Foresight Update 16

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 16 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Funding Nanotechnology Ourselves

by James C. Bennett

Jim Bennett is a member of the Board of Directors of both IMM and the Foresight Institute. He is also president of the Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology, which studies policy issues arising from anticipated developments such as nanotechnology. He is writing a book on space development -- including how nanotechnology can speed the current slow rate of progress -- to be published by MIT Press in late 1994. Here he explains how to speed research in nanotechnology:

Nanotechnology supporters often ask me how they can speed development work in this new field. For those of us who aren't able to work directly on nanotechnology research, or who are too far from the center of activity generated by Foresight and its affiliates in Palo Alto, it can be hard to see how to make a real difference in the rate of progress.

Right now, progress is limited by funding. How can we increase the level of funding going into nanotechnology work?

Government agencies make their research grants based on existing categories, which don't yet include the new and highly interdisciplinary field of molecular nanotechnology. Even if they did, these grants are made based on peer review, not on requests made by the general public. So at this stage, external pressure on agencies for increasing government spending is not an effective strategy, even for those who believe that research funding should be primarily funded by government.

Research by private companies is similarly hard to influence. Unless you actually work there -- preferably at a high level -- convincing a company to invest in research leading toward nanotechnology is extremely difficult. Moreover, most companies outside Japan have time horizons which are too short to consider the payoffs from nanotechnology in their research investment decisions.

Here in Silicon Valley, one common response to a situation like this is to start a new company, one purposely set up to pursue a particular goal. Unfortunately, the time horizon problem shows up again: venture capitalists and other investors want to see quick profits, usually in three to five years. Further, those who wish to invest in US startups can do so only at very high levels -- over $100,000 -- owing to regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The remaining option is funding from individuals and foundations. Fortunately, these sources can make a major difference to nanotechnology research at this early stage. When the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM) was founded to do nanotechnology research, it was set up to receive contribution from individuals -- because we knew that informed individuals would make the biggest funding impact in the early days of the field. We will tap additional funding sources for IMM as it grows, but for now, individual donors are making the biggest difference to IMM's research.

IMM Senior Associates

If you have been a Foresight member since last December, you received a description of IMM's new program for those who want to make a real difference in the speed of research: the IMM Senior Associates program. These are a self-selected group of members committed to furthering nanotechnology research themselves, directly, by making a five-year pledge of funds. Three levels of participation are available, depending on a member's ability: $1000, $500, or $250 annually.

It is the Senior Associate program that enables IMM do its research, including work by Eric Drexler and Markus Krummenacker. Developing nanotechnology is a multi-year task: the Senior Associates provide a solid base of ongoing, multi-year support, enabling IMM to build its research program. We do receive occasional larger donations from those who are very well-off, but the timing of these one-time donations is unpredictable. To keep IMM researchers steadily working on nanotechnology, we need a predictable base of support from members who aren't philanthropists, but who can make a commitment to an annual donation of substance. In a very real sense, the IMM Senior Associates are IMM.

Benefits to Senior Associates

In recognition of their high level of commitment to IMM and its researchers, Senior Associates participate more closely in the workings of the Institute. As a Senior Associate, you are kept up-to-date with our series of quarterly letters, written specifically for members of this program by IMM research fellow Eric Drexler. These have the latest news, opinions, and details which can't be fit into the limited pages of publications like Foresight Update.

We've found that our Senior Associates want to meet each other, to discuss their interests in nanotechnology and their goals for IMM. Accordingly, we have an annual social gathering held in conjunction with Foresight's nanotechnology conference. Senior Associates who can't attend the event in a given year are encouraged to send a written statement or message for the group.

At the higher levels of giving, new members receive gifts which Senior Associates have said mean a lot to them, as visible symbols of their participation in nanotechnology research. At the $500 level, members receive the book of their choice -- Nanosystems, Unbounding the Future, or Engines of Creation -- signed by IMM research fellow Eric Drexler. At the $1000 level, members receive a framed color graphic of a nanodevice, signed by designers Eric Drexler and IMM advisor Ralph Merkle. (A note to current Senior Associates: the gift program has just been established. To smooth out the expense of sending the gifts to existing higher-level members, we'll mail yours at the first anniversary of your pledge.)

Who are the Senior Associates?

It's a stretch for many of our Senior Associates to join the program. Why do they do it? In talking with them, we find that they join because they have a profound understanding of the potential of nanotechnology to make a difference to the goals they care about. Those goals range from improved health care and a cleaner environment to a better quality of life for their children and for people everywhere. Many plan to benefit personally from the nanotechnology revolution, perhaps by participating in space development or having a longer and healthier lifespan. They want to make nanotechnology happen, personally.

There is so much more IMM could be doing. Right now, we are constrained by the level of steady, predictable funding we can count on over the next few years. This shortage of funds delays research and experimentation. We need more researchers and equipment. Soon, we need to expand our modeling work into the testing lab. The Senior Associates can make this happen. To avoid delays and interruptions, we need to expand participation -- we need you to help build this effort. Giving to IMM is the best way to speed nanotechnology.

I invite you to join with us in making a difference to nanotechnology research.

To become an IMM Senior Associate, call IMM at 415-917-1121. For more information on the Senior Associates program of Foresight and IMM

Foresight Update 16 - Table of Contents


Policy Watch

Compiled by Jamie Dinkelacker

Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is about to move to more basic research. MITI announced that it will launch a new program of research into areas of materials science, optics, and biology that are still far from commercialization. In support of the new venture, called the Leading Research Scheme, MITI plans to spend a total of some 300 million yen (around $2.4 million US) per year and undertake some internal reorganization.

The work will be performed mainly by institutes of MITI's Agency of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), in cooperation with universities and the private sector. By uniting basic scientists from universities with research from industry and from the MITI institutes, the ministry hopes to create research consortia with a stronger academic and interdisciplinary flavor than in the past.

MITI has chosen the following six research areas for its foray into basic science: (1) integrated inorganic materials, working to control the architecture of materials from the molecular level on up; (2) autonomous reaction materials, complex molecules that change their shape in response to light, temperature, heat, or chemical stimuli; (3) exploiting tropical organisms that may harbor many new drugs or other useful compounds; (4) biological evolution engineering to produce new biomolecules with abilities not found in nature; (5) femtosecond technology to pursue lasers and sensors that can operate in femtosecond time frames; and (6) ecofactory technology to design products and their factories to minimize pollution, waste, and energy use to develop "clean technologies" from the ground up. [Science, 258:1727]

President Clinton's White House recently released A Vision of Change for America, a document that spells out new directions in US policy regarding science and technology. Clinton has signaled that he considers science and technology -- with the clear emphasis on technology -- key to the nation's growth. More than 10% of the proposed $100 billion increase in spending over the next four years is for science and technology programs.

Moreover, Vice President Gore has central interests in technology, especially "strategic research," aimed at critical technologies and national needs such as advanced materials, manufacturing, biotechnology, high-performance computing, and many applications of industry/government research at DOE nondefense labs. Also, the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is to be the centerpiece of NIST's civilian technology efforts over the next four years, especially for "high-risk, precompetitive, generic technologies" such as thick film superconducting and blood purification methods.

The Administration's broad brush paints a picture of technology transfer and joint industry-government research. Among key projects to receive emphasis are the National Information Infrastructure (the "data superhighway"), AIDS and disease prevention, interagency research including science education, biotechnology, and specific NSF programs including the Advanced Neutron Source at Oak Ridge and the Tokamak Physics Experiment at Princeton.

The Clinton program also scales back some other research and application areas, notably the Space Station, nuclear reactor research, DOE defense labs, and the Superconducting Supercollider. Furthermore, one significant aspect of the plan is to cap the overhead and indirect costs of all Federal grants for university research grants at 22%.

In essence, defense research will shrink as civilian technology programs expand. Overall, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee calculates that "if all these investments were in fact funded, they would probably come close to restoring a 50:50 civil/military R&D ratio by FY 1997." The ratio currently stands at about 58:42 in favor of the military. [Science, 259:1244-1245]

Although NSF's total research allocation this year is actually less than last year, it will spend nearly $100 million more in four strategic areas than it did in 1992. The agency will spend $17 million more on manufacturing research and education, $28 million more on advanced materials and processing, $17 million more on biotechnology, and $25 million more on high-performance computing and communications. NSF will also channel a $5 million congressionally-mandated increase in the Small Business Innovation Research in the four areas.

These same strategic research areas are the subject of government-wide "crosscut" initiatives under the umbrella of the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology. As such, NSF had marked them for increases but at the expense of other programs related to basic research, which has led to an outcry, especially from physicists and astronomers. [Science, 259:21]
Earlier this year, John Gibbons was sworn in as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), following unanimous approval by the US Senate. In efforts to refocus science and technology policy in light of severe budget deficits and the end of the Cold War, Gibbons suggested that the $8.5 billion SSC and the $30 billion Space Station would receive much closer scrutiny. In particular, the failure to obtain significant contribution to the SSC from other countries can no longer be ignored, he said. Moreover, he pointed out that the Space Station includes certain technologies "that should be international from the outset." He expects to put greater emphasis on environmental issues. Gibbons believes that interagency committees for science and technology are a good idea, but more can be done with them than in the past. Importantly, in his position as OSTP director, he sits as a member of the newly created National Economic Council. [Nature, 361:385]

Budget increases for NIST are hoped to lead to greater investment in civilian high tech. Even though its $68 million budget hardly qualifies it as a civilian DARPA, ATP already is earning accolades for its beneficiaries. ATP expects to fund about 40 projects in 1993, in such research realms as neural networks, thermal insulators, and plastic recycling methods. [Science, 259:19]

New federal budgets are having a significant impact on the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The NSF is receiving one of the largest one-year increases in its history -- $446 million, a 16% increase over this year's congressional appropriation. NSF intends to increase the number of grants it awards next year by 1200 to a total of 22,300, but the first priority is to increase the size of grants awarded.

A $44 million increase would boost NSF's High-Performance Computing and Communications program to $305 million, to continue work on what is intended to lead to Vice President Al Gore's plan to create a national data superhighway. NSF's budget request lists $6.5 million for new environmental research, including $1 million to start the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis. Other significant increases are in biological sciences, geosciences, mathematical and physical sciences, and social, behavioral and economic sciences.

However, this is not joyous news to all. The NIH, in contrast, is slated to receive only a 3.3% cost of living increase, and the bulk of the additional money is earmarked for AIDS, breast cancer, and research on the health problems of women and minorities. Most of NIH's other programs, including nine of 16 institutes, would be cut -- even before inflation is taken into account. NIH program winners are in areas of cancer, allergy and infectious diseases, and child health and development. The Center for Human Genome Research also received significant increases. Losers included heart, lung and blood programs, alcohol and alcohol abuse, and aging. [Science, 260:24-25]

The big three US weapons laboratories -- Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia -- could face dramatic changes in the way they do business if a proposal made by Representative George Brown (D-CA) is enacted. As chairman of the House Science Committee, the bill he introduced would "consolidate" nuclear weapons R&D from several labs (unspecified), shift the focus of the labs' work more toward civilian projects, and involve the White House more in managing their research agenda. The bill would also create an undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Energy. [Science, 260:25]

Along with a new strategy for US federal R&D comes a refocus of the defense industry on nonmilitary needs: target federal civilian research at specific commercial goals, lure industry into high-risk experiments, and do it all in a hurry. Recently, DARPA dropped the "D" of Defense to become ARPA -- the Advanced Research Projects Agency. This move was in line with a 1992 Carnegie Commission report encouraging this change of name and focus. The current emphasis in ARPA for military applications is toward "dual-use" technologies of value both in weapons and commercial products. ARPA will continue to lead a government-wide initiative in supercomputers and will also take a role in expanding the data superhighways. Recently Congress, under the Clinton Administration, boosted ARPA's 1993 budget from the Bush Administration's request of $1.3 billion to $2.2 billion, two-thirds for "dual-use" technology development. As DARPA, the agency's goal may have been to support companies working on promising technology, but in pursuing that goal, it became a pivotal market force. In essence, DARPA offered government buyers a detour around cumbersome federal procurement rules that required would-be buyers to describe precisely what they want and then seek competitive bids, a process that can take a year or more.

The Department of Labor, the NASA, and the Pentagon will be involved in joint projects aimed at retraining defense industry employees and devising new educational programs for displaced workers who don't have access to college classes. The plan also promises support for "smart highways," magnetic levitation trains, civil aircraft research, and energy improvements in federal building and public housing. The Department of Energy's national laboratories will be asked to set aside at least 10-20% of their budgets to R&D partnerships with industry. A new "clean car" task force led by Gibbons will encourage the development of prototype vehicles that meet extra-tough antipollution standards. Other broad legal and economic changes have been proposed to foster civilian technology, such as converting the research and experimentation tax credit to a permanent subsidy, relaxing antitrust laws, and changing the federal advisory committee rules to make it easier for businessmen to advise the government.

The Advanced Technology Program (ATP) in the Commerce Department now focuses on funding high tech startups. Probably no other program will grow as fast as ATP, slated for an amazing 1000% increase over the next four years. A recent study conducted by Solomon Associates concluded that the grants gave companies a 1- to 5-year time savings on accomplishing their research.

Commerce Secretary Brown says the department will establish over 100 educational centers modeled on the agricultural extension service. Their mission will be to keep small companies attuned to the latest manufacturing techniques and train employees in their use -- essentially serving as low-cost management consultants. Commerce will also host the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to run the next phase of a program to build "information superhighways." [Science, 259:1816-1819, 260:20-22]

The first real test of the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) project, an international effort initiated by Japan to develop the automated factories of the future, got under way last month following years of negotiations between government and industry officials in Japan, the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia. Some 140 industrial partners in companies, universities, and research institutes will participate over the next year in six pilot projects to test the feasibility of international collaboration in the research and development of new manufacturing systems.

The IMS test projects are decentralized, with each of the six participating regions organizing their own research consortia and finding mechanisms. The six major test cases are: (1) clean manufacturing in the process industry, (2) global concurrent engineering, (3) enterprise integration for global manufacturing, (4) holonic control systems, (5) rapid product development, and (6) knowledge systematization.

Apart from the international aspects of the IMS project, a substantial domestic effort is already under way in Japan. Since 1990, about 65 leading Japanese companies from the electronics, shipbuilding, car manufacture, steeel, construction, and robot-manufacturing industries have spend nearly 800 million (about $7 million US) annually to fund a domestic IMS feasibility study. The core companies and academic research organization initiated 21 feasibility study projects in 1991-1992. These projects and the mix of participants were radically revised for a second phase of 24 projects in 1992-1993. [Nature, 362:97]

Japan and the US signed a joint research agreement at the end of 1992 on optoelectronics, a key component of the 10-year, $500 million Real World Computing program that Japan launched last July.

The purpose of the agreement, according to NIST, is to stimulate R&D activity in optoelectronics -- computing technology that relies on light waves as well as electrons to transmit information. The project will provide designers with access to leading-edge fabrication facilities and encourage commercialization of optoelectronic components based on "novel and experimental designs."

It is a move that may herald well for nanotechnology because both nations envision the new accord as a model for US-Japanese cooperative research, in which they will share knowledge without spilling any secrets. The US government will participate through granting agencies such as NIST, NSF and ARPA, enabling US researchers to get their experimental designs fabricated (likely by Japanese companies). [Science, 259:599]

Communcations scientist Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker serves on Foresight's Board of Advisors.

Foresight Update 16 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update16, originally published 1 July 1993.