nurtured, both domestically and internationally to help accelerate the commercialization of NNI developments. NSET should create support mechanisms for coordinating and leveraging state initiatives to organize regional competitive clusters for the development of nanoscale science and technology.

Nanoscale science and technology promise to bring about important changes in industries based in biology, medicine, chemistry, and information technology during the next decade and beyond. Governments around the world have followed the lead of NNI by creating their own nanoscale science and technology programs, generally aligned with the industries in their countries and targeting specific advances in nanoscale science and technology that will improve the competitiveness and technological capability of those industries. Governments are fostering nanoscale science and technology mainly to enhance the competitive position of their industries, and the defining benefit is economic, as new capabilities in technologies and products move from laboratories to commercial reality.

As other countries aggressively pursue international partnering opportunities in nanoscale science and engineering, the United States should continually be positioning itself as the collaborator of choice in order to retain its world leadership not only in nanoscale science and technology development but also in commercial deployment. NNI must embrace efforts that fully engage industrial partnerships both here and abroad, rapidly moving developments from laboratories to novel applications, through product design and into the marketplace. The United States is most likely to realize economic benefits from nanoscale science and technology developments when the technology and its underlying intellectual property comes from U.S.-based laboratories, institutions, and corporations.

Coordinating and leveraging state-level initiatives with national funding is critical to the rapid deployment of nanotechnology advances. States are willing to match large federal research grants to their state universities. Several states already have efforts specifically targeting nanoscale science and engineering. NSET should establish appropriate mechanisms for monitoring state and local investments in nanoscale science and engineering in order to form partnerships that would leverage federal assets and infrastructure.

Recommendation 9: The committee recommends that NSET develop a new funding strategy to ensure that the societal implications of nanoscale science and technology become an integral and vital component of the NNI.

Our nation’s success in developing, deploying, and exploiting new nanotechnologies will require synchronous innovation in how we educate and train our workforce, manage our R&D system, and prepare for and adjust to the expected and unexpected social and economic impacts of these new technologies. Activities supported by the societal implications theme are supposed to help ensure that this “second industrial revolution” produces social, economic, and technical benefits. Although some progress has been made, particularly with respect to educational initiatives, the disappointing level and diversity of efforts within this theme leads the committee to conclude that NSET has not given sufficient consideration to the societal impact and developments in nanoscale science and technology.

Agencies willing to engage in assessing societal implications must be given a budgetary incentive to do so. The committee believes that NSET should develop a funding strategy that treats societal implications as a supplement or set-aside to agency core budget requests.1 In this vein, the committee suggests that


Such a funding strategy is not new. For example, most federal agencies resisted involvement in the SBIR program until Congress required agencies to set aside a certain percentage of their budget for the program.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement