Foresight Update 19

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Policy Watch

Compiled by Jamie Dinkelacker

The Australian prime minister Paul Keating has announced his government's intention to spend US$84 million on seven new strategic research centers, including a Nanotechnology Facility as the most advanced proposal. The facility would build on the work of the newly-created Cooperative Research Center for Molecular Engineering, which is developing nanotechnology devices in the areas of health care, food, and the environment. [Nature 369:90]

The government of South Korea has launched a massive government-industry program, named Biotechnology 2000, to promote the development of biotechnology. Planned to be part of a broad strategy to catch up with the technology of advanced nations, the program will, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), involve the expenditure of 16,000 billion won (nearly US$20 billion) over the next 14 years. The program will cover six broad fields: industrial technology, health technology (including biomedical engineering, molecular biology of biological functions, and human genome research), agricultural and food technology, environmental technology, energy technology, and basic life sciences technology. [Nature 367:403]

From a nanotechnological perspective, some of the most important work being done in Japan is funded by the ERATO (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology) program. When the Japanese government launched ERATO in the early 1980s, it set out to break the mold of traditional university research by focusing on relatively risky projects built around the work of individual scientists rather than academic departments.

Now, ERATO is breaking its own mold: It recently launched its first projects to be based outside Japan—research on quantum optics at Stanford University in the USA. The goal of this research is controlling the movement of single electrons and single photon emissions in nanometer-scale semiconductor devices. A spinoff ERATO program is about to fund a large-scale cooperative project between researchers at Tokyo University and the University of California at Santa Barbara's Center on Quantum Structures.

Other examples of Japanese funding for international research: since 1990, the Research and Development Corp. of Japan (JRDC) has provided money for joint work with researchers at NSF's Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, a group of British universities working on atomic structures, a team at France's Louis Pasteur University working on supermolecules, and work on how radioassays track subfemtomole biological processes with a group at Uppsala University in Sweden. [Science 263:603-604]

There's good news for nanotechnology as an engineering field with strong roots in chemistry and a need for interdisciplinary work by chemists. At many universities, the teaching of chemistry has not changed significantly in decades. Now, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded fourteen $50,000 planning grants to groups working on reforming undergraduate chemistry curricula. The grants will be used to prepare comprehensive proposals that will lead to a few awards of up to $1 million per year each over three to five years. These grants were the first to be awarded; a second round of planning proposals will be considered later this year.

Many recipients seek to improve learning by extensive use of electronic delivery and communication systems as well as of computer visualization technologies. Integration of existing and emerging technologies into the chemistry curriculum is expected to make it possible for students to engage in interactive independent study.

Several planning grants indicate that traditional lecture-format teaching may be giving way to inquiry-based and cooperative learning. These student-centered approaches, used successfully for years in other disciplines—including chemical technology and chemical engineering—have yet to gain wide acceptance in chemistry. Another student-centered approach mentioned in several of the awards is the presentation of chemistry concepts on a need-to-know basis. This is issue-driven teaching, and the approach is usually modular. Nanotechnology can be an excellent driver for these kinds of learning.

Contemporary chemistry, as practiced, is an interdisciplinary enterprise, and most of the awards reflect a growing trend toward teaching chemistry as an interdisciplinary science. The proposal projects more teaching of chemistry concepts in the context of their impact on society, an approach highly useful to nanotechnology. This technique was pioneered in both the American Chemical Society's "Chemistry in the Community" high school curriculum, introduced in 1988, and its newly published "Chemistry in Context" college curriculum. [C&EN, 1/31/94:25]

US President Clinton's proposed research programs and projects comprise an agenda that many people in technology policy circles have recommended for some time. These have been articulated by such broad-based groups as the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Competitiveness Policy Council, as well as by more specialized groups as the Computer Systems Policy Project and the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing. The basic thrust of these recommendations is to:

From a Foresight viewpoint, it remains to be seen whether these changes successfully further nanotechnology R&D or turn out to be a "pick the winners" strategy in which the wrong "winners" are picked. [Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 1993:55-60]

US President Clinton and VP Gore want to encourage the nation's 726 federal laboratories to act as partners with industry whenever possible. They recommended that Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DoE), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) labs be reviewed and 10 to 20 percent of their budgets be redirected to joint R&D.

Legislators seem to agree. The proposed Department of Energy Laboratory Act of 1993 lists eight missions for the agency's labs, including the improvement of science, mathematics, and engineering education. The bill calls for consolidation of the nuclear weapons labs, creation of an industrial advisory board at each lab, speedup of the process of approving cooperative R&D agreements (CRADAs), and establishment of a committee that would ensure that the 10 to 20 percent budget figure is met. The Department of Energy National Competitiveness Technology Partnership Act of 1993 has similar goals.

A recent survey was conducted of chief technical officers (CTOs) and laboratory R&D division directors of companies that belong to the Industrial Research Institute (IRI), a professional trade association in Washington, D.C. The IRI membership consists of approximately 270 large, research-intensive companies that account for 85% of the R&D performed by U.S. industry. The 68 respondent firms represented a broad range of industrial sectors, including chemical, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, transportation, electronics, energy, food, machinery, and fabricated materials.

Increasingly, these and other companies are seeking technical information, expertise, access to specialized equipment, and new technology from outside sources in response to greater market pressure, tighter company budgets, and the globalization of competition. In the survey, CTOs and research directors ranked the significance of external sources to their company. Other US companies topped the list, followed by US universities, with both being "moderately" or "very" significant. Foreign-based companies and private databases were considered moderately significant, while federal labs and government databases were considered only "somewhat" significant.

Also, findings suggested that the major incentive for a company to interact with a federal lab was "access to technical resources." Informal interactions were most frequent, while those that entailed time, paperwork, or lost productivity occurred least frequently. Contract research and cooperative research with federal labs ranked highest for overall value to the company; licensing and employee exchange ranked lowest. Payoffs from contract research and cooperative research with federal labs took the form of leveraging R&D, access to expertise and facilities, and business opportunities, in that order. [Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 1993:37-42].

Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker serves on the Foresight Board of Advisors.

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Senate Testimony Available

Thanks to a donation by Dr. Ralph Merkle, we now have more copies of Dr. Drexler's Senate Testimony before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The subcommittee was chaired by then-Senator, now-VP Al Gore, whose knowledgeable comments on nanotechnology are also included.

To receive a copy, send $5 to Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA. You can also receive a copy by ordering ISBN 0-16-039898-3 from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402.

Dr. Drexler's written testimony submitted for the hearing (from Update 14)

Dr. Drexler's oral testimony, followed by discussion with Senator Gore (from Update 15)


Nanotechnology on the Internet

The most comprehensive collection of nanotechnology information on the Internet is that put together in collaboration with Foresight by computer scientist Dr. J. Storrs Hall of Rutgers University. It features:

Foresight would like to thank Dr. Hall for his ongoing work on making nanotechnology information available on the net. [Editor's note: Dr. Hall is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing]

Foresight Update 19 - Table of Contents


Nanotechnology & Space Video

A videotape is now available of Dr. Drexler's talk "Nanotechnology as a Shortcut to Space Settlement" given at the 1994 International Space Development Conference in Toronto. The VHS tape is 39 minutes in length and is sold at a cost of $11 ($15 Canadian) including shipping; inquire for prices outside the US and Canada. For information or to order, contact Huges Cormier Film & Video, 924 Rue Senneterre, Sainte-Foy, Quebec, G1X 3Y3, Canada, or call 418-658-1936.


New Journal

Free sample copies are available of the new journal Supramolecular Science published by Butterworth Heinemann. Based on the announcement circular, Supramolecular Science will include many topics of relevance to the "bottom-up" path: molecular design, self-assembly, "artificially engineered molecular aggregates, architectures, and machines," biomimetic approaches, molecular engineering, computer simulations, nano-preparation techniques, self-organizing systems, and "nano-tools" (STM, AFM).

Editorial Advisory Board members whose work has been featured in Update or who have spoken at Foresight conferences include Prof. R.R. Birge (Syracuse U.), Prof. R.S. Potember (Johns Hopkins), Prof. H. Sasabe (RIKEN), Dr. J.M. Schnur (NRL), Prof. U.B. Sleytr (Austria), Prof. J.F. Stoddart (Birmingham), and Dr. M. Ward (U. Minn.).

The first issue is scheduled for September 1994, with two issues to be published 1994 and four issues in 1995. The cost for both volumes together (1994 & 1995) is 160 pounds in Europe or 170 pounds elsewhere. Customers in North America may pay in US dollars at the prevailing exchange rate.

For subscription information, contact Journals Fulfillment Dept., Butterworth-Heinemann, 313 Washington St., 4FL, Newton, MA, 02158. Editorial communications should be sent to Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd., Linacre House, Jordan Hill, Oxford OX2 8DP, UK; fax +44 0 865 310898.

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From Foresight Update 19, originally published 15 September 1994.