Foresight Update 40

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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National Nanotechnology Initiative in FY2001 Budget

Clinton Administration Requests $497 million for NT-Related R&D Funding

by Richard P. Terra

President Clinton's FY 2001 budget request includes a major new initiative, called the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), that proposes a $227 million increase in the government's investment in nanotechnology research and development. The budget request was submitted to Congress on 7 February.

The Administration is making NNI a top priority. The initiative will nearly double federal spending in the field over the next five years. The plan calls for an increase in nanotechnology research spending to a total of $497 million in the coming fiscal year. The NNI is a formal implementation of the nanotechnology policy that has been under consideration for the past year (see coverage in Foresight Update 36 & 37, and Foresight Briefing #5). In Congressional hearings last year, the policy received positive bi-partisan support.

NNI is just part of a larger science and technology funding increase proposed for FY2001 and beyond. In a speech at California Institute of Technology on 21 January, President Clinton announced he request a $2.8 billion increase in federal science and technology R&D funding, called the "Twenty-First Century Research Fund," in his FY2001 budget proposal. Clinton described the funds as investments that will enable America to continue to lead in the 21st century by increasing support in all scientific and engineering disciplines, including biomedical research, information technology, clean energy, university-based research - and nanotechnology.

Among a number of large funding initiatives, Clinton specifically called for the funding of NNI to accelerate basic research in the field:

"My budget supports a major new national nanotechnology initiative worth $500 million," Clinton said. "Cal Tech is no stranger to the idea of nanotechnology, the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level. Over 40 years ago, Cal Tech's own Richard Feynman asked, what would happen if we could arrange the atoms one by one the way we want them? . . . Just imagine, materials with 10 times the strength of steel and only a fraction of the weight; shrinking all the information at the Library of Congress into a device the size of a sugar cube; detecting cancerous tumors that are only a few cells in size. Some of these research goals will take 20 or more years to achieve. But that is why -- precisely why -- . . . there is such a critical role for the federal government."

Clinton also alluded to the NNI in his annual State of the Union address to Congress on 26 January.

"Now, in the new century, innovations in science and technology will be key not only to the health of the environment but to miraculous improvements in the quality of our lives and advances in the economy's. . . . we ought to keep in mind: government-funded research brought supercomputers, the Internet, and communications satellites into being.

"Soon researchers will bring us devices that can translate foreign languages as fast as you can talk; materials 10 times stronger than steel at a fraction of the weight; and, this is unbelievable to me, molecular computers the size of a teardrop with the power of today's fastest supercomputers.

"To accelerate the march of discovery across all these disciplines in science and technology, I ask [Congress] to support my recommendation of an unprecedented $3 billion in the 21st Century Research Fund, the largest increase in civilian research in a generation. We owe it to our future."

"These steps will allow us to lead toward the far frontiers of science and technology. They will enhance our health, the environment, the economy in ways we can't even imagine today."

Agencies participating in NNI include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

NNI - Current and Proposed Funding by Agency:
FY 2000 ($M) FY 2001 ($M) Percent Increase
NSF 97 217 124%
DoD 70 110 57%
DoE 58 96 66%
NASA 4 20 400%
DoC (NIST) 8 18 125%
NIH 32 36 13%
Total 270 497 84%

Roughly 70% of the new funding proposed under the NNI will go to university based research, which will help meet the growing demand for workers with nanoscale science and engineering skills.

According to a New York Times report ("A Clinton Initiative in a Science of Smallness," 21 Jan 2000) on Clinton's proposal for NNI, there has been an explosion of nanotechnology-oriented research proposals coming from university campuses in the last year, a government official said,and it has only been possible to finance a fraction of them under the current spending limits.

NNI builds upon previous and current nanotechnology programs. According to the NSF, the initiative's research "investment" strategy is balanced across five basic funding mechanisms:

Proposed Funding by NNI Research Portfolio:

According to Dr. Neal Lane, the President's Science Advisor, "The Administration believes that nanotech will have a profound impact on our economy and society in the early 21st Century, perhaps comparable to that of information technology or cellular, genetic, and molecular biology."

Lane and other Administration officials, including NSF Director Dr. Rita Colwell, were cautiously optimistic that the increases in science and technology research and development funding in the President's FY2001 budget would be approved by Congress.

Resources and References

FY2001 Federal Budget Request

Foresight Update 40 - Table of Contents


Robert A. Freitas Jr., Author of Nanomedicine, Joins Zyvex

Zyvex LLC announced on March 1st that Robert A. Freitas Jr., author of Nanomedicine, has joined the company as a Research Scientist. Freitas, the world's foremost expert on potential medical applications of molecular nanotechnology, has already finished Volume I of the three-volume treatise, and will finish Volumes II and III at Zyvex. Nanomedicine is the first in-depth survey of the impact of this emerging technology on medicine.

"Applications of nanotechnology will revolutionize the 21st century, and medical applications could be the most revolutionary of all," said Jim Von Ehr, President & CEO of Zyvex. "Applications of nanomedicine are years or even decades away, but the incredible size of the opportunity (measured in either lives or dollars) makes it worthwhile to directly support groundbreaking research and to encourage others to do likewise. We are developing some of the enabling technology for this field, and think Rob's work can help us open a dialog with the medical researchers who will actually make these devices."

Commenting on his decision to join Zyvex, Freitas said, "I'm delighted that Zyvex has decided to support the completion of Nanomedicine, and proud to be part of the Zyvex team. Many people have made it possible for me to get this far, and I sincerely thank them all."

The Foresight Institute and the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, where Freitas is a Research Fellow, have provided major funding in support of Freitas' research and writing of his ground-breaking examination of the medical applications of molecular nanotechnology. After five years of work, the first volume of his projected three-volume treatise was published last October.

"I've also been amazed at the rapid growth of interest in all the applications of nanotechnology," Freitas added. "Public awareness of nanotechnology has really taken off since Clinton's announcement of the NNI. The technical progress in just the last few years has seized people's imaginations and will stimulate even more interest and progress in the future. This makes completing Nanomedicine both more enjoyable and more valuable."

Medical applications of nanotechnology could eventually make possible subcellular medical nanorobots able to hunt down and kill cancer cells, clear out clogged arteries, provide oxygen during a heart attack, attack and destroy invading bacteria and viruses or even reverse the damage caused by aging.

Zyvex, based in Richardson, Texas, was started in 1997 with the goal of building the key tool for creating molecular nanotechnology, the assembler. The privately held company is engaged in research and development of molecular nanotechnology, concentrating on what it believes to be the three key technologies for the field: mechanochemistry, nanopositioning, and system design.

Foresight Update 40 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 40, originally published 31 March 2000.