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Funding Innovations for Critical National Needs: Implications for Nanomanufacturing

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D

A 40-nanometer-wide NIST logo made with cobalt atoms on a copper surface. Source NIST. Image credit J. Stroscio, R. Celotta/NIST
National Nanomanufacturing Network: The previously announced Technology Innovation Program (TIP) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) presently provides competition for multiyear research funding in two major areas of national interest--civil  infrastructure and manufacturing. With this technology focus TIP anticipates providing cost-shared funding for approximately 25 new R&D projects.

TIP was established to accelerate innovation in the U.S. through high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical national need. These areas need government attention because, while our societal challenges are significant, they are not being sufficiently addressed.

The merit-based, competitive TIP program can fund R&D projects by single small-sized or medium-sized businesses or by joint ventures that also may include institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and national laboratories. The 2009 TIP competition is open to projects developing new technologies for the practical application of advanced materials in manufacturing, including nanomaterials, advanced alloys and composites, and the monitoring or retrofit of major public infrastructure systems, including water systems, dams and levees, bridges, and roads and highways.

Potentially fundable nanomanufacturing projects would include those that  enable better, more cost-effective use of advanced materials in innovative products. Several key issues of nanomaterials production and nanomanufacturing were cited in the NIST white paper "Accelerating the Incorporation of Materials Advances into Manufacturing Processes," specifically:

  • The cost of manufacturing carbon nanotubes is a barrier to widespread use in products;
  • Improved control and measurement of feature sizes could lead to enhanced materials properties and device functions not currently possible (or even considered feasible);
  • Robust and reliable production methods can eliminate waste at the atomic scale;
  • New instrumentation and measurement tools and techniques are needed for real time process control and evaluation;
  • Reduced manufacturing byproducts, wastes, and impurities would facilitate acceptance and adoption in commercial applications; and
  • Scalable, cost-effective manufacturing of newly discovered materials is needed.

In this context, the NIST TIP Program represents a near-term opportunity for collaborative research and development of critical technologies and materials in nanotechnology. Furthermore, these key nanomanufacturing challenges will be addressed through public-private-partnerships wherein federal funding fosters interactions between industry, government, and academia bringing together the necessary expertise and capability which otherwise may not be assembled to address these critical needs. As a result, nanomanufacturing challenges will likely be well represented in proposed, as well as awarded projects for present and future solicitations.