The National Nanotechnology Initiative and the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development

The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was proposed in 2000 following the realization that the ability to understand and control matter on the nanometer scale was creating a revolution in science, technology, and industry, and with the vision of accelerating and guiding that revolution for the benefit of society. Because of the breadth of nanotechnology's disciplinary roots and of its potential applications, it relates to the missions of an extraordinary number of U.S. government agencies.

At its outset the NNI involved eight agencies. As of this writing, eleven agencies have specific funding under the NNI, and an additional eleven participate as partners and in-kind contributors because the development of nanotechnology is relevant to their missions or regulatory roles. To coordinate this broad interagency effort, the President's National Science and Technology Council has established a Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET), with representatives from all twenty-two NNI participating agencies. NSET in turn has established a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), with a small full-time staff to provide technical and administrative support to NSET, to serve as the point of contact on federal nanotechnology activities, to conduct public outreach, and to promote technology transfer.

Another somewhat extraordinary aspect of nanotechnology is that it is the subject of an act of Congress. Of the thousands of bills that are proposed in Congress each year, few are ever signed into law, and even fewer of those (other than routine annual appropriations bills) concern science and technology. But in 2003 Congress passed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 3, 2003, as Public Law 108-153.® This act calls for the establishment of a National Nanotechnology Program, with the following mission:

(1) establish the goals, priorities, and metrics for evaluation for Federal nanotechnology research, development, and other activities; (2) invest in Federal research and development programs in nanotechnology and related sciences to achieve those goals; and (3) provide for interagency coordination of Federal nanotechnology research, development, and other activities undertaken pursuant to the Program.

The NNI continues as the primary means by which the Executive Branch implements the National Nanotechnology Program, and for carrying out the many roles that it stipulates for the federal government in promoting the development and commercialization of nanotechnology.

In December 2004, in keeping with the provisions of PL 108-153, the NNI released a Strategic Plan that sets out its vision, goals, and strategies for achieving those goals.® The NNI's goals closely align with the government roles just discussed. The following sections briefly review each of those roles.


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