A Senator's views on Nanotech R&D

from the Getting-it-right? dept.
UPI published an interview with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a few days after his 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act passed Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approval and headed for the Senate floor (see Nanodot post Sept. 25, 2002). The interview is noteworthy for the perspective it gives on the major ideas motivating one major sponsor of government funding of nanotechnology development. Wyden tackles the challenge of convincing a public unfamiliar with nanoscale science and technology that nanotechnology is worth funding. "If we show people practical applications, how it can revolutionize their lives, that's the best way to deal with it. … A big part of what we have to do is use this committee as sort of a bully pulpit to walk through technology questions, show the practical applications and relate them to the goals that often sound strange at the beginning, but could become part of people's daily conversation before too long."

Wyden is predictably interested in the potential of nanotechnology to provide good jobs for many people, but more unexpected is his insightful comment that "Certainly health care has a lot of potential applications, but there isn't a scientific field that can't be shown to be ripe for revolutionary changes in the way it operates (with nanotech). This is about a fundamental restructuring of a set of technologies with near-limitless potential."

Likewise, Wyden has a clear idea why government investment is important. "Let's take the two [applications] we've been talking about, electronics and health. Startup investments are going to be key, and venture capital is hard to get right now in a slippery economy. Some modest investments in the startup end can pay big dividends down the road." And "We're not going to over-hype it, we're going to say the government can't afford not to make these early investments. No one can pretend it'll be out there in the next 15 minutes … but there will be benefits for society, which of course is the litmus test."

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