The United States has structured its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) investment in nanoscience and technology into ﬁve Program Component Areas (PCAs), the ﬁrst of which (currently) includes six Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (NSIs), as shown in Box 1.2 in Chapter 1. Established ﬁrst in 2010, and strategically adjusted periodically since, the NSIs1 were intended to be
Focused areas of national importance that may be more rapidly advanced through enhanced interagency coordination and collaboration. These NSIs provide a spotlight on critical areas and deﬁne the shared vision of the participating agencies for accelerating the advancement of nanoscale science and technology from research through commercialization. By combining the expertise, capabilities, and resources of appropriate Federal agencies, the NSIs aim to accelerate research, development, and insertion, and overcome challenges to the application of nanotechnology-enabled products.2
The cross-agency teams behind the NSIs have accordingly sought to integrate knowledge, infrastructure, and resources across appropriate federal agencies to achieve effective translation of nanotechnologies to the marketplace. Below is a brief review of the NNI activities by NSI, including for completeness one former
NSI on “Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion,” which has ended.
PCA 1: Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives and Grand Challenges
The following subsections provide a description of each of the six signature initiatives and the future computing Grand Challenge.
NSI on Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion (2010-2015)
This NSI was in place from 2010 to 2015 and was supported by the Department of Energy (DOE), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense (DoD), intelligence community (IC), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It sought to use nanotechnology to accomplish three goals:
- Improve photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity generation;
- Improve solar thermal energy generation; and
- Improve solar-to-fuel conversions.
In the United States, commercial solar PV panels were expected to have a solar-to-electric energy conversion efﬁciency of 20-23 percent in 2019.3 The maximum solar efﬁciency of a single p-n junction cell (owing to recombination within the panel) is given by the Shockley Queisser Efﬁciency Limit and is ~33.7 percent for typical solar illumination conditions.4 Increasing solar photovoltaic efﬁciency toward this limit is clearly an important objective, provided it does not adversely impact cost. This will have signiﬁcant beneﬁts both to the public use of renewable energy sources and for national security (for all nations). Apart from widespread impacts on public energy costs, the combination of more efﬁcient solar electricity generation and more affordable energy storage systems is expected to pervasively impact the future operations and missions of the DoD and other national security agencies, especially for operations where other power sources are absent (e.g., forward-deployed forces and space platforms) as well as those of agencies such as NASA as it prepares for extended missions to the moon and Mars.
3 See EnergySage, “What Are the Most Efﬁcient Solar Panels on the Market? Solar Panel Cell Efﬁciency Explained,” https://news.energysage.com/what-are-the-most-efﬁcient-solar-panels-onthe-market/, accessed 04/16/2020.
4 See “Shockley-Queisser Limit,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shockley%E2%80%93Queisser_limit, accessed 04/16/2020.
Although this NSI was terminated in 2015, much work continues in the area of solar-to-fuel conversion and energy storage at centers such as the Joint Center for Artiﬁcial Photosynthesis (JCAP; $15 million/year), Caltech, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and including center collaborators from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC); University of California, Irvine (UCI); University of California, San Diego (UCSD); National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); and at least six DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) SunShot initiative aimed at reducing the cost of photovoltaic electricity production was/is likely a part of DOE NNI. The NSI enabled a focused effort by a number of centers and supported integrated, multidisciplinary, experimental, and theoretical efforts.
That said, with the exception of SunShot, a set of clearly articulated quantitative goals and milestones did not emerge from the NSI, and a great deal of further basic science needs to be advanced in solar-to-fuel conversion before widespread deployment at multiple scales is likely. Solar-thermal is being deployed in multiple locations in California and Arizona, with plants typically generating a few hundred megawatts of electricity.5 However, cost remains a signiﬁcant issue. The issue of energy storage remains the most serious roadblock to widespread deployment of solar technologies. According to Ramamoorthy Ramesh, DOE, solar PV plus battery storage is needed at 5 cents/kW hour for grid parity.6 This translates to a need for batteries that can be built at a cost of $50/kW hour—that is, one-seventh that provided by today’s state-of-the-art commercial providers.
In January 2020, DOE launched its Energy Storage Grand Challenge building on the $158 million Advanced Energy Storage Initiative announced in the President’s 2020 budget request. The aim is to create a comprehensive program to accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of next-generation energy storage. Although focused on energy storage, the Grand Challenge will also encompass scale-up challenges including manufacturing, workforce development, valuation, and technology transfer. The Grand Challenge sets ﬁve goals to be reached by 2030.7
In the solar-to-fuel technology domain, the three leading countries are considered to be the United States, China, and Japan. Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland are also highly regarded. The United States is the origin of the majority of highest cited publications. However, in 2010 China surpassed the United States in
5 See https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/solar/solar-thermal-power-plants.php, accessed 11/04/2019.
7 See U.S. Department of Energy, “U.S. Department of Energy Launches Energy Storage Grand Challenge,” https://www.energy.gov/articles/us-department-energy-launches-energy-storage-grand-challenge, accessed 04/16/2020.
total output of both publications and patents, and China now has four times as many patents in this area than the next nearest country. In terms of innovation, the United States perhaps still leads, but in terms of collaboration with industry, China and Japan appear to have taken the lead. As one example, the United States does not have systems-level prototypes for CO2 reduction, whereas Europe and Asia have sizable programs in this area in addition to their fundamental research and development (R&D) programs. The development of systems-level prototypes for CO2 reduction seems to be an opportunity of considerable promise for the United States but will require industry and academia to work together with appropriate support and incentive from U.S. government agencies.
NSI on Sustainable Nanomanufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future
Industries that are based on nanotechnology require the development of scalable synthesis and manufacturing tools capable of reliably and reproducibly creating nanomaterials and devices in a cost-effective, safe, and environmentally (sustainably) responsible manner, and for integrating them into nanotechnology-enabled products. While the semiconductor industry has largely succeeded in this through its use of industry-government consortia, many other areas of nanotechnology have struggled, and so this interagency initiative led by NIST and NSF and supported by DoD, DOE, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), IC, NASA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), USDA, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS)8 seeks to form partnerships with industry and academia with a shared interest in the development of new manufacturing approaches.9 For example, the city of Lanzhou, China, hosts a demonstration project for direct solar fuel synthesis at the thousand-ton scale,10 while the EU and Switzerland funded a mobile pilot plant producing jet fuel at a scale large enough to be relevant to large-scale industrial implementation.11
Two thrust areas are supported by the 11 participating agencies:
10 See EurekAlert, “Thousand-Ton Scale Demonstration of Solar Fuel Synthesis Starts Operation in Lanzhou, China,” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/caos-tsd011620.php, accessed 04/16/2020.
11 See EurekAlert, “Power-to-Liquid: 200 Liters of Fuel from Solar Power and the Air’s Carbon Dioxide,” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-08/kift-p2l080817.php, accessed 04/16/2020.
- Design of scalable and sustainable nanomaterials, components, devices, and processes, with a speciﬁc focus on carbon nanotube-based and cellulosic nanomaterials; and
- Nanomanufacturing measurement technologies, with a focus on high-throughput, in-line metrologies to ensure good manufacturing process control, product quality, and yield.
This signature initiative is advancing the scientiﬁc understanding and developing the physical infrastructure necessary for the ongoing lab-to-market transition for both classes of nanomaterials. It has involved the development of high-throughput measurement methods that are complemented by modeling and simulation tailored to realistic manufacturing conditions. It has increased the national capability to produce commercially relevant engineered nanomaterials at pilot plant-scale levels, and enabled demonstrations for several high-end applications, while simultaneously addressing environmental health and safety (EHS) responsibilities. The advanced nanomanufacturing knowledge and infrastructure being developed is extendable to other new classes of nanomaterials and will impact the manufacturing of materials for lightweighting, advanced composites, ﬂexible electronics, and advanced textiles. The national security enterprise is often an early adopter of new materials, and the scalable manufacture of nano-enabled products being developed within this initiative promises a new generation of lightweight materials produced via sustainable processes.
Advancing the science and technology of nanomanufacturing is an essential step in translating research discoveries into commercial nano-enabled products. This NSI can impact the Manufacturing USA/National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) institutes that are focused all or in part on advanced materials and their production. The proof-of-principle demonstrations achieved to date establish milestones for the viability of scaled-up nanomanufacturing that impact several distinct industry sectors such as roll-to-roll nanomanufacturing and applications of graphene and related two-dimensional (2D) materials. Sustainable nanomanufacturing processes and products have a potential economic impact by providing greater proﬁt margin, lower health risks, and entirely new commercial markets.12,13,14,15
12 A. Busnaina, J. Mead, J. Isaacs, and S. Somu, 2013, Nanomanufacturing and sustainability: Opportunities and challenges, Journal of Nanoparticle Research 15:1984, doi: 10.1007/s11051-013-1984-8.
13 C. Geraci, D. Heidel, C. Sayes, L. Hodson, P. Schulte, A. Eastlake, and S. Brenner, 2015, Perspectives on the design of safer nanomaterials and manufacturing processes, Nanoparticle Research 17(9):366, doi: 10.1007/s11051-015-3152-9.
15 H. Koga, N. Namba, T. Takahashi, M. Nogi, and Y. Nishina, 2017, Renewable wood pulp paper reactor with hierarchical micro/nanopores for continuous-ﬂow nanocatalysis, ChemSusChem 10:2560-2565, doi: 10.1002/cssc.201700576.
It is important to place the work of this initiative in the global context. While the NSI has made signiﬁcant advances in sustainable nanomanufacturing, commensurate with its level of funding, greater efforts are necessary if the nation is to successfully compete with foreign efforts. These efforts include a substantial R&D effort on nanocellulose in Canada, and a European Network of Pilot Production Facilities (EPP), which includes 161 pilot facilities with emphasis on various nanomaterials.16 The U.S. effort is also competing with the European Union (EU) Horizon 2020 Program on Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing and Processing, and Biotechnology.17 This large program seeks to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) via open innovation test beds; materials characterization and computational modeling; factories of the future; sustainable process industries—see for example the roadmap of the Sustainable Process Industry Through Resource and Energy Efﬁciency (SPIRE) proposal,18 clean energy through innovative materials, and energy-efﬁcient buildings. The program includes a 2019 solicitation on sustainable nanofabrication intended to “establish industrial-scale manufacturing of functional systems based on manufactured nanoparticles with designed properties for use in semiconductors, energy harvesting and storage, waste heat recovery, medicine, etc.”19 Considerable nanomanufacturing efforts are also under way in South Korea, Japan, and China, as described further in Chapter 3.
NSI on Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the semiconductor industry is the fourth largest industrial sector in the United States, with almost half of the global market share; it directly employs 250,000 people and impacts another million U.S. jobs. The rapid pace of miniaturization and cost reduction has profoundly transformed computing and communications. The miniaturization of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) devices used for these applications entered the nanoregime about a decade ago, and this stimulated NSF, DoD, NIST, DOE, and IC to form a signature initiative in nanoelectronics. Its goals are to “accelerate the discovery and use of novel nanoscale fabrication processes
17 See European Commission, “Horizon 2020: Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing and Processing, and Biotechnology,” https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/nanotechnologies-advanced-materials-advanced-manufacturing-and-processing-and, accessed 04/16/2020.
18 See SPIRE, “SPIRE Roadmap,” https://www.spire2030.eu/sites/default/ﬁles/pressofﬁce/spireroadmap.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
19 See EFSA, “Sustainable Nano-Fabrication (CSA),” https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/funding/calls/sustainable-nano-fabrication-csa, accessed 04/16/2020.
and innovative concepts to produce revolutionary materials, devices, systems, and architectures to advance the ﬁeld of nanoelectronics.”20 Its ﬁve thrusts have remained the same as those of the July 2010 white paper: (1) alternative state variables for computing; (2) merging of nanophotonics and nanoelectronics; (3) carbon-based nanoelectronics; (4) quantum information systems; and (5) national nanoelectronics and manufacturing infrastructure.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has also started a 5 year, $1.5 billion electronics resurgence initiative (ERI) to address the long foreseen problems that are encountered as it becomes more challenging to adhere to Moore’s law21 for predicted improvements in computational performance.22 The NSF has had a steady focus on nanoelectronics and has sustained funding at around $100 million/year since 2015 with attention on high energy efﬁciency electronics within the Convergence Research element of the “10 Big Ideas” for future NSF investments.23 There have been strong collaborations with NIST and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) for new funding rounds (e.g., Energy-Efﬁcient Devices, Systems, and Architectures). NSF has been very effective at coordinating with other agencies and leveraging results. It has also played a role in advancing neuromorphic computing and engineering, which is further along than quantum computation in industry. The Air Force Ofﬁce of Scientiﬁc Research (AFOSR) has focused on nanoelectronics through Basic Programs and Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURIs; e.g., ﬁscal year [FY] 2016: Ultralow Power, Ultrafast, Integrated Nano-Optoelectronics and FY 2017: Scalable Certiﬁcation of Quantum Computing Devices and Networks), with dedicated emphasis on the ﬁve NSI thrust areas. The National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) network is coordinating regional centers, universities, and education outreach. The largest public-private commitment (>$610 million) for a manufacturing institute in 2015 focused on integrated photonics and involved DoD.
This signature initiative has been recently complemented by a new effort in quantum-enabled systems. In December 2018, the President signed into law the new National Quantum Initiative (NQI), which supports a multiagency (NSF, NIST, and DOE) program to develop science and implement training in quantum information science (QIS).24 To be successful with the NQI, quantum
21 G. Moore, 1975, “Progress in Digital Integrated Electronics,” Technical Digest 1975, International Electron Devices Meeting, IEEE, pp. 11-13.
22 See DARPA, “DARPA Electronics Resurgence Initiative,” https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/electronics-resurgence-initiative, accessed 04/16/2020.
23 See NSF, “Convergence Research at NSF,” https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/convergence/index.jsp, and NSF, “Convergence Exemplars,” https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/convergence/exemplars.jsp, both accessed 04/16/2020.
24 See American Institute of Physics, National Quantum Initiative Signed into Law,” https://www.aip.org/fyi/2019/national-quantum-initiative-signed-law, accessed 04/16/2020.
information communities will need to coordinate strongly with nanotechnology communities. Sensors related to national security could most likely beneﬁt from nanoelectronics advances, although they are not a primary emphasis of the NSI. A relevant Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) report25 from 2015 suggested that the United States does well in devices, materials, and architectures but that its unfunded areas include exotic nonequilibrium concepts and thermal management.
NSI on Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure: Enabling National Leadership in Sustainable Design
The Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI) signature initiative was launched in 2012 to “provide a community-based, solutions-oriented knowledge infrastructure to accelerate nanotechnology discovery and innovation.”26 The aim was to coordinate 11 member agency efforts (Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC], DoD, DOE, EPA, Food and Drug Administration [FDA], NASA, NIH, NIOSH, NIST, NSF, OSHA) to develop a community of practice that would leverage an agile modeling network for multidisciplinary research and applications development and develop a cyber-toolbox to turn models into effective materials design rules and a data and information sharing infrastructure across disciplines, applications, and agencies. This initiative was funded at the level of $20 million per year on average, until 2019. Upon completion, it was deemed a success, as the involved agencies have adopted the NKI-developed approach as a working protocol.
The coordination of large amounts of data across a wide variety of materials, disciplines, and application sectors was a considerable challenge clearly laid out in a 2012 white paper.”27 It leveraged a remarkable array of resources including the caNanoLab,28 InterNano,29 nano-hub,30 the Nanomaterial Registry,31 the Nano-
25 K. Golatsis, P. Gargini, T. Hiramoto, R. DeKeersmaecker, J. Pelka, and L. Pﬁtzner, 2015, Nanotechnology research gaps and recommendations, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine pp. 21-30, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2015/index.php?startid=39#/22.
26 See National Nanotechnology Initiative, “NSI: Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI)—Enabling National Leadership in Sustainable Design,” https://www.nano.gov/NKIPortal, white paper, accessed 04/16/2020.
31 Part of nanoHub, the Nanomaterial Registry is a central registry and growing repository of publicly available nanomaterial data. See nanoHub, “Nanomaterial Registry,” https://nanohub.org/groups/nanomaterialregistry, accessed 04/16/2020.
- A set of Data Readiness Level (DRL) deﬁnitions to provide a shorthand method for conveying coarse assessments of data maturity from experiments or model predictions;
- A collaboration between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Nanotechnology Laboratory (caNanoLab) portal and the Nanomaterial Registry;
- A ﬁve-tiered process to evaluate the potential hazard of, and exposure risk associated with, a nanotechnology-enabled product or process (nanoGRID);35 and
- A collaboration between the Nanomaterial Registry and Nanohub.
Note that the activities of one U.S. federal agency in particular have captured the interest of other international players in nanotechnology—NIOSH has raised the bar for the global community in terms of work practices, evaluation protocols, and evaluation processes related to nanomaterials. In addition, the EU-U.S. Nanoinformatics 2030 Roadmap,36 developed in 2017, used the results from the Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure Signature Initiative.
However, while the 2012 white paper laid out expected outcomes, many were not subsequently tracked and measured, making a performance evaluation difﬁcult. The available reports were brief and were not formulated within a framework amenable to performance evaluation. For instance, the white paper identiﬁes the need to coordinate with the U.S. government’s Materials Genome Initiative (MGI),37 since it has overlapping goals and addresses a broader range of materials. However, this committee was unable to determine if efforts were coordinated and what tangible outcomes have resulted.
Shortening the time taken to bring new materials to market is key to competitive advantage and promoting national economic prosperity. Advances in materials
32 A repository for annotated data on nanomaterial characterization. See SNNI, “Nanomaterials-Biological Interactions Knowledgebase,” https://greennano.org/research/projects/knowledgebase, accessed 04/16/2020.
34 EPA Toxicity Forecasting tools. See EPA, “Toxicity Forecasting,” https://www.epa.gov/chemicalresearch/toxicity-forecasting, accessed 04/16/2020.
35 Z.A. Collier, A.J. Kennedy, A. Poda, M.F. Cuddy, R.D. Moser, R.I. Maccusple, A.R. Harmon, et al., 2015, Tiered guidance for risk-informed environmental health and safety testing of nanotechnologies, Journal of Nanoparticle Research 17(3):1-21, doi: 10.1007/s11051-015-2943-3.
36 See https://www.nanosafetycluster.eu/outputs/eu-us-roadmap-nanoinformatics-2030/, accessed 04/16/2020.
are at the heart of technologies that are key to cybersecurity and defense; hence, key partners in this initiative were DoD and NASA. In the age of data analytics and artiﬁcial intelligence (AI), the required data governance demanded by digital thread concepts38 for manufacturing is particularly important. The NKI initiative is particularly relevant in this context, not only for the building of databases and knowledge dissemination but also for the training of highly qualiﬁed personnel capable of navigating the world of data analytics and informatics.
A number of countries and regions have systematically invested in nanoscience knowledge infrastructure (especially Japan and the EU) and have been diligent in measuring progress through clear key performance indicators. Fortunately, the U.S. competitive position has been monitored by the EU and others, providing the data that are not reported through the NNI. After investing in a number of AI centers across Canada (mostly academic expertise tied to universities, banks, Google, and Facebook), the Canadian government is now looking into materials development acceleration mechanisms. By contrast, the current state and investments in knowledge infrastructure for nanotechnology in China, especially in terms of coordination across its R&D institutions, is presently unknown.
NSI on Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology: Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment
Sensors play a key role in areas such as food safety, biological threats, chemical threats, personnel safety, and explosive detection. Nanotechnology is a component that can improve the performance of sensors for these diverse applications. The goal of this NSI is to support research on engineered nanomaterial properties and to develop supporting technologies that enable next-generation sensing of biological, chemical, and nanoscale materials.39 This is a diverse initiative. One focus is to develop inexpensive, portable devices for biological and chemical sensing. Another focus is to develop methods and devices to detect and identify engineered materials across their life cycles in order to assess their potential impact on human health and the environment. The NNI sensor signature initiative research annual research funding has been in the range of $150 million to $250 million. However, the nanotechnology-speciﬁc component of the sensor economic impact is difﬁcult to identify.
38 For an introduction to the concepts of the digital thread, see C. Leiva, “Demystifying the Digital Thread and Digital Twin Concepts,” Industry Week Magazine, August 1, 2016, https://www.industryweek.com/technology-and-iiot/systems-integration/article/22007865/demystifying-thedigital-thread-and-digital-twin-concepts, accessed 04/16/2020.
39 See National Nanotechnology Initiative, “NSI: Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology—Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment,” https://www.nano.gov/SensorsNSIPortal, accessed 04/16/2020.
There appears to be broad interest among funding agencies in the general area of sensors and coordination to enhance the availability of the most effective technologies for national security applications. Communication among these agencies and coordination of research funding programs is valuable, as similar technologies can have applicability in different areas. For example, related technologies can be applied to spacecraft environmental monitoring, agricultural sensing, and medical diagnostics. The evaluation of impact of nanoparticles in the environment is important. The initiative is broad in scope. While it is clear that nanotechnology has been and remains an important component of sensor technologies, speciﬁc examples of major advances attributable to engineered nanostructures are somewhat lacking, as the committee has found.
NSI on Water Sustainability Through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge
The goal of the Water Sustainability NSI, launched in 2016, is to use the unique properties of engineered nanomaterials to develop technological solutions that can alleviate current stresses on the water supply and provide methods to sustainably utilize water resources in the future.40 The three thrusts of the NSI on water sustainability are (1) increase water availability using nanotechnology, (2) improve the efﬁciency of water delivery and use with nanotechnology, and (3) enable next-generation water monitoring systems with nanotechnology.
NNI efforts, beginning in 2016 at the launch of the NSI on water sustainability, have clearly promoted interagency collaboration, as evidenced by a collaborative white paper41 identifying key challenges and goals with quantiﬁable outcomes against which progress can be measured. In 2016-2017, the National Nanotechnology Coordination Ofﬁce (NNCO) produced three webinars, available on the website of the NNCO, highlighting challenges related to water sustainability that require solutions. The webinars involved participants from multiple federal agencies, providing further evidence of interagency collaboration stimulated by the NSI on water sustainability.
Within each of the federal agencies collaborating under the umbrella of the NSI on water sustainability, there are strong research programs bridging basic and translational research aligned with the NSI goal, including an Engineering Research Center (ERC; Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-
40 See summary and white paper from this NSI launch, National Nanotechnology Initiative, “Water Sustainability Through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge,” https://www.nano.gov/nsiwater, accessed 04/16/2020.
Enabled Water Treatment [NEWT]) supported by NSF, a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program supported by NASA, and USDA research programs on sensors for agriculture. The quality of the research performed under programs such as NEWT is excellent, and is advancing nanotechnology to address the water NSI thrust areas.
Subsequent to an initial burst of interagency activity coinciding with the launch of the NSI on water sustainability (in 2016), the committee found little evidence of follow-up collaborative efforts between the agencies from 2017 to 2019. The NNCO director indicated that several interagency efforts have recently been launched under the NSI, including organization of a symposium at a national meeting to showcase progress and interagency collaboration on a funding initiative. It is important that the NNCO continue to promote interagency collaboration and dissemination of the efforts.
Water is a critical national security issue. Within the United States, extreme weather events are increasingly common, and potentially disruptive to water supplies. Nanotechnologies have the potential to generate potable water at point of use. Outside the United States, the lack of availability of water is a potential contributor to international conﬂicts, many with substantial national security implications for the United States. Additionally, the development of technologies capable of providing clean water is critical for U.S. defense forces abroad and for strategic goals related to exploration of space.
Agricultural output of the western states of the United States relies heavily on the availability of water, and technologies that lead to more efﬁcient transportation and availability of water will play a key role in sustaining economic prosperity. Nanotechnologies being developed within the scope of the NSI on water have the potential to provide signiﬁcant energy savings by minimizing the need to transport water over long distances. The quality of basic research at the intersection of nanoscience and water sustainability, as evidenced by efforts such as the Engineering Research Center at ASU/Rice supported by NSF (NEWT), is excellent and world leading. A new DARPA program on Atmospheric Water Extraction also holds promise for a low-power approach for increasing the availability of potable water globally.42 Relative to other countries (particularly in Europe), the NSI on water in the United States has apparently placed less effort on translational initiatives aimed at commercializing new technologies.
The NSI on water has been effective in promoting efforts in basic funding within federal agencies to address agency speciﬁc challenges related to, for example, space exploration, defense, and agriculture, but its impact on efforts to commercialize water-related nanotechnologies appears to have been limited. Since this NSI was
launched 4 years ago, it would be timely to perform an interagency assessment of progress made toward the objectives of its three key thrusts, including identiﬁcation of critical gaps in progress that need directed investment of resources.
Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing
This Grand Challenge43 brings together scientists and engineers from many disciplines to look beyond the near-universal von Neumann computing architecture as implemented with transistor-based processors, and to chart a new path that will continue the rapid pace of innovation beyond the next decade to enable low-power cognitive computing. Speciﬁcally, the challenge is to “create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efﬁciency of the human brain.” It is a coordinated and collaborative effort across multiple levels of government, industry, academia, and nonproﬁt organizations. R&D focus areas for federal R&D investments in support of this goal include (1) materials; (2) devices and interconnects; (3) computing architectures; (4) brain-inspired approaches; (5) fabrication/manufacturing; (6) software, modeling, and simulation; and (7) applications. Currently, there does not seem to be much publicly available material about this NSI, other than the overarching government National Strategic Computing Initiative Update: Pioneering the Future of Computing from the White House in 2019.44
PCA 2: Foundational Research
As deﬁned by the NNI, foundational research includes the following:45
- Discovery and development of fundamental knowledge pertaining to new phenomena in the physical, biological, and engineering sciences that occur at the nanoscale;
- Elucidation of scientiﬁc and engineering principles related to structures, processes, and mechanisms;
- Research aimed at discovery and synthesis of novel nanoscale and nanostructured materials and at a comprehensive understanding of the proper-
44 See National Science and Technology Council, “National Strategic Computing Initiative Update: Pioneering the Future of Computing,” https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/National-Strategic-Computing-Initiative-Update-2019.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
ties of nanomaterials ranging across length scales, and including interface interactions; and
- Research directed at identifying and quantifying the broad implications of nanotechnology for society, including social, economic, ethical, and legal implications.
The committee observed that the relative strength of citations for U.S.-origin scientiﬁc publications is a strong indicator that it is among the leading nations for advancing foundational nanotechnology research in nanoscale materials and structures, even though its relative position is being eroded rapidly by competitors.46,47 That said, it is not at all clear how much of this published foundational work depends causally on the coordination by the NNI, given that the NNI does not enumerate or otherwise account for the actual scientists and engineers who are actively involved in the NNI’s aggregated activities. Further, although the committee was highly interested in assessing the impact48 of PCA 2 on national security matters after nearly two decades of investment, it found that there are not substantive, validated means to assess the relative position of the United States in national security terms.49 There are numerous, speciﬁc material systems and categories that differ in priority and emphasis by region (e.g., the strong investments in graphene in the EU) as well as relative strength and depth.
PCA 3: Nanotechnology-Enabled Applications, Devices, and Systems
PCA 3 addresses R&D that applies the principles of nanoscale science and engineering to create novel devices and systems or to improve existing ones. It includes the incorporation of nanoscale or nanostructured materials and the processes required to achieve improved performance or new functionality, including metrology, scale-up, manufacturing technology, and nanoscale reference materials and standards. To meet this deﬁnition, the enabling science and technology must be at the nanoscale, but the applications, systems, and devices themselves are not restricted to that size.
47 “Nanotechnologies Output, Impact, and Collaboration: A Comparative Analysis of France and Other Countries,” https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/pdf_ﬁle/0011/159959/Report_SciVal_Nanotechnology_France_2015.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
48 See, for example, the section below, “Transfer of Discovery into Products for Commercial and Public Beneﬁt,” which addresses how other government programs document their direct impact on scientiﬁc output.
Importantly, PCA 3 brings together efforts that incorporate and utilize nanoscale science into actual devices and systems at larger scales. Because this subject area is where nanoscience and nanoengineering are applied to actual devices or macro-scale systems, it is no surprise that PCA 3 is the second most highly funded. Its value has been mostly recognized and prioritized by NIH, which contributes almost 77 percent of PCA 3’s funding toward medical devices, nanotherapeutics, drug delivery systems, and novel radiotherapeutics.
That said, from the deﬁnition and scope of PCA 3, there seems to be a natural overlap with some of the NSIs (e.g., Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond, Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology, Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing), but the areas of overlap are not stated explicitly and the contributions of the NSIs to PCA 3 may not be accounted for clearly. Further, it appears that the strategic relevance of areas such as AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and quantum devices is not reﬂected in the budget allocation for PCA 3 nor in the overall body of information related to PCA 3.
Once more, the committee ﬁnds that it is hard to develop a quantitative evaluation of the outcome of R&D efforts within PCA 3 because the essential data for this are not tracked (e.g., by number of grants, number of people involved, papers, patents, students trained, etc. as a result of the awards funded by each agency in subjects pertaining to PCA 3).
While the impact of nanoscience and nanotechnology on national security is stated in the strategic plan of NNI and in the contributions to NNI from DoD, there does not seem to be an explicit description or available data for how the investments on PCA 3 have impacted national security. Nonetheless, DoD (the third largest contributor to funding for PCA 3) states that “nanotechnology is an enabling technology for the new classes of sensors (such as novel focal plane arrays), communications, and information processing systems needed for qualitative improvements in persistent surveillance. The DoD also invests in nanotechnology for advanced energetic materials, photocatalytic coatings, active microelectronic devices, and a wide array of other promising technologies.”50
It is regrettable that no data are readily available to evaluate contributions to economic prosperity from PCA 3. However, turning once again to patents as a measure of economic intensity, it seems clear that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Ofﬁce (USPTO) and the European Patent Ofﬁce (EPO)—the patents that target the richest economic markets—still issue many more patents to U.S. inventors.51,52
51 H. Zhu, S. Jiang, H. Chen, and M.C. Roco, International perspective on nanotechnology papers, patents, and NSF awards (2000-2016), Journal of Nanoparticle Research 19(11): 370, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11051-017-4056-7.
PCA 4: Research Infrastructure and Instrumentation
The fourth PCA supports the establishment and operation of user facilities and networks, the acquisition of major instrumentation, its use for workforce development, and other activities that develop, support, or enhance the nation’s physical, cyber, or workforce infrastructure for nanoscience, engineering, and technology. It includes research to develop the tools needed to advance nanotechnology research and commercialization, including informatics tools and next-generation instrumentation for characterization, measurement, synthesis, and design of materials, structures, devices, and systems. While student support to perform research is captured in other PCAs, dedicated educational efforts ranging from curriculum development to advanced training are included as resources supporting the workforce infrastructure of the NNI.
As the most recent NNI Strategic Plan states,53
The nanotechnology enterprise requires support for a widely accessible state-of-the-art physical infrastructure. As nanotechnology rapidly advances, shared-use facilities must maintain existing tools and continuously refresh their equipment to meet the evolving needs of users from industry, academia, and government for synthesis, processing, fabrication, characterization, modeling, and analysis of nanomaterials and nanosystems. In many cases, single researchers or institutions ﬁnd it difﬁcult to justify funding the acquisition of and support for all necessary tools. Therefore, user facilities critically enable R&D and accelerate commercialization by co-locating a broad suite of nanotechnology tools, maintaining and replacing these tools to keep them at the leading edge, and providing expert staff to ensure the most productive use of the tools. The facilities also support the development of advanced nanoscale fabrication methods and measurement tools. Finally, shared facilities are a vital resource for training nanotechnology researchers and for creating a community of shared ideas by mixing researchers from different disciplines and sectors.
Through its partnering agencies, the NNI supports a number of world-class physical user facilities and user facility networks, including
- NSF NNCI54
- DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs)55
- NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST)56
- National Cancer Institute (NCI) Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL)57
53 National Science and Technology Council, National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan, October 2016, https://www.nano.gov/sites/default/ﬁles/pub_resource/2016-nni-strategic-plan.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
This physical nanotechnology infrastructure is complemented by the NSF Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN);58 a cyber-physical infrastructure for nanoscience and technology research.
Since the launch of the NSF-funded National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN; 2004-2015)—the predecessor program to the NNCI—the U.S. nanotechnology infrastructure programs have been recognized as international leaders and viewed as a “role model” by which infrastructures in other countries have been developed. They have worked collaboratively across agencies and sites to ensure that the United States was at the forefront of tool development for materials production, processing and forming, and related metrology. Concerted efforts were made to collocate toolsets that would facilitate groundbreaking R&D at the nanoscale. Today, however, comparable infrastructure resources exist in many parts of the world, with very signiﬁcant ﬁnancial resources committed to maintaining and expanding them. Examples from North America, Europe, and Asia include the following:
- Canada’s National Design Network59 (managed by CMC-Microsystems60)
- Nanotechnology Platform Japan (NTPJ)61
- Australian Nanotechnology Network62
- Nordic Nanolab Network64 in Scandinavia
- NanoLabNL65 in the Netherlands
- Forschungslabore Mikroelektronik Deutschland (ForLab)66 in Germany
- National Center for Nanoscience and Technology,67 in Beijing, China
- National Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology,68 in Shanghai, China
66 See Forschungslabore Mikroelektronik Deutschland (ForLab), https://www.elektronikforschung.de/service/aktuelles/forschungslabore-mikroelektronik-deutschland-gestartet, accessed 04/16/2020.
68 See Shanghai Jiao Tong University, “National Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology,” http://en.sjtu.edu.cn/research/centers-labs/national-engineering-research-center-for-nanotechnology, accessed 04/16/2020.
- Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics (SINANO),69 in Suzhou, China
These international infrastructure programs and nanotechnology hubs represent signiﬁcant investments in their respective regions. As an example, SINANO was founded in 2006 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with local authorities to support nanotechnology research related to information, energy, life sciences, and the environment. In 2014, construction started for the Vacuum Interconnected Nano-X Research Facility70 as part of SINANO, which claims to be the largest multifunctional research platform in the world, with hundreds of pieces of equipment for material growth, device fabrication, and testing, all interconnected by vacuum pipelines to avoid contamination of surfaces. The initial investment was RMB 320 million (about $45 million USD) with a total planned investment of RMB 1.5 billion ($210 million USD). The committee knows of no equivalently equipped site in the United States. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) established the NTPJ71 in 2012 to ensure a reliable research infrastructure to support scientiﬁc innovation through sharing cutting-edge equipment and research know-how across 25 institutes and universities comprising 37 facilities.72 The NTPJ includes an Advanced Characterization Platform, a Nanofabrication Platform, and a Molecule and Materials Synthesis Platform.
Besides infrastructure networks and hubs, several countries have established signiﬁcant innovation and technology transfer hubs in the area of nanotechnology, speciﬁcally to accelerate product development. Examples include
- China: Nanopolis Suzhou (http://www.nanopolis.cn/en/Index.aspx)
- Japan: nano (https://www.nano.jp)
- Belgium: IMEC (https://www.imec-int.com/en/home)
- France: MINATEC (https://www.minatec.org/en/)
- Canada: C2MI (https://www.c2mi.ca/en/)
National nanotechnology associations—such as Nanotechnology Business Creation Initiative (NBCI) in Japan, NanoTechnology Research Association (NTRA) in Korea, NanoCanada, Malaysia Nanotechnology Association, and the Nano Regions Alliance across 17 European countries—also play an important role in connecting their stakeholders’ SMEs, multinational enterprises (MNEs), aca-
demia, and government so that expertise and facilities can be deployed to advance nanoscience and the commercialization of nanotechnologies. They do so through coordination of infrastructure; business matching; road-mapping activities; organization of international, national, and regional symposia and conferences; as well as international outreach for global competitiveness.
The U.S. nanotechnology infrastructure remains a considerable strength. While the particular access models to U.S. physical user facilities are somewhat different from facility to facility, the underlying goal of all the user facilities is to provide simple access for academia, industry, and government researchers to state-of-the-art nanofabrication and nanocharacterization tools and the associated highly trained staff expertise. The impact and reach of these user facilities can be assessed from their annual reports. As an example, the newest annual report of the NNCI, published in March 2019,73 states that the more than 2,000 tools within the network of 16 sites and 13 partners have “been accessed by more than 13,000 users including nearly 3,400 external users, representing >200 academic institutions, >900 small and large companies, ~50 government and nonproﬁt institutions, as well as 46 foreign entities.” These numbers continue to increase, highlighting the continued growing need for access to enabling research infrastructure well after the ofﬁcial start of the NNI. This establishment and operation of core facilities, such as the NNCI, is considered a key strength of the NNI, with impact reaching communities even beyond the classical nanoscale engineering and science. The ﬁve DOE NSRCs provide complementary facilities capabilities that are internationally accessible,74 NIST operates a NanoFab user facility,75 and the NCI operates an NCL.76 These broadly accessible core facilities are particularly useful for small companies and users from universities outside the network institutions. Access to these core facilities is truly enabling, as many of the tools are simply too expensive to acquire. To ease access and promote a diverse user base, the user facilities have developed a wealth of programs, including seed grant programs to fund scientists to try out new ideas and “remote work” capabilities, whereby the work is actually performed by facilities’ staff. The training aspect of the user facilities is often overlooked. The NNCI network alone trains more than 5,000 new users on an annual basis. It is understood that many of these users are PhD students who join nanotechnology companies or continue to do nanotechnology research at U.S. academic institutions after ﬁnishing their PhD’s. They are a critical component of the talent pipeline that is so essential to this ﬁeld. Last but not least, state-of-the-
art core facilities help attract top overseas talent to the United States, ranging from undergraduate and graduate students to exceptionally gifted faculty and senior researchers. This activity is viewed by the committee as being crucial for the U.S. nanotechnology program to remain competitive on an international scale.
Besides the physical infrastructure in form of nanotechnology core facilities, the NCN maintains a cyber-physical infrastructure, which includes the operation and advancement of nanoHUB.77 Today, nanoHUB provides over 5,500 resources for research and education, including courses, tutorials, seminars, discussions, and facilities to foster nano-research collaboration. This includes a library of over 500 simulation tools, free from the limitations of running software locally. Annually, over 1.4 million visitors participate in nanoHUB and over 12,000 people annually use simulation tools on nanoHUB.78
The critical weakness, ﬁrst identiﬁed in the 2016 Triennial Review of the NNI,79 is that equipment recapitalization of the facilities has become a key challenge. R&D workers observe that it is often more challenging to fund replacement of aging “workhorse” tools in nanotechnology core facilities, such as a mask aligner, a metal deposition system or an etching tool, than to purchase state-of-the-art research equipment, such as the latest aberration-corrected electron microscope or next-generation electron beam lithography system. The NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program, the NIH Shared Instrumentation Grants (SIGs), and the DoD Defense Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) are all excellent programs designed to enable the acquisition of new capabilities; however, because of the funding review processes and evaluation criteria, they are generally not suitable sources of support for replacement of aging workhorse tools. Many U.S. universities also invest heavily in nanotechnology core facilities, as highlighted by the recently opened $400 million MIT Nano building.80 However, other countries are investing heavily in their nanotechnology infrastructure, and “the U.S. has already seen some of its top nanotechnology researchers leave for international opportunities because of the availability of superior research infrastructure.”81
Furthermore, it is noted that the current infrastructure programs (e.g., NSF NNCI, NSF NCN, NIST NanoFab, and the DOE NSRCs) could be more impactful if better coordinated through the NNCO. Indeed, the community would beneﬁt from a stronger coordination of facilities/tools, activities, and collaborative efforts, especially considering the complementary expertise and capabilities of the infrastructure networks. At the moment, the NNCI’s educational and simulation
79 National Research Council, 2016, Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
81 C. Mirkin, presentation to the committee on 09/18/2019.
resources being hosted on nanoHUB provide a limited platform for networks to collaborate.
Many of the international infrastructure networks have been modeled after the U.S. nanotechnology infrastructure networks—in particular, the NNIN. However, the funding of these networks has evolved to sustain the operation of physical and cyber-physical infrastructure as well as tool recapitalization. A robust infrastructure investment model is key for the United States to avoid losing its international competitiveness.
Barriers to access also still remain, ranging from lack of awareness, to limits to accessibility, to unaffordable cost of use. Therefore, the NNI user facilities and networks must continue to develop programs, in partnership with funding agencies, to overcome such barriers. As an example, while research grants might pay for the access to user facilities, the researcher typically must travel to the user facility, and travel cost, especially in case of extended stays, is often a limiting factor.
Last, other countries leading in the ﬁeld of nanotechnology in terms of its translation into the marketplace have created national nanotechnology organizations that provide effective and often synergistic links across their ecosystem; they monitor and share data on the competitive landscape, analyze emerging trends, and advocate for strategic, and in some cases rapid, investments in key technology areas. An opportunity for the NNI to be a catalyst for the creation of such an organization in the United States now exists.
The impact on economic prosperity resulting from use of the physical and cyber-physical nanotechnology infrastructure is considered to be tremendous by the committee, even though it is difﬁcult to assess numerically, at least in part because the NNI has not been highly effective in collating relevant data. As mentioned above, the NNCI network alone is used by more than 900 companies on an annual basis, with more than 700 of these being small companies; many start-up companies develop their ﬁrst prototypes in the core facilities.
PCA 5: Environmental Health and Safety
The United States has implemented and maintained a sustained R&D commitment to responsible nanomaterials innovation, and this continues at a time of decreased investment in this area. In 2016, about 10 percent of NNI agency funding was devoted to the EHS of nanomaterials and devices, while in 2020, the estimate is 4 percent, or $80 million, according to the NNI Supplement to the President’s 2020 Budget.82 The focus continues to advance the goals of PCA 5, Environmental
82 See National Science and Technology Council, The National Nanotechnology Initiative Supplement to the President’s 2020 Budget, https://www.nano.gov/sites/default/ﬁles/pub_resource/NNIFY20-Budget-Supplement-Final.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
Health and Safety, under NNI Goal 4 (to support responsible development of nanotechnology).
When materials are synthesized or otherwise fabricated with dimensions in the nanoscale regime, the ratio of their surface area to weight dramatically increases. As a consequence, they sometimes exhibit much higher reaction rates with other materials and can exhibit different behaviors in the environment as compared to their bulk counterparts. Their very high surface area to mass ratio can result in very long sedimentation times once particles enter the atmosphere, and their very small dimensions allow penetration through skin and other membranes within the body, enabling them to be efﬁciently transported throughout living systems. The bio-chemo-physical properties of some nanomaterials are inﬂuenced by their surface structure, leading them to exhibit properties that are different from bulk forms of the same materials. It has therefore been important to understand the impact of these novel states of matter on living systems and the environment before large-scale commercialization begins.
The U.S. research on the effects of exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace, in products, and on the environment is unparalleled. This has been achieved through extensive interagency collaborations that have both advanced knowledge and improved methods and practices in occupational safety. These collaborations include voluntary workplace testing by NIOSH, by research on consumer product nanoparticle releases by CPSC and NIOSH, and by CPSC collaboration with NIST on a dust exposure survey. The EPA, CPSC, and NIOSH are also cooperating on characterizing nanoscale exposures related to three-dimensional (3D) printing. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) advances biological and environmental safety research for food and agriculture, while NIH collaborates with FDA on National Toxicology Program bioassays and funds a consortium focused on toxicology research. In addition, USFS participates in a public-private partnership known as P3Nano to advance commercialization.83 In collaboration with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, it is funding safety methods and data development involving collaborations with NIST, NIOSH, and industrial producers of cellulose nanomaterials. This partnership is working to establish the safety of cellulose nanomaterials, since these are expected to become high production volume bio-based nanomaterials, with a wide range of applications such as in automotive composites, building products, electronics, food, and barrier packaging.84 This innovative public-private funding model allows the USFS to advance work necessary for commercialization more quickly and at a fraction of the cost to the government.
83 See U.S. Endowment, “What We Do,” https://www.usendowment.org/what-we-do/innovation/p3nano-advancing-commercialization-of-cellulosic-nanomaterials/, accessed 02/29/2020.
84 A. Rudie, USDA, presentation to the committee, July 30, 2019, Washington, D.C.
Advancing knowledge of the biological activity and environmental behavior of nanomaterials is essential for sustainable commercial development of advanced materials and technologies, and leads to safer manufacturing and product designs. Past U.S. investment has focused on the toxicity of relatively few pristine materials at high exposure levels, meaning that research designs have limited the utility of studies to be used for risk assessment.85,86,87 However, the current focus remains on measurement infrastructure, health and environment (including ecosystem behavior and impacts), linking exposure to health outcomes, human exposure assessment to workers and products risk assessment and management (focus on research gaps and priorities, in vitro and alternative testing strategies), informatics and modeling, and other areas including collaborations, workshops, outreach, and signature initiatives. International collaborations are supported by the NNCO through seven committees in Communities of Research (COR) between the United States and Europe.
Because of issues such as lack of standard sample preparation techniques and diversity of test conditions, there remains limited insight about how the physical and chemical properties of engineered nanomaterials inﬂuence their biological behavior. Unanswered questions critical for commercial adoption remain, especially regarding behavior of more complex nano-enabled materials, such as 2D materials as well as emerging and advanced materials and technologies. There is a need for more thorough evaluation in risk assessments drawing on the foundations established by NNI agencies.88
The EU has also been a leader in responsible nanomaterials innovation and has increased funding and strengthened its public-private cooperation through the Horizon 2020 Framework Program, and the follow-on Horizon EU program. The
85 J.D. Ede, K.J. Ong, M. Goergen, A. Rudie, C.A. Pomeroy-Carter, and J.A. Shatkin, 2019, Risk analysis of cellulose nanomaterials by inhalation: Current state of science, Nanomaterials 9(3):337, doi: 10.3390/nano9030337.
86 D.B. Warheit and E.M. Donner, 2015, How meaningful are risk determinations in the absence of a complete dataset? Making the case for publishing standardized test guideline and “no effect” studies for evaluating the safety of nanoparticulates versus spurious “high effect” results from single investigative studies, Science and Technology of Advanced Materials 16(3):034603, doi: 10.1088/1468-6996/16/3/034603.
87 H.F. Krug, 2014, Nanosafety research—are we on the right track? Angewandte Chemie International Edition 53(46):12304-12319, doi: 10.1002/anie.201403367.
88 J.D. Ede, K.J. Ong, M. Goergen, A. Rudie, C.A. Pomeroy-Carter, and J.A. Shatkin, 2019, Risk analysis of cellulose nanomaterials by inhalation: Current state of science, Nanomaterials 9(3):337, doi: 10.3390/nano9030337.
situation in Europe is enviable: The EU NanoSafety cluster89 continues to advance knowledge, cooperation, and policy-relevant data sets, a result of funding large, multiple-stakeholder projects, such as NanoSafe,90 NanoReg, and NanoReg2.91,92 These projects engage companies, governmental researchers, and academics to conduct research and integrate ﬁndings into practice. An example is the Horizon 2020 Graphene Flagship, a €10 billion (USD 11.3 billion), 10-year project, with one component advancing knowledge of the 2D material for biomedical and EHS purposes. The shifting focus of the Horizon Europe funding program is toward innovation in advanced materials, including their role in climate, energy mobility, health, food, agriculture, the bioeconomy, environment, and natural resources. “Safer by design” and safety are key components of the EU Horizon 2020 initiative.
One of government’s responsibilities is the requirement to keep an updated repository of nanomaterials and gather information on their safety and use. This requires government agencies and departments to collaborate to share information and toolsets, and coordinate participation in international standards and regulation development. For example, in 2017, the European Union launched the EU Observatory of Nanomaterials (EUON)93 to create a one-stop shop where citizens and stakeholders (e.g., NGOs, industry, and regulators) can ﬁnd relevant safety information on nanomaterials in the EU market. The NNCO also provides analogous relevant safety-related information on its website.94
Japan has also made substantial investment in EHS of nanomaterials. The model is different, as companies generally participate in initiatives in which the research is performed by a government agency. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry started the Nanocellulose Forum with over 300 corporate members, and is conducting research to develop methods for use by industry for occupational health and safety testing. Japan is the global leader in commercial development of cellulose-based nanomaterials.
90 See Nano Safe ’20, “European Commission: Horizon 2020,” http://www.cea.fr/cea-tech/pns/nanosafe/en/Pages/European%20Commission/European-Commission.aspx, accessed 04/16/2020.
92 See NanoSafety Cluster, “Compendium of Projects in the European Cluster,” https://www.nanosafetycluster.eu/wp-content/uploads/NSC%20Outputs/Compendium/2017_NSC_Compendium.pdf?_t=1537124047, accessed 04/16/2020.
Accomplishments of PCA 5
The impacts of the NNI on EHS have included the development of a knowledge base sufﬁcient to allow regulatory and safety processes to develop and be streamlined, which is critical to successful technology development by the private sector. Efﬁcient regulatory and market processes rely on safety demonstration to adopt new technologies and authorize their use. The foundational understanding has been accomplished through the investments and coordination of the NNI, and the continued focus on EHS and responsible innovation. Unlike previous types of innovation, EHS issues for nanomaterials have been investigated in real time, as basic research on their synthesis and properties was also being conducted. This has been inherently challenging, as there was signiﬁcant work required on metrology and characterization. In review, a signiﬁcant body of knowledge has been built over the 16 years of the NNI. Further, the collaborative partnerships resulting from NNI coordination on EHS has built a professional community and shared infrastructure that will support responsible innovation as nanotechnology continues on its path to commercialization.
These observations indicate that for the United States to compete successfully in future nanotechnology commercialization, it should be a leader in R&D of the tools needed to ensure responsible development and safe use of nanotechnology. This includes improved occupational test methods, alternative testing assays, predictive modeling and risk assessment across the product life cycle, and economically important materials, such as alternatives to limited critical materials, including carbon-based nanomaterials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes whose commercial applications appear to be growing closer. Beyond research, the United States has the opportunity to assert leadership in responsible innovation through investments in bio-based high-performance materials, such as cellulose nanomaterials, and safer-by-design innovation methodologies. The resulting materials and technologies will contribute to economic prosperity by allowing more efﬁcient and sustainable manufacturing with lower energy and material costs.
Over 16 years, EHS funding resulted in the development of some broader data sets for select key materials, as well as test methods, including the advancement of alternative testing strategies for assessing the toxicity and grouping of nanomaterials. The body of EHS research relieved some unfounded early concerns about the safety of nanomaterials relative to their conventional counterparts, and elucidated novel mechanisms related to the physical or particulate aspects of nanomaterials.95 NNI agency funding from NIST and NSF included reviews
95 H. Godwin, University of Washington, presentation to the committee on May 22, 2019.
of trends advancing nano-EHS risk assessment.96 Safety demonstration is integral to commercialization and adoption. Further, interagency collaboration via NNI/NNCO and international cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US-EU Communities of Research (US-EU CORs), and the International Standards Organization (ISO) has fostered increased efﬁciency in EHS investigation and use of the work to advance programmatic objectives (EPA/FDA/USDA) of regulatory agencies. In terms of international competitiveness, the EHS research strategy coordinated by the NNI continues to improve regulatory acceptance of new technologies, as noted in the more than 200 premanufacturing notices for new nanoscale materials by the EPA, as well as NIOSH ﬁeld team investigations into more than 100 private manufacturing facilities.
The NNI remains a critical enabler of foundational environmental health and safety research related to nanotechnology. In particular, coordination of research efforts across agencies leverages expertise and resources to advance knowledge and state of practice. NIOSH leads federal research in occupational safety and health, with a dedicated research center and industry collaboration via ﬁeld studies teams. The ﬁeld teams “assess workplace processes, materials, and control technologies associated with nanotechnology. Research laboratories, producers and manufacturers working with engineered nanomaterials have the opportunity to participate in a cost-free, on-site assessment.”97 To date, NIOSH has “completed assessments at over 100 facilities that are involved in the research, manufacture, or use of various types of nano and advanced materials and manufacturing processes.”98,99
From 2009 to 2016, NIST led the establishment of fundamental measurement infrastructure in support of nanotechnology-related EHS research.100 The program produced 9 reference materials and 24 engineered nanomaterial measurement protocols available online101 in addition to over 200 publications. Further, program
96 See National Science and Technology Council, The National Nanotechnology Initiative Supplement to the President’s 2020 Budget, https://www.nano.gov/sites/default/ﬁles/pub_resource/NNIFY20-Budget-Supplement-Final.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
97 See https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/nanotechnology-research-center.html, accessed 04/16/2020.
98 See CDC, NIOSH, “Nanotechnology,” https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/ﬁeld.html, accessed 04/16/2020.
99 See Highlights of Recent Research on the Environmental, Health, and Safety Implications of Engineered Nanomaterials, https://www.nano.gov/sites/default/ﬁles/pub_resource/Highlights_Federal_NanoEHS_FINAL.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
101 See NIST, MML, “Nano-Measurement Protocols,” https://www.nist.gov/mml/nano-measurement-protocols, accessed 04/16/2020.
leadership engaged in relevant standards development organizations and facilitated collaboration across agencies and governments. Federal agencies have also extensively partnered across industry, academia, and professional associations as a result of NNI focus and support to foster responsible nanotechnology innovation.
The nation’s EHS research on responsible innovation directly supports the NNI mission by addressing one of the major obstacles to transfer of new technologies into safe products. This occurs by the collection of data, the development of safety guidelines, and the transfer of safety test methods to the private sector. Less obvious but of equal importance is general support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce training programs on EHS and related topics by NNI agencies. However, past work has tended to focus on analysis of a relatively few, well-studied, and relatively conventional nanoscale substances—for example, silver, carbon nanotubes (CNT), and titanium dioxide (TiO2)—toward methods development. Further, there were few instances of interlaboratory comparisons of repeat experiments102 limiting comparability or interpretation of studies for risk assessment. As mentioned, many studies conducted at unrealistically high concentrations led to ﬁndings that are not easy to interpret for risk assessment.103
The International Coordination of Standardization Efforts of Environmental Health and Safety
Standards are essential for the successful commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled products. Internationally, the ISO, the OECD, and others develop standards that regulators, researchers, and industry use to develop speciﬁcations, provide guidance, or indicate best practices, and many impact environmental health and safety aspects of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. The United States participates in most of these efforts. Standards are needed to facilitate clear communication about materials using common language. Clear terminology is especially important when researchers from different ﬁelds are communicating about quality, properties, amounts, and observations from different materials. Standards for measurement and characterization are necessary to ensure that what is produced meets speciﬁcations, and what is tested in assays is consistently reported. There are a variety of standards, including documentary standards for practices and reference standards for materials. ISO has developed more than 47 standards
102 T. Xia, R.F. Hamilton Jr., J.C. Bonner, E.D. Crandall, A. Elder, F. Fazlollahi, T.A. Girtsman, et al., 2013, Interlaboratory evaluation of in vitro cytotoxicity and inﬂammatory responses to engineered nanomaterials: The NIEHS Nano GO Consortium, Environmental Health Perspectives 121(6), See https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1306561.
and 23 reports for nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in Technical Committee 229 (TC229), with many in revision and many others in development. All of these documents are consensus standards, and are described as Technical Speciﬁcations, Technical Reports, Technical Guides, and others.
Many standards have been developed that relate to and support responsible development, for example, that include occupational handling guidelines, testing strategies, and sample dispersion protocols for testing. Standards improve the reliability of data and promote consistency in standards of practice. While international standards are voluntary, they are promoted as a way to generate consistent information, making it easier for regulatory agencies to accept studies, and for commercial organizations to create information and implement actions that facilitate quality and reliability. In some cases, regulatory agencies accept these standards for meeting testing requirements. The ISO TC229 2011 Business Plan suggests that international standardization efforts will “support technological development, societal acceptance and market expansion” in the nanoscale sciences and technologies in a variety of ways, including by identifying gaps and needs, developing test protocols, and supporting regulation and communication.104 There was an effort to develop a responsible nanotechnology document by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), but it was never ﬁnalized.
Intersectoral Collaboration on EHS
The NNI, through the NNCO, facilitates coordination and outreach regarding standards, including hosting webinars, participating in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and other efforts to advance standards development. The NNI has helped foster public and private cooperation in the United States. There are several examples of intersectoral cooperation between industry and others on responsible innovation. Many of these began or occurred more than 10 years ago—for example, the Responsible Nano Code, a multisector derived set of principles for nanomaterials research. In 2005, the American Chemistry Council and the Environmental Defense (now the Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF) issued a set of jointly agreed to principles on the development of nanotechnologies. In 2007, DuPont collaborated with the EDF to develop a nano risk framework to establish a process for responsible development of nanomaterials. This facilitated cooperation with the EPA, DOE, DoD, as well as OECD and ISO. Long-term collaboration between NASA, NIOSH, DoD, NIST, and others with small and large companies included EHS testing and manufacturing design to address occupational
104 F. Wickson and E. Forsberg, 2014, Standardising responsibility? The signiﬁcance of interstitial spaces, Science and Engineering Ethics 21:1159-1180, doi: 10.1007/s11948-014-9602-4.
and regulatory requirements during scale up.105 The Nanotechnologies Industry Association (NIA) is an industry group in Europe that participates in a variety of EU-funded research efforts, standards development among others. Companies such as DuPont, Cabot, Chemours, BASF, and Evonik participate in international efforts such as the American Chemistry Council Nanotechnology Panel, which participates in the OECD WPMN via the BIAC (Business at OECD) Nanotechnology Committee, a business and industry council, as well as national and international standards panels. Some of these companies are also participants in a German governmental initiative called NanoCare,106 with 14 other companies, universities, and research facilities. The BASF code of conduct is based on the German federal government principles. In 2014, BASF developed a code of conduct to ensure responsible handling of nanomaterials. This was and continues to be part of their commitment to nanosafety research, workplace safety, and participation in international efforts.
In the United States, the U.S. NanoBusiness Commercialization Association107 was founded in 2001 to advance research, innovation, and commercialization, and includes speciﬁc focus on regulatory aspects of commercial development in its monthly and annual meetings. Chemicals industry groups such as the American Chemistry Council,108 the Personal Care Products Council,109 and the American Cleaning Institute110 have also been active in providing perspectives on nanotechnology standardization and regulation.
After conducting this assessment, the committee recognized that the PCAs have served a useful organizing purpose that has promoted interagency coordination in areas of national relevance. Further, the current coordination approach has resulted in uneven investments across the four goals, leaving technology transfer and workforce development relatively poorly funded in comparison to fundamental research, infrastructure, health, and public safety. However, it has been difﬁcult to quantify the real level of effort applied to each area owing to the lack of data and to determine the true impact of each of these investments. Without an improved capability to quantify resource allocations and measure progress, there is a concern that effective leadership of the existing PCAs will be difﬁcult to execute. Even
105 E.J. Siochi, NASA, presentation to committee, October 31, 2019.
more problematic, the committee’s preliminary analysis indicates the presence of signiﬁcant inertia to change that will make it very difﬁcult for the United States to adapt quickly and adeptly to technical breakthroughs and adapt national priorities in a timely manner. In the past, when the global nanotechnology arena was paced by the work of the United States, this approach to NNI coordination was more appropriate. However, in the current era of intense competition and increasing risk of technological surprise, the committee is concerned that the organizing principles and budgetary arrangements to execute an agile program are inadequate. The identiﬁcation of a new approach has become an imperative.
Transfer of Discovery into Products for Commercial and Public Beneﬁt
The NNI, as coordinated via the NSET and the NNCO starting in 2000, enabled the United States to establish early leadership in the development of knowledge and facilities in many facets of nanoscience and nanotechnology. As other countries then followed the U.S. lead by formulating and implementing their own nano-initiatives, the investments in R&D of these other countries have naturally occurred further along the nanoscience-to-technology continuum. This delayed timing of investment outside the United States has allowed other countries to beneﬁt from foundational nanoscience research developed through early efforts in the United States, and to more effectively focus their investment in areas ripe for commercialization and public beneﬁt. While the United States has begun to beneﬁt from knowledge ﬂows in the opposite direction, there is a growing concern, as detailed below, that other countries have established facilities and innovative mechanisms for agile commercialization that go beyond those that currently exist in the United States. A particular focus abroad has been directed toward the development of multifaceted innovation ecosystems that aim to increase success in navigating the “valley of death” by integration of resources that go beyond those found in NNI legacy infrastructure and facilities in the United States. This valley of death typically occurs 10-15 years after an initial breakthrough, when the immediate luster of the discovery has worn thin or been swamped by newer developments, and before commercial “application pull” has been ﬁrmly established. Researchers are at this point for many of the discoveries and inventions achieved in the early years of the NNI. Examples of technologies enabled by the NNI in early 2000 that remain in the valley of death include nanophotonics (including 2D materials), DNA nanotechnology, nanosensors for medical diagnostics, and nanoelectronics (molecular electronics).111
111 M. Roco, presentation to the NNI committee, March 14, 2019.
A March 2018 report from the Center for R&D Strategy112 (which is part of the Japan Science and Technology Agency),113 shares that Japan’s prioritized nanoscience and nanotechnology goals are (1) the development of strong industry-university collaboration and (2) the establishment of an ecosystem for trial commercialization. This priority is reﬂected in the Tsukuba Innovation Arena,114 with its focus on providing facilities and expertise in key areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology, including nanoelectronics, power electronics, N-MEMS, nano-GREEN, carbon nanotubes, and nanomaterials safety. In 2015, the innovation arena comprised 145 companies and engaged 600 external researchers. Complementing this central hub, Japan created the Nanotechnology Platform Japan in 2012, a delocalized national platform that by 2016 had facilities in 26 member institutes and universities, 3,000 users annually, and an annual budget of 1.7 billion yen ($15.5 million USD).115
The NBCI in Japan116 is an industry-driven organization supported by membership dues (e.g., from participating multinationals, small and medium-size enterprises, trading companies, venture capital and consulting ﬁrms, and universities). NBCI works across the Japanese nanotechnology ecosystem to support related business activities, linking public or private research with industry needs, developing public policies around the use of nanotechnology, promoting open-innovation platforms, and developing technology roadmaps and standards and the exchange of knowledge and best practices both nationally and internationally.
Similarly, NanoMalaysia Berhad117 provides a number of programs for industry, academia, and research institutions through their iNanovation, IP, NanoVerify, and Advanced Materials industrialization programs. Interestingly, NanoMalaysia Berhad holds an intellectual property portfolio and serves as a single point of contact in brokering deals such as licenses, research contracts, and investments.
China’s 15-year “medium-long term plan”118 deﬁned a series of goals to be sequentially achieved, which can be summarized as establishing global dominance in academic efforts (publications), then patents (ongoing), and last indigenous innovation (the next challenge). China appears to be largely succeeding in meet-
115 1.7 billion Japanese yen is approximately $15.5 million USD as of January 2020.
118 See State Council, People’s Republic of China, “The National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006-2020),” https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Cybersecurity/Documents/National_Strategies_Repository/China_2006.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.
ing these goals, including in the broad ﬁeld of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Toward the goal of achieving indigenous innovation based on nanoscience, large investments from Chinese city, provincial, and central governments have created mega-technology parks, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, which contains the Nanopolis nanotechnology-incubator. These industrial parks integrate venture investors, intellectual property management, and shared instrumentation facilities. They also have close ties to academic institutions, and academicians are provided with generous ﬁnancial incentives and terms of ownership of intellectual property to start companies within the industrial parks. Additionally, the industrial parks are aggressively recruiting companies from abroad, using favorable terms of investment relative to that typically available in the United States. In China, while the investments are large, and the designs of the ecosystems are impressive, it is in many cases too early to assess the success of the initiatives. Some reports suggest that these investments have structural vulnerabilities, including distortion of market forces created by government venture funding and role of state-owned enterprises in technology development.
After a decade of signiﬁcant funding in nanoscience and nanotechnology, many European countries have moved from a mode of investing in individual nanoscience projects to the design and creation of sustainable ecosystems comprised of academic institutions, small and large commercial enterprises, and government agencies to create long-term socioeconomic beneﬁts through translation of knowledge into proofs of concept, prototypes, and products. While there are many ways to construct a nanotechnology ecosystem, a particularly interesting endeavor is the creation of NanoNextNL in 2010, a public-private partnership that matched €125 million (USD 142 million) from the Dutch government over 6 years with an expected 4:1 return on investment (ROI).119 Some of the innovative aspects of the program were the integration of risk analysis and technology assessment in research programs, business case development tools, intellectual property training, and entrepreneurship for trainees. The committee does not see similarly structured, at-scale programs in effect in the United States at this time.
Horizon 2020, a European research and innovation Framework Program, is the ﬁnancial instrument implementing the Innovation Union,120 a Europe 2020 ﬂagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. The aim of the Innovation Union is (1) to make Europe into a world-class science performer; (2) to remove obstacles to innovation like expensive patenting, market fragmentation, slow standard-setting, and skills shortages; and (3) to revolutionize the way
119 See NanoNextNL, “End Term Report,” https://www.nanonextnl.nl/wp-content/uploads/NNXT_EndTermReport_WEB_spreads.pdf, accessed 03/24/2020.
120 See European Commission, “Innovation Union,” https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/strategy/goals-research-and-innovation-policy/innovation-union_en, accessed 04/16/2020.
public and private sectors work together through Innovation Partnerships. As part of Horizon 2020, Europe has created Open Innovation Platforms with the goal of de-risking the commercialization of emerging technologies by sharing common challenges between technology developers to establish low-volume manufacturing and prototyping capabilities. Importantly, the Open Innovation Platforms are more than just facilities. They focus on creating/coordinating all dimensions of the ecosystem needed for commercialization, including training of workers, intellectual property expertise, and mechanisms to bring companies and investors together.
Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that companies can beneﬁt from external ideas/ technologies (Outside-In) and valorise internal ideas/technologies with external partners (Inside-Out) to reduce the ﬁnancial risks associated to innovation, and quickly get a competitive advantage. Open Innovation implies accelerating internal R&D, and innovation along value chains through collaboration between the technological supply—and demand—side within networked, multi collaborative ecosystems.121
Horizon Europe122 will be the successor of Horizon 2020 and will pursue disruptive innovation and test beds across six broad sectors:
- Digital, industry, and space;
- Civil security for society;
- Food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture, and environment;
- Culture, creativity, and inclusive societies; and
- Climate, energy, and mobility.
Another example of open innovation facilities in Europe includes the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) in Belgium. In addition to providing physical facilities and technical expertise to aid prototyping and product manufacturing, IMEC provides innovation support and venturing services to advance product development and commercialization. This suite of services is assembled to suit the speciﬁc stage of product development, including facilities and expertise such as living labs, prototyping and testing, IP licensing, technology test labs, production and growth, start-up, scale-up, expansion, spin-off, mentoring, as well as partnering innovators with users, partners, advisors, and venture capital funders.123
121 See European Commission, “News,” http://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/open-innovation-open-science-open-world-vision-europe, accessed 04/16/2020.
122 See European Commission, “Horizon Europe—The Next Research and Innovation Programme,” https://ec.europa.eu/info/horizon-europe-next-research-and-innovation-framework-programme_en, accessed 04/16/2020.
To highlight different approaches by other countries, Minatec/LETI124 in France places “transferring technology to industry” as a top priority, offering assistance for nanotechnology commercialization through teaming innovation-focused businesses with Minatec/LETI scientists and engineers, providing turnkey facilities for incubation and product piloting, and assisting with project management as far as the company wants (e.g., until the demonstrator, prototyping, or pilot run phases). The Fraunhofer Nanotechnology Alliance125 in Germany provides technical and business services across seven Fraunhofer Institutes that “covers the whole value chain from application oriented research up to the support for the industrial implementation of nanotechnological solutions.”126 The areas of focus include nanomaterials, nanobiotechnology, nanooptics and nanoelectronics, processes, and analytics and consulting.
In the United States, an ongoing decrease in funding of basic science research by industry127 is shifting greater importance to federal funding of research, and expands the role of universities in innovation. This shift, combined with signiﬁcant changes in attitude toward innovation and entrepreneurship on campuses over the period coincidently corresponding to that of the NNI has led to the proportion of patents relying on federal funding outstripping the overall increase in patents. The number of patents relying on federal funding almost doubled between 2008 and 2017 (22,647 to 45,220).128 This upward shift in importance of universities in innovation is seen, and even more strongly embraced elsewhere, as evidenced by the robust engagement of universities in all of the foreign nanotechnology centers described here.
In the United States, corporations of all sizes account for most of the increase in reliance on government-supported research, with 34.6 percent of patents assigned to venture-backed companies between 1976 and 2016 citing federally supported research. The agencies dominating the NNI portfolio also contribute most to the total of inventions: In 2017, the percentage contributions were DoD 6.2 percent, HHS 5.4 percent, DOE 3.9 percent, NSF 2.9 percent, and NASA 1.0 percent of the total
124 MINATEC (formerly the Micro and Nanotechnology Innovation Centre) was launched as a partnership between LETI (the Electronics and Information Technologies Laboratory of CEA, the French Atomic Energy Commission) and the Grenoble Institute of Technology.
127 A. Arora, S. Belenzon, and A. Patacconi, 2017, Papers to patents, Nature 552(7683), doi: 10.1038/d41586-017-07421-3.
128 L. Fleming, H. Greene, G. Li, M. Marx, and D.Yao, 2019, Government-funded research increasingly fuels innovation, Science 364:1139-1141, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6446/1139.
number of patents. Interestingly, Fleming et al.129 conclude that corporate patents that rely on federal research appear to be consistently more important than those that do not, as judged by the number of prior-art citations on subsequent patents.
In view of the increasing importance of universities and federally funded research in the United States, this report comments brieﬂy on best practices in university technology transfer ofﬁces (TTOs) and efforts to encourage entrepreneurship at universities. The most effective TTOs are well funded and staffed, with the higher performing ofﬁces having 20-45 staff members. They can exist effectively within the university structure; however, an increasingly utilized option is to create a separate 501(c)(3). This facilitates paying market rate salaries for staff with signiﬁcant industry experience and the creation of independent advisory boards.
Many universities have begun to create programs to support entrepreneurship among faculty and students. However, there is as yet little comprehensive evidence that university tenure and promotion reviews include entrepreneurship activities in the evaluations, in addition to the conventional assessment of research, teaching, and service categories. Efforts to foster entrepreneurship on campus can be categorized as (1) educational programs such as business and engineering or business and chemistry combined degrees with entrepreneurship as a connecting theme, (2) educational and funding mechanisms for individual entrepreneurial faculty, (3) start-up accelerator programs, (4) university-associated venture funds, and (5) local funds independent of the university. Undergraduate entrepreneurship appears to be a relatively untapped source of innovation in part because undergraduates generally lack robust knowledge of the ecosystem and processes for innovation and commercialization. The offering of more courses and programs for undergraduates to gain knowledge and practice in innovation and entrepreneurship could ultimately advance inventorship and commercialization in the United States. Access to information as resources and modest investment in support and education systems could unlock this potential source of creativity.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and STTR Awards in the United States for small businesses are funding mechanisms to help bridge the gap between innovations in basic science and commercialization, including in the area of nanotechnology.130 The SBIR/STTR program provides funding across several agencies, including the DoD, DOE, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NASA, and the NSF. In addition, industry consortia, including Semiconductor Research Corporation, the American Chemistry Council, and the American Forest and Paper Association, have played a key role in nanotechnology tech transfer and commercialization, providing technology development roadmaps
129 L. Fleming, H. Greene, G. Li, M. Marx, and D. Yao, 2019, Government-funded research increasingly fuels innovation, Science 364:1139-1141, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6446/1139.
and funding for public-private partnerships. The NNMI, also known as Manufacturing USA,131 is a network of 14 institutes in the United States that focuses on developing manufacturing technologies through public-private partnerships among U.S. industry, universities, and federal government agencies. Note however that although Manufacturing USA addresses advanced manufacturing broadly, it incorporates nanotechnology development only tangentially in its portfolio of institutes.
The NSF’s I-Corps,132 introduced in 2011, is another program that has assisted the commercialization of laboratory innovations in nanotechnology. Focused primarily on training in the customer discovery and venture exploration process, the I-Corps program was created by the NSF in 2011 to help move academic research to market. The program engages participants in moving products out of the lab and into the market by talking to potential customers, partners, and competitors and encountering the challenges and uncertainty of creating successful innovations. The NIH now also offers I-Corps opportunities.
A weakness noted by the panel is exempliﬁed by a 2012 NNI-hosted workshop that engaged regional, state, and local (RSL) representatives in a dialogue regarding commercial opportunities related to nanoscience and technology. Although the NNCO has since participated in annual TechConnect conferences, there has been no subsequent workshop by the NNCO to update RSL representatives on the status of commercialization efforts or potential partnerships and resources created by NNI for commercialization. In contrast, in other parts of the world, RSL initiatives are playing a key role in commercialization efforts, particularly in China. Although many RSLs had nano-speciﬁc commercialization efforts in 2012, the efforts in the United States have largely been integrated into broader initiatives (e.g., high-tech development ofﬁces). The maturation of nanoscience into commercial-ready nanotechnology since 2012, however, makes reengagement of RSLs by the NNCO particularly timely.
The NNI is closely involved in a National Nanomanufacturing Network (NNN) intended to support progress in nanomanufacturing in the United States via workshops, road mapping, interinstitutional collaborations, technology transition, test beds, and information exchange services.133 At the core of the NNN are the six NSEC facilities supported by the NNI agencies. Other U.S. commercialization focused centers include the New York-centric Albany Nanotech Center at the Uni-
versity of Albany–SUNY,134 and AIM Photonics135 based in Rochester, New York. The committee does not ﬁnd clear counterparts to Europe’s IMEC and MINATEC, or the analogous commercialization-oriented centers in Japan and China, at which the very best technologies are aggregated in one location to support prototyping and product development of nanoscale materials and devices. In other words, while the NNI has been capably coordinating the science and early-stage technology development, Europe, Japan, and China have conceived of more innovative models for exploiting the economic, health care, and national security beneﬁts of nanotechnologies.
The committee also notes that although the NNI, through the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee and the NNCO, has engaged in important efforts to facilitate commercialization of nanoscience in the United States, evaluation of the impact of those efforts, and those of stakeholders in the NNI, are nearly impossible to evaluate without data that quantify the outcomes. Prioritization of investments, and informed decision making related to initiatives that do not yield a signiﬁcant return, is not possible. Similarly, evaluation of the competitive status of the United States in the context of commercialization of nanotechnology is not possible without relevant data. The committee was unable to obtain data from the NNCO regarding the outcome of initiatives related to commercialization.
An opportunity now exists to identify new concepts to signiﬁcantly strengthen technology transfer. The U.S. federal government has recently launched the U.S. ROI Initiative, which aims to increase the lab-to-market return on the government’s investment in R&D.136 This includes (1) optimizing the management, discoverability, and ease-of-license of the 100,000+ federally funded patents; (2) increasing the utilization of federally funded research facilities by entrepreneurs and innovators; (3) ensuring that relevant federal institutions and employees are appropriately incentivized to prioritize R&D commercialization; (4) identifying steps to develop human capital with experience in technology transfer, including by expanding opportunities for entrepreneurship education; and (5) maximizing the economic impact of the SBIR and STTR programs.137 Although not speciﬁcally aimed at nanotechnology, the ROI Initiative can be leveraged to develop more successful
134 See SUNY Polytechnic Institute, https://sunypoly.edu/, and “SUNY Poly College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SUNY_Poly_College_of_Nanoscale_Science_and_Engineering, both accessed 04/16/2020.
137 Refer to performance.gov website for federal activities to facilitate faster ROI. Refer also to the “lab-to-market” effort led by NIST, which is also an interagency activity, at https://www.nist.gov/tpo/lab-market, accessed 04/16/2020.
nanotechnology innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization ecosystem. However, the committee believes that an array of novel technology transfer concepts should be identiﬁed and those that promise the best impact on U.S.-based technology transfer be implemented.
Sustaining Educational Resources and Growth of a Skilled Workforce
Over the course of its deliberations, the committee became concerned about the workforce supply, or workforce “pipeline” for nanotechnology. Developing the skills to conduct state-of-the-art research and support the workforce needs of nanomanufacturing is a slow, arduous, and challenging process. Today, the many employment opportunities for technically talented people raises a concern that the nations’ work in nanotechnology will become increasingly constrained without a renewed emphasis of the development of the necessary human capital. In the past, the shortfall has been ﬁlled by talented individuals from overseas who have chosen to pursue their training and then chose to remain in the United States, but as opportunities for fulﬁlling work in nanotechnology open up around the world, and the U.S. stance on immigration has become more negative, this source of talent is at risk.
The NNI website offers a wide range of K-12 educational resources, both for teachers and for students.138 It has become the “go-to” resource for many countries seeking to build a compendium of educational resources. The NNCO is to be commended in recognizing the importance of role models and featuring intergenerational video clips of nanoscience and nanotechnology practitioners. The website provides links to sites, developed with funding from various agencies. For example, the Materials World Modules website139 focuses on inquiry-based modules for grades 6-12, while the nanohub.org site provides undergraduate and graduate students with access to modeling tools as well as access to educational resources. The safety-related resources are very useful and should be kept up to date as more information becomes available. Many professional societies, such as SPIE, AVS, ACS, APS, MRS, and OSA, have relevant symposia and subgroups at their annual or semiannual meetings. The American Chemical Society Journals feature nanotechnology explicitly with publications such as Nano Letters and ACS Nano.
The European Union provides an excellent website140 with information about nanotechnology in the form of games, videos, posters, images, and art, as well as virtual and hands-on activities to deepen the understanding of properties of
materials at the nanoscale. The tools are geared for the age groups 11-13 years and 14-18 years. The site also features resources for educators—for example, training kits, school programs, and blogs. The site provides links to speciﬁc resources developed in EU countries and beyond (including the United States). Publications focusing on nanoscience and nanotechnology include Springer’s Nano-Micro Letters and as well as the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Nanoscale Advances, Nanoscale Horizons, Environmental Science: Nano, and Lab on a Chip journals. The RSC’s Nanoscale journal is a collaborative venture with the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology141 in China.
Switzerland offers a comprehensive range of nanotechnology knowledge and education platforms that involve all stakeholders, the public, academia, industries, and government.142 The “Simply Nano” previously known as “Swiss nano cube” is aimed at teachers and students from vocational schools, secondary schools, as well as higher professional schools. Contactpointnano.ch provides scientiﬁc and regulatory knowledge required by companies and establishes links to expertise or assistance. InfoNano143 is the central federal information platform for nanotechnology. As a repository of knowledge from different government agencies, academia, and economic development experts, it seeks to advance informed dialogue among stakeholders. In addition, TA-Swiss (Centre for Technology Assessment) uses expert studies to inform public policy, advise elected ofﬁcials, and promote discussion with citizens.144
Many academic institutions across the world offer undergraduate and graduate degrees with specialization in nanoscience and nanotechnology engineering. When anchored in institutions with dedicated growth, fabrication, and characterization core facilities, the students acquire a depth of knowledge and instrumentation experience that is a key asset for future jobs in industry. As start-ups are often the path to bringing a technology to market, many institutions have added training in entrepreneurship to the mix. The nano.gov website provides a repertory of associate degrees and certiﬁcation as well as graduate degrees in nanoengineering. Nano-link145 is an NSF-funded Advanced Technological Center for Nanotechnology Education serving students, educators, and industry to ensure a supply of highly skilled workforce for the nanotechnology industry.
143 See BAG, “Nanotechnology,” https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/gesund-leben/umweltund-gesundheit/chemikalien/nanotechnologie.html, accessed 04/16/2020.
Other countries have been particularly successful at highlighting the impact of their training. For example, NanoNextNL,146 the Netherlands nanotechnology ﬂagship program, was successful in training industrial researchers, graduate students, and postdoctorates who took courses in entrepreneurship, intellectual property and technology valorization, risk analysis and technology assessment, and analytic storytelling. In Canada, the University of Waterloo offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in nanoscience and nanotech engineering in an environment where entrepreneurship and cooperative learning are greatly valued. The Canadian ecosystem also beneﬁts from Canada’s National Design Network (managed by CMC Microsystems147), which offered 10,000 academics at 66 Canadian universities and colleges access to CAD, Lab, and Fab infrastructure to conduct excellent research, design and create novel technologies, and take part in extraordinary training opportunities leading to industry-ready graduates. The Nano and Advanced Materials Institute (NAMI)148 in Hong Kong trains its staff to focus on market- and demand-driven R&D to develop platforms required for innovative products and upgrade the technology of existing enterprises. Korea offers intensive programs for undergraduate and graduate students as well as businesspeople; education in nanotechnology starts at the K-12 level with training for teachers and continues with programs in technical high schools, colleges, engineering schools, and universities where cooperative learning and interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged. In Japan, institutions like the University of Tokyo, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) and other academic institutions provide nanotechnology training to students in world-leading, state-of-the-art facilities.
The National Science Board (NSB) has recently completed a detailed assessment of the trends in science and engineering degrees, and its analysis shows that the advantage of a highly educated workforce that the nation has enjoyed is eroding as many other nations have ramped up their educational programs. In 1998, China began to make major investments in the education of its population and now graduates about three times the number of bachelor’s degree students compared to the United States.149
Economic prosperity resulting from nanotechnology is possible only if continued investments are made and attention is paid to education and training, keeping and renewing state-of-the-art training facilities, and deploying innovative ways to collaborate across a dynamic ecosystem. While other countries are track-
149 See World Economic Forum, “China Now Produces Twice as Many Graduates a Year as the US,” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/04/higher-education-in-china-has-boomed-in-the-last-decade, accessed 04/16/2020.
ing the outputs of their translational efforts and their impacts, such coordination across the entire nanotechnology ecosystem is not as robust in the United States.
To summarize, since the inception of the NNI, the NNCO has played an important role in promoting the international competitiveness of the United States in nanoscience and nanotechnology on a very small budget (less than ~$3 million per year for all coordination and communications activities). The NSIs identiﬁed by the NSET Subcommittee have been effective in coalescing the efforts of federal agencies to share knowledge and approaches and achieve efﬁciencies that have placed the United States in leadership positions in key areas of nanotechnology. Examples of successes include the NSIs on water sustainability and environmental nanosensors to detect heavy metal contamination.150 Additionally, NNI efforts have established the United States as a global leader in the integration of EHS considerations into commercialization efforts, which have played a key role in generating acceptance of nanotechnologies by the public. Other notable successes of the NNI include the early establishment of a network of world-class facilities for academic nanoscience research. The NNCO and NSET committee have fostered several successful interagency collaborations through these efforts.
A comparison of U.S. and international efforts,151 however, reveals increasing evidence of a key competitive weakness in the current U.S. efforts in nanoscience and nanotechnology. As noted above, while there is much to celebrate in the early successes of the NNI, key opportunities emerging from nanoscience, and the strategic needs of the United States, have evolved substantially since the start of the NNI. Speciﬁcally, 20 years ago, the central opportunity for the United States was to create new knowledge and new materials and to deepen our understanding of nanoscopic phenomena. While support of basic nanoscience research must continue, the opportunity now for the United States is to realize the societal beneﬁts of nanoscience in the context of commercialization of responsible nanoproducts. In light of this opportunity, there exists an urgent need to better integrate nanoscience, infrastructure development, and workforce development into ecosystems that support the goal of responsible commercialization of nanotechnology.
Relative to other countries, the United States has been slow to pivot toward coordinated and directed support for commercialization. Other countries have changed their models for support of nanoscience and nanotechnology to achieve
150 For some examples, see M.R. Willner and P.J. Vikesland, 2018, Nanomaterial enabled sensors for environmental contaminants, Journal of Nanobiotechnology 16:95, doi: 10.1186/s12951-018-0419-1.
the central goals of responsible development and commercialization. The consequences of this lag in competitiveness in the United States are tangible.152 Basic nanoscience advances occurring in the United States are being translated into societal and economic beneﬁts outside the United States. To cite just one example, manufacturing of many nanomaterials, such as solar nanomaterials, has almost entirely moved abroad. Further, the committee fears that evaluation of the return on investment in U.S. basic nanoscience research in terms of societal and economic beneﬁt is challenging in many cases because of lack of systematic data gathering, particularly when compared with the data gathering efforts of other countries. The absence of such data also hampers efforts to communicate to the public the beneﬁts of the federal investment in nanoscience research.
152 FramingNano Project, Mapping Study on Regulation and Governance of Nanotechnologies, http://innovationsgesellschaft.ch/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/FramingNano_MappingStudy.pdf, accessed 04/16/2020.