United states house of representatives committee on science and technology. Hearing of: The national nanotechnology initiative amendments act of 2008, testimony of Andrew D. Maynard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Nanotechnology has vast potential to address some of the greatest challenges facing society, including global climate change, poverty and disease. And with this potential comes the possibility of stimulating sustainable economic growth and job creation. The success of nanotechnology however is not a foregone conclusion. Alongside the challenges of developing the underlying science are broader issues that will influence its success or failure: • How can we learn to use such a powerful technology wisely? - Who will decide how it is used, and who will pay the cost? • How can innovative science be translated into successful products? • And in an increasingly crowded and connected world, how will the supposed beneficiaries of nanotechnology be engaged in its development and use? These questions will not be answered without a clear strategy. And without vision and strong leadership, the future of safe and successful nanotechnologies will be put in jeopardy. This committee should be applauded for having the foresight to author the 21st Century nanotechnology Research and Development Act-an act that has enabled the United States to lead the world in developing research programs to unlock the potential of the nanoscale. Yet as nanotechnology has increasingly moved from the laboratory to the marketplace, the challenges have shifted from stimulating innovative research to using this research in the service of society. This is why it is so important that the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendment Act of 2008 builds on the strengths of the 2003 act, and establishes a framework that will support nanotechnologies that can deliver on their promise. In particular, it is vital that the reauthorization addresses the potential for nanotechnologies to cause harm- and how this might be avoided. Real and perceived risks that are poorly identified, assessed and managed will undermine even the most promising new technologies, and nanotechnology is no exception. In this context, the 2008 Act needs to explicitly address five areas if it is to establish a sound framework for enabling safe, sustainable and successful nanotechnologies: 1,2 1. Risk Research Strategy. A top-level strategic framework should be developed that identifies the goals of nanotechnology risk research across the federal government, and provides a roadmap for achieving these goals. The strategy should identify information needed to regulate and otherwise oversee the safe development and use of nanotechnologies; which agencies will take a lead in addressing specific research challenges; when critical information is needed; and how the research will be funded. This top-level, top-down strategy should reflect evolving oversight challenges. It should be informed by stakeholders from industry, academia and citizen communities. It should include measurable goals, and be reviewed 2. every two years. 2. Funding for environmental safety and health research. A minimum of 10% of the federal government's nanotechnology research and development budget should be dedicated to goal-oriented environment, health and safety (EHS) research. At least $50 million per year should be directed towards targeted research directly addressing clearly-defined strategic challenges. The balance of funding should support exploratory research that is conducted within the scope of a strategic research program. Funding should be assessed according to a top- level, top-down risk research strategy, and be overseen by cross-agency leadership. 3. Leadership for risk research. A cross-agency group should be established that is responsible for implementing a nanotechnology EHS research strategy, and is accountable for actions taken and progress made. A coordinator should be appointed to oversee this group, as well as given resources and authority to enable funding allocations and interagency partnerships that will support the implementation of a strategic research plan. 4. Transparency. Government-funded nanotechnology environment safety and health research investment should be fully transparent, providing stakeholders with information on project activities, relevance, funding and outcomes. 5. Public-Private Partnerships. Partnerships that leverage public and private funds to address critical nanotechnology oversight issues in an independent, transparent and timely manner should be established, where such partnerships have the capacity to overcome the limitations of separate government and industry initiatives. Nanotechnology is a truly revolutionary and transformative technology, and we cannot rely on past ways of doing things to succeed in the future. Without strong leadership from the top, we run the risk of compromising the whole enterprise-not only losing America's technological lead, but also jeopardizing the good that could come out of nanotechnology for other countries and the world. Already, the hubris surrounding nanotechnology research and development (R&D) funding is giving way to a sobering reality: Based on the federal National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)-identified risk-relevant projects, in 2006, the federal government spent an estimated $13 million on highly relevant nanotechnology risk research (approximately 1% of the nano R&D budget), compared to $24 million in Europe,1 despite assurances from the NNI that five times this amount was spent on risk related research in Fiscal Year 2006.2 Nanotechnology will not succeed through wishful thinking alone. Instead, it will depend on clear and authoritative leadership from the top. If we are to fully realize the benefits of this innovative new technology, we must bridge the gap between our dreams and reality. When I look back on the origins of the NNI, I am impressed by the foresight and quality of leadership exerted by congressional visionaries from both sides of the aisle, the president and executive branch, scientists and engineers, businesspeople, and educators.3 Perhaps because of the tremendous successes achieved in the laboratory since its creation, we risk losing sight of the importance of meeting the challenges involved in taking the NNI to the next level of research, education, governance and commercialization. It is my belief that with the proposed act-and with the continued vigilance of this committee-this will not happen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNational Nanotechnology Initiative
Subtitle of host publicationAssessment and Recommendations
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9781617618222
ISBN (Print)9781606927274
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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