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PCAST Recommendations Set the Stage for a National Nanomanufacturing Roadmap for the Next Decade

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D

The recent Report to the President and Congress on the Third Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) included several key recommendations that will lay the groundwork for establishing a National Nanomanufacturing Roadmap. Under the provisions of The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-153), a National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (NNAP) will periodically review the Federal nanotechnology R&D program, or NNI. Under executive order, the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) served in the capacity of the NNAP providing a report assessing the first decade of the NNI and making broad-based recommendations for the next decade. The recommendations are based on the analysis conducted by the 2010 NNI Working Group consisting of three PCAST members, and included twelve nongovernment experts in nanotechnology. The working group provided three categories that would assist in assessing the performance of the NNI and provide forward-looking, actionable recommendations. These categories included Program Management, Nanotechnology Outcomes, and Environmental Health and Safety.

The assessment was augmented by discussions with government officials, industry leaders, and technical experts from a wide range of fields impacted by nanotechnology. Most notable in this report was the recognition of the effectiveness and benefits of the Federal Governments’ investment in fundamental nanoscale science and technology research, positioning the U.S. as the global leader in nanotechnology R&D. In this capacity, the NNI has distinguished itself over its first decade as a successful, cooperative organization involving the participation of 25 Federal agencies. For the next decade, the recommendations by the panel target steps that can be enacted to further exploit the investment and opportunities enabled by nanoscience R&D, with an increased focus on commercialization. In the area of program management, the panels’ recommendations were to bolster the resources of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) to enhance management of the NNI in several areas including increased communications with industry, facilitating technology transfer, providing informatics to the public and private sectors, establishing collaborative programs with stakeholders in the areas metrology, nanomaterials standards and properties databases, manufacturing safety, and leveraging of state and regional initiatives. In combination with these areas, additional tracking of economic and societal impacts will provide relevant metrics in order to measure the outcomes of the NNI investment, including measures of the value of nanotechnology enabled products, job creation, and social rate of return.

With an enhanced focus on commercialization, agencies participating in the NNI should continually re-evaluate their investments in and balance among the program component areas (PCAs); this would nominally entail maintaining present budgets in research while effectively doubling the investment in nanomanufacturing (PCA 5) over the next 5 years. One approach toward this end is  the establishment of Signature Initiatives—large-scale programs addressing grand challenges with different agencies taking the lead for different areas of application. In leading an Initiative, an agency must develop coordinated milestones, promote strong educational components, and create effective public-private partnerships to leverage the outcomes of their activities. To achieve these nanotechnology outcomes with sweeping economic and societal impacts, the panel recommended that the Federal Government should launch at least five government-industry-university partnerships, using the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative as a model, and that the Federal Government should further support at least five Signature Initiatives over the next two to three years, with each Signature Initiative funded at levels adequate to achieve its stated goals, presumably between $20 million and $40 million annually.

Additional recommendations pertaining to nanotechnology outcomes were coordination with the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration to advise the NNI on how to ensure that its programs create new jobs in the United States, including coordination with and leveraging of State efforts, and economic impact should be an explicit metric in the second decade of the NNI. Complimenting this, key Federal agencies should clarify the development pathway and increase their emphasis on transitioning nanotechnology to commercialization, including making sustained meaningful investments in focused areas to help accelerate effective technology transfer to the marketplace.

These recommendations provide growing opportunities for coordination of a National Nanomanufacturing Roadmap fostering effective public-private partnerships, and enabling the establishment of transformational manufacturing infrastructure to increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S. The National Nanomanufacturing Network seeks input from stakeholders in the nanoscience and technology community as to potential directives and methods of participation for these emerging opportunities.

Read the PCAST Report.

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