Nanotechnology-enabled products offer the potential to expand future consumer markets having significant societal and economic impact. As part of its investment in nanotechnology, the U.S. government continues an open dialogue regarding the impact and return on investment of funding provided through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to foster fundamental science, education and training, and commercialization of nanotechnology. While the NNI investment in fundamental science has clearly positioned the U.S. as the global nanotechnology leader, commercialization of nanotechnology innovations in the U.S. has lagged behind other countries such that numerous panels of advisors and committees have called for increases or shifting of funds to foster nanomanufacturing, effective technology transfer, and commercialization of these innovations.
Recently, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), part of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, held a hearing on "Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation." Held on July 29, 2014, subcommittee members heard from several nanotech industry leaders about the current state of nanotechnology and the direction that it is headed. With Rep. Terry’s emphasis that nanotechnology brings great opportunities to advance a broad range of industries, bolster the U.S. economy, and create new manufacturing jobs, the following response excerpts by panel members heard at the hearing provide key insights into how the U.S. may capitalize from these breakthrough opportunities.
Professor Milan Mrksich of Northwestern University discussed the economic opportunities of nanotechnology, and obstacles to realizing these benefits. He commented, “Current challenges to realizing the broader economic promise of the nanotechnology industry include the development of strategies to ensure the continued investment in fundamental research, to increase the fraction of these discoveries that are translated to technology companies, to have effective regulations on nanomaterials, to efficiently process and protect intellectual property to ensure that within the global landscape, the United States remains the leader in realizing the economic benefits of the nanotechnology industry.”
James Phillips, Chairman & CEO at NanoMech, Inc., and a member of the NanoBusiness and Commercialization Association (NanoBCA), added, “We must capitalize immediately on our great University system, our National Labs, and tremendous agencies like the National Science Foundation, to be sure this unique and best in class innovation ecosystem, is organized in a way that promotes nanotechnology, tech transfer and commercialization in dramatic and laser focused ways so that we capture the best ideas into patents quickly, that are easily transferred into our capitalistic economy so that our nation’s best ideas and inventions are never left stranded, but instead accelerated to market at the speed of innovation so that we build good jobs and improve the quality of life and security for our citizens faster and better than any other country on our planet.”
Other comments by panelists emphasized the need for nanotechnology education and training, strategies for global competitiveness, benefits of public-private partnerships to accelerate the innovation ecosystem, and challenges of retaining and transitioning foreign students into the U.S. workforce. The hearing concluded with an interesting perspective presented by Chairman Terry commenting, “Nanotech is a true science race between the nations, and we should be encouraging the transition from research breakthroughs to commercial development. I believe the U.S. should excel in this area”. For further details of the hearing and panelists commentary, the NNN recommends visiting the website link: