BOX 1-1

Statement of Task

The NRC will:

Study the accessibility and potential applicability of nanophotonics in the 10-15 year timeframe and identify who controls these technologies in the areas of photonic crystals, plasmonics, metamaterials, and negative index materials.a

Review the scale and scope of off-shore investments and interest in nanophotonics.

Identify feasible nanophotonic applications, their potential relationship to military systems, associated vulnerabilities, risks, impacts to critical defense capabilities, potential alternate technologies that could compete with nanophotonics, and other significant indicators and warnings to help avoid and/or mitigate technology application surprise.b

Suggest priorities for future action by appropriate departments of the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense R&D community, and other Government entities.


a“The charge to determine ‘who’ controls nanophotonics is interpreted as ‘which nations’ control nanophotonics. This precludes the notion that specific research institutions or industries, smaller in scale than a nation, may control facets of nanophotonics. These entities may possess fundamental knowledge, trade secrets, or capacities for innovation that may be hidden from the academic community or that may be so broadly networked (even across international boundaries) that their latent ability for break through discovery may not be obvious. However, because global multi-institution and multi-national research collaborations are abundant the bias to categorize the threat of technological surprise by nation may be limiting.”


bBy the definition of basic research, nanophotonics is still at an early stage with many possibilities and ultimate applications are still undefined. Discussing alternatives to as yet undeveloped technologies is clearly folly. The committee did identify underlying themes that characterize nanophotonics (see summary). Most of these have to do with surmounting wavelength limitations and enabling optical functionality at sub-wavelength scales. This by definition is “nanophotonics” and anything that allows it will be called “nanophotonics,” whether it is one of the classes of objects we have identified or an as yet undiscovered direction. In this sense the question is moot. Manifestly there are advantages of optical functionality at sub-wavelength scales, and just as manifestly the enabling technology will be called nanophotonics. It is not as if we are considering a single system such as a biosensor and trying to decide between an optical (nanophotonic) approach and, for example, gas chromatography coupled with mass spectroscopy. In this specific case the question is well posed. In a global sense, however, it is not.

tions, commercial applications are also described and discussed, since much of the infrastructure and many of the capabilities required for defense applications will be commercially driven.


The domain of nanoscale science and technology lies between the familiar classical world of macroscopic objects and the quantum mechanical regime of atoms and molecules. Nanostructures can have unique, controllable, and tunable optical properties that arise from their nanoscale size and from the fact that they are smaller than the wavelength of light used to observe them. Both the properties of

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