The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the U.S. government’s interagency program for coordinating, planning, and managing research and development (R&D) in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. According to the 2011 NNI strategic plan,1
The Vision of the NNI is 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 NNI expedites the discovery, development, and deployment of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology to serve the public good, through a program of coordinated research and development aligned with the missions of the participating agencies.
Established in 2001 by President Clinton, and strongly supported by Presidents Bush and Obama and by six Congresses, the NNI strives not only to advance the frontiers of nanoscience and nanotechnology (see Box 1.1) but also to serve the public good through technology transfer, assessing and mitigating the risks associated with nanotechnology, educating students at all levels, reaching out to and informing the public about nanotechnology, developing a nanotechnology
1 National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan, Committee on Technology, Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology, February 2011, available at http://www.nano.gov/sites/default/files/pub_resource/2011_strategic_plan.pdf, accessed December 19, 2012.
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: http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/special, 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 http://www.wtec.org/loyola/nano/IWGN.Implementation.Plan/nni.implementation.plan.pdf, accessed January 8, 2013.
support its own mission and retains control over how it will allocate resources in light of its NNI proposals on the basis of the availability of funding; the substantial investment over the last decade has yielded progress in all aspects of nanoscale science and technology. Several thousand research projects in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have advanced the foundational knowledge and enabled unprecedented understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale. That has occurred through a system of new university research centers; nanotechnology networks involving academe and industry; national user facilities, such as those in DOE, NIST, and NIH; and many smaller infrastructure investments. There have been technological breakthroughs in such diverse arenas as biomedicine, electronics, communication, pharmaceuticals, energy and water resources, agriculture, and forestry.3 New fields and materials—such as spintronics, plasmonics, metamaterials, graphene, and nanomanufacturing—have emerged and blossomed. Attention to and ability to address the environmental health and safety (EHS) challenges associated with nanotechnology have also advanced markedly.
Nanotechnology is not a single technology: It is the application of control and manipulation of matter at the nanoscale to create technology solutions—for example, for improving human health, optimizing available energy and water resources, supporting a vibrant economy, increasing the standard of living, and increasing national security. The successful discovery, development, and use of nanotechnology depend also on facilities, education, an educated workforce, technology transfer, risk assessment, and risk management.
With the NNI established through consensus and cooperation among the founding agencies, it quickly flourished and grew at the time of the enactment in 2003, with bipartisan support, of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (Public Law 108-153).4 That law made statutory many of the structures and activities that were already in place and required periodic planning, reviewing, and annual reporting to Congress of NNI progress toward its goals—a process needed for sound management and oversight.
The management and oversight structure of the NNI and the relationships among the various federal stakeholders are shown in a simplified form in Figure S.1 and in a more complete form in Figure 1.1. Central to NNI management and oversight is the interagency NSET Subcommittee, which is made up of representatives of the participating agencies and is cochaired by an agency representative (the position rotates among the agencies) and a representative of the White House
4 Public Law 108-153, 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-108publ153/html/PLAW-108publ153.htm, accessed November 13, 2012.
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The NSET Subcommittee meets at least once a month to share projects, plans, strategies, and results.
The NSET Subcommittee has four working groups to enable enhanced focus on specific crosscutting issues that are important to the NNI. Three working groups were originally chartered in the 2004 NNI strategic plan: on Nanotechnology Environ-
mental and Health Implications (NEHI), on Nanomanufacturing, and on Industry Liaison. By the time of the 2007 NNI strategic plan, the NSET Subcommittee had formed four working groups: NEHI remained, a merged Nanomanufacturing and Industry Liaison working group was renamed Nanomanufacturing, Industry Liaison, and Innovation (NILI), a new Global Issues in Nanotechnology (GIN) group, and a new Nanotechnology Public Engagement and Communications (NPEC) group. Membership in the working groups is open to all NNI member agencies.
As required by statute, the NSET Subcommittee develops and publishes a triennial strategic plan. The first, released in 2004, created the vision, goals, and categories of investment, or program component areas (PCAs), that are still in place with only minor adjustment. The PCA that comprised environmental, health, and safety (EHS), education, and societal implications was divided earlier to report EHS as a separate category. The four NNI goals are listed below:
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.
4. Support the responsible development of nanotechnology.
Later strategic plans have retained the original vision and four goals, but there have been changes and additions. These successive strategic plans do not seem to be updated with respect to progress made since previous plans. In the 2008 strategic plan, the single PCA on societal dimensions was split into two: one containing EHS and one containing education and societal dimensions. Also in 2008, high-impact application opportunities and examples of critical research needs were added. The 2011 strategic plan included more detailed objectives for each goal, some of which are quantitative. Also new was an emphasis on collaborative agency activities, most notably the signature initiatives, “areas ripe for significant advances through close and targeted program-level interagency collaboration to enable the rapid advancement of science and technology in the service of national economic, security, and environmental goals by focusing resources on critical challenges and R&D gaps.”5
Today, there are five signature initiatives:
• Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion: Contributing to Energy Solutions for the Future.
• Sustainable Nanomanufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future.
• Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond.
5 NSTC, National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan, 2011, p. 39.
• Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure: Enabling National Leadership in Sustainable Design.
• Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology: Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment.
The breadth of the NNI goals shows that the scope of the NNI goes beyond a mere collection of research projects and programs on nanotechnology in the federal government. It also seeks to ensure that technology transfer, education, workforce development, support for research infrastructure, and appropriate responsibility and oversight are addressed.
As required by statute, the NSET Subcommittee develops and publishes an annual report and budget request in the form of the NNI supplement to the President’s fiscal year budget. The annual reports detail progress toward each of the NNI’s goals from an agency-by-agency perspective and highlight specific interagency activities, changes in the balance of investments by NNI member agencies among the PCAs, information on use of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs in support of nanotechnology development, and responses to external NNI reviews.
The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), which was made statutory by the act, provides technical and administrative support to the initiative and the NSET Subcommittee. The NNCO budget is set by the NNI agencies that actually have their own budgets for nanotechnology research and funded by prorated contributions from the agencies. The NNCO budget is about $3 million per year, which represents 0.12 percent of the total NNI budget.
The 2003 legislation that authorized the NNI also set up procedures for regular review and oversight. A National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (NNAP) was established to evaluate the NNI every 2 years and report the results of the evaluation to the President. The NNAP assesses the trends and developments in nanotechnology overall and the strategic direction of the NNI, particularly as it is related to maintaining U.S. leadership in nanotechnology research; comments on NNI program activities, management, coordination, and implementation; determines whether the program is adequately addressing societal, ethical, legal, environmental, and workforce issues; and makes recommendations on how to improve the NNI. President Bush designated the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) as the NNAP in 2004, and President Obama has elected to continue this appointment. On submission of the report to the President, the director of OSTP transmits a copy of it to Congress. The most recent NNI assessment by PCAST was released in April 2012.
In addition to review by the NNAP, the act calls for the National Research Council to conduct triennial reviews of the NNI that cover diverse topics (see Appendix A). Pursuant to Section 5 of Public Law 108-153, the director of the
NNCO requested that the National Research Council conduct the third triennial review of the NNI, and this review is the subject of the present report.
The overall objective of the National Research Council’s triennial reviews of the NNI is to make recommendations to the NSET Subcommittee and the NNCO that will improve the value of the NNI strategy and portfolio for basic research, applied research, and applications of nanotechnology to advance the commercialization, manufacturing capability, national economy, and national security interest of the United States. In keeping with that objective, the present review addresses the tasks listed below:
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;
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 nongovernment) that could perform evaluations of progress; and
3. Review NNI’s management and coordination of nanotechnology research across both civilian and military federal agencies.
Those tasks represent a recognition that more than a decade after inception the NNI—like nanoscale science and engineering—has evolved and matured. The NNI has established a distinguished record of federal investment and scientific accomplishments in nanotechnology research. Through activities and coordination of the NSET Subcommittee and the NNCO, the NNI has helped agencies to meet their individual and collective needs and has developed best practices in interagency planning and coordination in connection with it.
The question is how to move the NNI to the next level in meeting its long-term goals. In the interim report,6 the committee began to examine Task 2. In the present report, the committee
• Discusses the origins of the current procedures and criteria for determining progress toward NNI goals and assesses their suitability. (Interim report: Chapter 2)
6 National Research Council, Interim Report for the Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Phase II, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012 (reprinted in Appendix E).
• Suggests new definitions of success and their associated metrics and recommends how the procedures and criteria could be changed if the new definitions of success for the NNI were adopted. (Chapter 4)
• Identifies the federal government stakeholders and other stakeholders across the nation that have benefited and could benefit more from the NNI if such definitions of success were adopted. (Chapter 3)
• Describes management and coordination roles of OSTP, the agencies, the NSET Subcommittee, and the NNCO from the point of view of the nongovernment stakeholders. (Chapter 5)
• Examines the role of metrics in evaluating progress toward planned outcomes of the NNI. (Chapter 4)
• Recommends definitions of success and associated metrics for NNI goals. (Chapter 4 and the interim report)
• Suggests organizations that could evaluate progress on the basis of these definitions. (Chapter 4)
• Examines the current role and assesses the performance of the NNI in maximizing opportunities to transfer selected technologies to the private sector. (Chapter 6)
• Recommends changes in the NSET Subcommittee and the NNCO regarding management, planning, and coordination on the basis of the recommended definitions of success and expands on these recommendations with respect to technology transfer and commercialization. (Chapter 6)
The committee believed that this order of discussion of the elements in its statement of task best reflected the logic of its approach to review of the NNI. The committee recognizes that—as a broad interagency initiative based on a shared vision of a crosscutting technology, that is, nanotechnology—the NNI operates differently from a mission-centric program in a single agency. The committee believes that the synergy added by the NNI to the substantial strengths residing in the 26 NNI participating agencies has proved to be a result of a wise and fruitful investment by the United States. The challenge is to develop a framework that supports targeted NNI goals, planned outcomes, metrics, and processes and that allows participating agencies to meet their missions while maximizing the collective benefit of nanotechnology R&D to taxpayers and the nation.