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Small Wonders, Endless Frontiers: A Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative
science and nanotechnology advisory board (NNAB) to provide advice to NSET members on research investment policy, strategy, program goals, and management processes. With potential applications in virtually every existing industry and new applications yet to be discovered, nanoscale science and technology will no doubt emerge as one of the major drivers of economic growth in the first part of the new millennium. An advisory board could identify and champion research opportunities that do not conveniently fit within any single agency’s mission. It should be composed of leaders from industry and academia with scientific, technical, social science, or research management credentials.
Recommendation 2: The committee recommends that NSET develop a crisp, compelling, overarching strategic plan. The plan would articulate short-(1 to 5 years), medium- (6 to 10 years), and long-range (beyond 10 years) goals and objectives. It should emphasize the long-range goals that move results out of the laboratory and into the service of society. It should also include mechanisms for accelerating ideas into applications and identify applications for pilot projects. It should include a consistent set of anticipated outcomes for each theme and Grand Challenge and should estimate time frames and metrics for achieving those outcomes.
Recommendation 3: The committee recommends that NNI support long-term funding in nanoscale science and technology so that they can achieve their potential and promise. Establishing a proper balance between the short-term and long-term funding of nanoscale science and technology will be critical to realizing their full potential. Truly revolutionary ideas will need sustained funding to achieve results and produce important breakthroughs.
Recommendation 4: The committee recommends that NSET increase multiagency investments in research at the intersection of nanoscale technology and biology. The relevance of the NNI to biology, biotechnology, and the life sciences cannot be overstated. Cellular processes are inherently nanoscale phenomena. Our developing ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale challenges us to construct nanodevices and systems capable of complex functioning similar to that of a cell. While we are far from achieving such complexity, we can already see applications of nanoscale science and technology that will have significant impacts in biotechnology and medicine. Barriers to interagency and interdisciplinary work must be overcome to enable such developments.
Recommendation 5: The committee recommends that NSET create programs for the invention and development of new instruments for nanoscience. Historically, many important advances in science come only after the appropriate investigative instruments became available. The NSET program should include analytical instruments for modeling, manipulating, tailoring, characterizing, and probing at the nanoscale.
Recommendation 6: The committee recommends the creation of a special fund for Presidential grants, under OSTP management, to support interagency research programs relevant to nanoscale science and technology. These grants should be used exclusively to fund meaningful interagency collaborations that cross mission boundaries, particularly among the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. While it is appropriate for a federal agency to focus on its own particular mission, the breadth of NNI and its fields of impact—from new materials development to quantum computing and from cellular microbiology to national security—should compel agencies to form more meaningful cooperation in their nanoscale science and technology pursuits.
Recommendation 7: The committee recommends that NSET provide strong support for the development of an interdisciplinary culture for nanoscale science and technology within the NNI. Nanoscale science and technology are leading researchers along pathways formed by the convergence of many different disciplines, such as biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. To date, NSET member agencies have encouraged multidisciplinary collaborations, but creative programs are needed that encourage the development of self-contained interdisciplinary groups as well.
Recommendation 8: The committee recommends that industrial partnerships be stimulated and nurtured, both domestically and internationally, to help accelerate the commercialization of NNI developments. NSET should create support mechanisms for coordinating and leveraging state initiatives to