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Summary Nanotechnology has become one of the defining ideas in global research and development (R&D) over the last decade. In 2001, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was established as the U.S. government interagency program for coordinating nanotechnology R&D among federal agencies and facilitating communication and collaborative activities in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology throughout the federal government. The NNI defines nanotechnology on its Web site 1 as “science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers.” 2 The NNI focuses on four goals aimed at creating “a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.” The 26 federal agencies that participate in the NNI collaborate to (1) advance world-class nanotechnology research and development, (2) foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit, (3) develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology, and (4) support the responsible development of nanotechnology. As part of the second triennial review of the NNI, the Committee on Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative: Phase II was asked to provide advice to the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office as follows: Task 1—Examine the role of the NNI in maximizing opportunities to transfer selected technologies to the private sector, provide an assessment of how well the NNI is carrying out this role, and suggest new mechanisms to foster transfer of technologies and improvements to NNI operations in this area where warranted. Task 2—Assess the suitability of current procedures and criteria for determining progress toward NNI goals, suggest definitions of success and associated metrics, and provide advice on those organizations (government or non-government) that could perform evaluations of progress. Task 3—Review NNI’s management and coordination of nanotechnology research across both civilian and military federal agencies. The present interim report offers the committee’s initial comments on current procedures and criteria for determining progress toward achievement of NNI goals, the proper role of metrics in assessing the NNI, some characteristics of good metrics, and possible metrics and their links to suggested short- term and long-term NNI goals. This report reflects the committee’s view that measuring something just because it can be measured is not good enough: metrics must be indicators of desired outcomes. There must be a model that accurately relates what is measured to a desired outcome and an equally accurate system to perform the 1 See http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/definition. Accessed August 28, 2012. 2 For another definition of nanotechnology, see, for example, National Research Council, A Matter of Size: Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006. 1
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measurement. Having both constitutes a metric. Without both, measurements have little value for program assessment and management. The committee recognizes the great difficulty in defining robust models and metrics for a field as diffuse as nanotechnology, for agencies as diverse as the 26 NNI participating agencies, and for goals as far-reaching and cross-cutting as the four NNI goals. However, the committee emphasizes that whatever models and metrics are applied must be rigorous and stand up fully to scientific scrutiny. If the data used are inaccurate or if the models linking even accurate data to desired outcomes have not been properly established, evaluation, rational decision-making, and allocation of resources become compromised. In general, computational and data capacities have outrun the accuracy of measurement systems and understanding of the phenomena that relate metrics to desired outcomes. The result may be exciting graphical representations whose meaning remains uncertain. A key part of any solution would be to get scientists in the NNI community to work together to develop models that can be tested to validate current measures. Research on indicators and processes to support metrics would also be highly valuable. In its final report, the committee will provide recommendations based on the concepts presented in this interim document and will address Tasks 1 and 3 in addition to exploring Task 2 more fully. 2