Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, often referred to simply as “nanotechnology,” is the understanding, characterization, and control of matter at the scale of nanometers, the dimension of atoms and molecules. Advances in nanotechnology promise new materials and structures that are the basis of solutions—for example, for improving human health, optimizing available energy and water resources, supporting a vibrant economy, raising the standard of living, and increasing national security. A more appropriate term for the diversity of nanoscale science and engineering applications is perhaps nano-enabled technologies.
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. It was codified into law by the 2003 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (Section 2, Line 2). The NNI not only advances the frontiers of nanoscience and nanotechnology, but also serves the public good through technology transfer, assessing and mitigating the risk of using nanotechnology, educating students at all levels, reaching out to and informing the public about nanotechnology, developing the nanotechnology workforce, and supporting the prominence of the United States in commercial applications for economic benefit.
The vision of the NNI is as follows:1
To expedite the discovery, development and deployment of nanoscale science and technology to serve the public good through a program of coordinated research and development aligned with the missions of participating agencies.
The NNI has the following four high-level goals:
- Advance a world-class nanotechnology research and development program;
- Foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit;
- Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and a dynamic infrastructure and toolset to advance nanotechnology; and
- Support responsible development of nanotechnology.2
These broad goals clearly show that the scope and aim of the NNI goes beyond a mere collection of federal agency research projects and individual agency programs.
The management and oversight structure of the NNI and the relationships between the various federal stakeholders are depicted in Figure 1.1. Central to NNI management and oversight is the interagency Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee under the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC’s) Committee on Technology. The NSET is made up of representatives from each NNI participating agency and is co-chaired by an agency representative (a position rotated among the NNI agencies) and a representative from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It meets periodically to share projects, plans, strategies, and results. The NSET currently has two working groups and four coordinators to enable enhanced focus on specific cross-cutting issues important to the NNI.
The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) provides technical and administrative support to the NSET Subcommittee, serves as a central point of contact for federal nanotechnology R&D activities, and provides public outreach on behalf of the NNI. The NNCO is funded by contributions from those federal agencies supporting its research, in proportion to the level of funding reported. Accurate determination of nanotechnology-related spending can be difficult in cases where nanotechnology is a critical enabling technology but the program is not categorized as a “nanotechnology” activity. The arrangement for funding the
1 National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), 2014, National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan, Committee on Technology, Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology, February, http://www.nano.gov/sites/default/files/pub_resource/2014_nni_strategic_plan.pdf, p. 5.
NNCO provides a disincentive to including such investments. It falls to the NSET and the NNCO, as experts in nanotechnology, to strive to convince managers of other programs to invest in nanotechnology solutions and to encourage the agencies to report those investments to the Office of Management and Budget as part of their NNI activities.
Since the establishment of the NNI in 2001, participating federal agencies have grown from 8 agencies in the late 1990s to some 27 agencies today.3 The annual federal budget for nanotechnology research has grown from ~$0.5 billion in 2001 to ~$1.4 billion in the President’s 2017 budget request. Cumulative NNI investments since fiscal year (FY) 2001 (including the 2017 request) total nearly $24 billion.4
By coordinating, sharing, and promoting the advancement of nanotechnology research and commercialization, the NNI has fostered a U.S.-led international nanotechnology ecosystem that supports the efforts of nanotechnology researchers, entrepreneurs, business people, educators, and policy makers. The NNI has achieved notable successes in several areas, including fundamental nanoscale science and engineering (NSE); nanoengineered materials; manufacturing; tools and instruments; environment, health, and safety; and education. Examples of successes are documented in the annual Supplements to the President’s Budget5 and numerous workshop reports. See, in particular, Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020: Retrospective and Outlook.6
NNI investments, and similar investments in many other countries, have supported substantial scientific activity, stimulated global economic development in a wide range of industries and markets, and provided a foundation for continued innovation and commercial development—that is, they have created a global nanoscale science and engineering innovation ecosystem. Nearly 10,000 firms are engaged in nanotechnology-related R&D and manufacturing worldwide. Nanotechnology firms include organizations that are engaged in R&D, manufacturing, or marketing of nanotechnology products, methods, or services. These firms may be engaged at different stages of the value chain and include start-up ventures, manufacturers of
3 The number depends on how one counts the various participants. Appendix C has 27 entries of participating NSET members that were extracted from the Supplement to the President’s Budget for the cited year. The NNI presently reports 20 root agencies. The difference between these two numbers reflects the counting in Appendix C of OSTP and OMB (which are part of the Office of the President), NIST (which is part of DOC), and NIH, FDA, NIOSH, and ATSDR (which are part of HHS) and two different entries for DOL (one on the regulatory side, OSHA, and another separate entry for the Employment and Training Administration).
intermediary materials and composites, biotech firms whose treatments and cures are based on nanomedicine, and most semiconductor manufacturers.7 Of the “nanotechnology firms” worldwide, more than half (>5,000) are U.S. firms. This compares to approximately 1,000 nanotechnology firms in Germany8 and 600 in Japan.9
Fifteen years after the launch of the NNI, this report represents the 2016 National Research Council (NRC)10 triennial review of the NNI, pursuant to the 2lst Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (P.L. 108-153, 2003). The statement of task (reprinted in Appendix A) that guided this review of the Committee on Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative has two parts.
- Examine and comment on the mechanisms in use by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to advance focused areas of nanotechnology towards advanced development and commercialization, along with the approaches taken to determine those focus areas and to implement the NNI’s Signature Initiatives. If warranted, recommend possible improvements.
- Examine and comment on the physical and human infrastructure needs for successful realization in the United States of the benefits of nanotechnology development. Consider research and development, product design, commercialization, and manufacturing needed both to advance nanoscience and engineering and to grow those portions of the American economy that are spurred by advances in nanotechnologies. If warranted, recommend possible improvements.
Prior reviews by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)11 and NRC12 committees have called on the NNI to take steps to more efficiently move results into commercial use. In its 2014 review, PCAST concluded
7 Semiconductor firms have been incorporating nanocircuits and nanostructures in their chips since the late 1990s.
8 According to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 1,000 German firms are engaged in research and development and marketing of nanotechnology products (Research in Germany, “Nanotechnology,” http://www.research-in-germany.org/en/research-landscape/research-areas/nanotechnology.html, accessed January 14, 2016).
9 M.S. Tomcyzk, Nanoinnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Know, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, Germany, 2014, p. 31.
10 Effective July 1, 2015, the institution is called the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. References in this report to the National Research Council are used in an historical context identifying programs prior to July 1.
11 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), 2014, Report to the President and Congress on the Fifth Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Executive Office of the President, October, https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports.
12 National Research Council, 2013, Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
that the “United States will only be able to claim the rewards that come from investing in nanotechnology research and sustaining an overarching federal initiative if the federal interagency process, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the agencies themselves transition their nanotechnology programmatic efforts beyond supporting and reporting on basic and applied research and toward building program, coordination, and leadership frameworks for translating the technologies into commercial products.”13 In fact, the United States is realizing the economic rewards from investing in nanotechnology research, as illustrated in Figure 1.2. However, there remain substantial opportunities for raising U.S. commercial returns relative to the levels achieved in Asia and Europe.
The commercial value of nanotechnology is difficult to estimate. In 2001, government and industry experts predicted that the nanotechnology market would reach $1 trillion in 10 to 15 years. A recent Lux Research report estimates that the global nanotechnology-enabled market exceeded $1 trillion in 2013 and is projected to grow to more than $3 trillion by 2018.14 Given the typical 10- to 20-year time from discovery to commercialization, the economic impact of NNI research will likely continue beyond 2018. As illustrated in Figure 1.2, the United States currently represents about one-fourth of the nano-enabled product market. Figure 1.2 shows that the annual investment of ~$1 billion per year by the NNI in fundamental research and infrastructure is projected to be followed by ~$100 billion annual growth in U.S. commercial revenue in the coming years. While complexities in the transition processes from laboratory discovery to commercial product make a quantitative assessment of the return on investment from the NNI funding difficult, it is reasonable to conclude that the NNI has had significant economic consequences.
In addition, economic consequences are only part of the success criteria for the NNI. As documented in a report from a wordwide study,15 nanoscale materials are expected to significantly improve quality of life and to attract students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The United States leads in training nanotechnology scientists and engineers. More than 75 colleges and universities offer nanotechnology degrees, and NNI-sponsored government and corporate
13 PCAST, 2014, Report to the President and Congress on the Fifth Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, p. 2.
14 H. Flynn, 2014, Nanotechnology Update: Corporations Up Their Spending as Revenue for Nano-enabled Products Increase, Lux Research, State of the Market Report, February 17, http://portal.luxresearchinc.com/research/report_excerpt/16215.
15 Roco et al., 2011, Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020.
programs continue to give students and workers essential knowledge and tools for manipulating atoms and molecules to develop new technologies and applications.
As indicated by the projected nano-enabled market growth, there is more value to be had. Nanotechnology research in advanced materials, medicine, semiconductors, sensors, and other areas is creating exciting new opportunities for commercialization. The NNI mission and goals support commercialization of nanotechnologies to create economic benefit and new sources of employment. And government agencies can use resources and policies to help expedite the transition of technologies from research laboratories to commercial markets.
However, it should be noted that a stronger emphasis on applied research and commercialization does not diminish the need to sustain support for basic research, which is a wellspring of new knowledge and ideas. Many of the commercial opportunities that are being exploited now (e.g., in solar energy, advanced materials, and medicine) are derived from basic research conducted or sponsored by NNI agencies.
Greater focus on enabling innovation may require adjustment to the NNI organization and portfolio. NNI’s NSET Subcommittee does have experience in such restructuring. Over time, NNI agency participation reflects (1) the growth in agencies seeking to augment or exploit the growing nanoscale science and engineering knowledge base, (2) the increasing number—albeit still modest—of NSET members who work on technology transition programs, (3) the growing attention by the regulatory agencies (especially those associated with environment, health, and safety, and (4) the growing participation of agencies associated with marketplace (e.g., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Consumer Product Safety Commission). This evolution is evident in the agency representation over the years, which is shown in Appendix C.
The NNI programmatic emphasis also has changed over time. Table 1.1 shows the evolution as reflected in the reported areas of investment. Fundamental or foundational research has been a major investment throughout the initiative’s history. Other areas that have received continuous support are infrastructure and instrumentation, as well as societal aspects, including environment, health, and safety. Focus on specific areas of research motivated by applications, such as medicine, solar energy, and so on, has shifted over time. Whereas such application areas were identified at the outset, following the legislation enacted in 2003, new program component areas (PCAs), defined as major subject areas under which are grouped related projects and activities, were identified. The first set of PCAs are shown in the column labeled “2006” in Table 1.1. These were less focused on application areas and more oriented around investment areas related to and in support of fundamental research. As of FY2015, the Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (NSIs), which are areas with greater application and commercial potential, are designated as PCAs, along with other areas that continue to be tracked and supported.
Recommended by PCAST and launched in mid-calendar year (CY) 2015, nanotechnology-inspired grand challenges are intended to capture public attention and engage stakeholders in both public and private sectors. However, the first such grand challenge—Future Computing—highlights a difficulty that the grand challenge mechanism presents to the NNI. Although advances in nanoscale science and engineering certainly will be essential to the development of the envisioned future computational system, there also will have to be major advances in areas outside of nanotechnology, such as architecture and software.
TABLE 1.1 Evolution of the NNI Investment Portfolio
|Fundamental research||Fundamental phenomena and processes||Fundamental phenomena and processes||Foundational research|
|Nanoscale devices and systems||Nanoscale devices and systems||Nanotechnology-enabled applications, devices, and systems|
|Materials by design||Nanomaterials Nanomanufacturing||Nanomaterials Nanomanufacturing||
|Energy conservation and storage|
|Nanosensors for disease and bio threat|
|Health care therapeutics and diagnostics|
|Space exploration and industrialization|
|Environmental improvement National security|
|Infrastructure||Research infrastructure and instrumentation|
|Instrumentation||Instrumentation research, metrology, and standards||Instrumentation research, metrology, and standards|
|User facilities||Major research facilities and instrumentation acquisition||Major research facilities and instrumentation acquisition|
|Modeling and simulation|
|Centers and networks of excellence|
|Societal implications and workforce training||Societal dimensions||Education and societal dimensions|
|Environmental health and safety||Environmental health and safety|
NOTE: The table material is extracted from the NNI Supplement to the President’s Budget for the designated year. The new NNI grand challenge effort was not mentioned in the 2016 supplement, because it was published in early 2015, prior to formal incorporation of grand challenges into the NNI program.
Furthermore, an essential component in any effort toward technology transfer and commercialization is manufacturing. Reflecting that fact, nanomanufacturing has been an area of attention and investment in the NNI since 2004. A recent federal initiative, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, seeks to augment the U.S. advanced manufacturing base,16 with a goal of growing jobs in a sector that is critical to economic wellbeing and national security. Nanotechnology provides new and promising innovative materials and processes, and the NNI can make important contributions to almost any area of advanced manufacturing.
The fact that nanotechnology often is an enabling component of innovative technologies, but is not the sole required advancement, poses a challenge for structuring and managing the NNI portfolio to facilitate technology transfer and commercialization. If NNI investments and activities alone are not sufficient, how can or should the NSET organize and manage the initiative to achieve commercial and public benefits?
In response to part A of the committee’s statement of task related to advancing focused areas of the NNI toward advanced development and commercialization, Chapter 2 assesses signature initiatives and grand challenges, as well as other possible approaches. Chapter 3 provides an in-depth look at one focus area of particular importance to commercialization and manufacturing.
The ability to perform leading-edge nanoscale science and engineering R&D depends on access to state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities. The NNI has built a substantial physical infrastructure, including facilities that are widely accessible to academic, industry, and government users. The cost of state-of-the-art fabrication and characterization tools can be prohibitive for small and medium-sized businesses. As nanotechnology-enabled innovation continues to expand, the value of NNI user facilities to this category of users also will grow.
The NNI has been a driver for multidisciplinary activities, and nanotechnology remains a vehicle for bridging traditional science and engineering boundaries. A critical component of NNI’s multidisciplinary effort has been a series of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded centers (Figure 1.3) focused on areas such as nanomanufacturing, materials, nanoelectronics, environment and education. These centers represent a significant element of the NNI physical and human infrastructure activity. However, such centers have a finite lifetime, and diffusion of NSE into traditional disciplines coupled with the tendency for basic research
funding over time to seek new areas of emphasis likely will make it more difficult in the future to have larger, center-scale programs specifically focused on NSE. A decrease in NSE centers with their consolidated funding and broad mandate could diminish the availability of instrumentation that often is associated with center-based research and reduce or further dilute NSE education efforts that are part of the broader impact of such centers. Moreover, certain centers serve as resources for the entire nanotechnology community, and their termination may have a much broader impact. For example, nanoHUB.org, which is part of the Network for Computational Nanotechnology and described in greater detail in Chapter 4, is a repository for research and educational materials developed, shared, and used by all. Current funding is scheduled to end in 2018.
Chapter 4 addresses one part of the committee’s statement of task, providing an evaluation of the NNI-funded physical infrastructure—including facilities funded by the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Cancer Institute, as well as NSF—and recommendations for sustaining it in order to support U.S. leadership in NSE research and commercialization.
STEM education and workforce training is a topic that encompasses NSE education. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama issued a call to better equip U.S. graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy, noting that STEM is crucial to the nation’s economic future and that students with STEM skills will be a driving force making the United States competitive, creative, and innovative.17
As advances in nanotechnology lead to commercial opportunities, NSE-knowledgeable workers will be needed at all levels. These trained workers will be needed to keep the United States competitive in STEM-related research, entrepreneurship, and commercial development.18 There will be increasing demand for workers who understand how to (1) safely handle atoms, molecules, and nanostructures; (2) preserve the unique properties that only occur at the nanoscale; and (3) integrate nanomaterials into macro or “bulk” materials and products. Therefore, including NSE in STEM education will be increasingly important.
NSE education can also play a role in getting students interested in STEM. Nanotechnology represents an intriguing new environment—including the ability to manipulate atoms, molecules, and nanoparticles like building blocks. It can provide exciting examples of technology solutions for societal problems that will catch the attention of students, including underrepresented communities. If presented properly, with interesting educational materials, nanotechnology can stimulate interest among students who might not be interested in traditional STEM topics. Unfortunately, most K-12 classrooms cannot offer hands-on nanoscale instruction to students because instruments to observe or manipulate at the nanoscale are too expensive and nanotechnology curriculum support is not yet widely available. The NNI and its collaborating agencies can help ameliorate these problems.
Nanotechnology education should be not limited to classrooms; nanotechnology is increasingly embedded in many areas where nanoscale skills were previously not needed. Quality control engineers use nanoscale characterization methods to examine wear and tear on injector systems in car engines. Cement makers embed nanoparticles to make concrete flexible and waterproof. Nanoscale features are pres-
17 Office of Science and Technology Policy, “OSTP Initiatives,” https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/initiatives#STEM%20Education, accessed March 4, 2016.
18 National Academy of Engineering, 2015, Making Value for America: Embracing the Future of Manufacturing, Technology, and Work, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
ent in most biological structures that can cause—and cure—disease. Nanoelectronics are facilitating flexible displays and smartphones that bend and fold. These are only a few examples of industries that are using nanotechnology. New methods are needed to provide nanotechnology proficiency to the existing workforce.
As nanomaterials are incorporated into more products in the commercial market, there is concern for the environmental, safety, and health implications. To make informed risk management decisions, it will be important for everyone to be informed about the basic principles of NSE.
To meet the needs indicated above, NSE needs to be incorporated into education at all levels and integrated into new and existing STEM initiatives. The second element of the committee’s statement of task part B related to the development of the necessary human infrastructure is addressed in Chapter 5, including recommendations for strengthening NNI activities in NSE education.