BOX 1.1
Why Nanomaterials Are Special

Nanoscale particles are not new in either nature or science. However, the recent leaps in such fields as microscopy have given scientists new tools for understanding and taking advantage of phenomena that occur naturally when matter is organized at the nanoscale. In essence, these phenomena are based on “quantum effects” and other simple physical effects, such as expanded surface area. In addition, the fact that most biologic processes occur at the nanoscale gives scientists models and templates for imagining and constructing new processes that can enhance their work in medicine, imaging, computing, printing, chemical catalysis, materials synthesis, and many other fields. Nanotechnology is not simply working at ever smaller dimensions; rather, working at the nanoscale enables scientists to use the unique physical, chemical, mechanical, and optical properties of materials that naturally occur at that scale.


SOURCE:, accessed January 10, 2013.

workforce, and supporting the prominence of the United States in commercial applications and economic value and benefit.

The NNI sprang from advances in the ability to see, measure, and manipulate matter at the nanoscale, from the new properties that emerged from nanoscale materials and structures, and from the recognized potential for nanotechnology to provide benefits and solutions in response to national needs. It grew from the 8 federal agencies that came together in the late 1990s to form the Interagency Working Group on Nanotechnology to 26 participating agencies today with a corresponding increase in the federal budget for nanotechnology research from about $500 million in 2001 to nearly $1.8 billion in the President’s 2013 budget request. The cumulative investment in the NNI since 2001 (including the estimated spending in 2012) is about $16 billion. Of the 26 participating agencies, 15 have budgets for R&D. Nearly 95 percent of the total comes from five of the NNI charter agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

It should be noted that the nanotechnology investment is not controlled by the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Technology. As described in the NNI implementation plan,2 each agency invests in projects that


2 NSTC, NNI: Leading to the Next Industrial Revolution. The Initiative and Its Implementation Plan, July 2000, pp. 38-40, available at, accessed January 8, 2013.

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