The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Number 46: May 1, 2000

“This new technology is very exciting and might lead to
discoveries that will change the way almost everything, from
building materials to vaccines to computers, are designed and
made.” – Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)

As reported in FYI #44, the field of nanotechnology is garnering
a lot of interest within the Administration and in Congress.
With a $227 million increase for nanotechnology research,
President Clinton has made the “National Nanotechnology
Initiative” one of the major science and technology priorities in
his FY 2001 budget request. The White House Office of Science
and Technology Policy, and the National Science and Technology
Council (NSTC – made up of the Administration’s Cabinet members
with science and technology responsibilities) have spent
significant effort studying the potential of this field and
putting together supporting documents to back up the President’s

According to supplemental documents from Clinton’s FY 2001 budget
request, “The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at
the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures
with fundamentally new molecular organization.” Supporting
materials from the NSTC state that “control of matter at
molecular levels means tailoring the fundamental properties,
phenomena, and processes exactly at the scale where the basic
properties are determined. Therefore, by determining the novel
properties of materials and systems at this scale, nanotechnology
could impact the production of virtually every human-made object
– everything from automobiles, tires, and computer circuits to
advanced medicines and tissue replacements – and lead to the
invention of objects yet to be imagined…. As the twenty-first
century unfolds, nanotechnology’s impact on the health, wealth,
and security of the world’s people is expected to be at least as
significant as the combined influences in this century of
antibiotics, the integrated circuit, and human-made polymers.”

President Clinton’s FY 2001 initiative would nearly double the
federal investment in nanotechnology research over FY 2000
funding, increasing it by $227 million to a total of $497
million. The investment would be spread across many R&D
agencies, with approximately 70 percent of the new money going to
university-based research, to help produce a new generation of
scientists skilled in this field. The investment strategy would
build upon previous work, and be balanced across various
mechanisms and activities: long-term fundamental nanoscience and
engineering research; grand challenges; Centers and Networks of
Excellence; research infrastructure; and the ethical, legal, and
societal implications of progress in the field.

Under the FY 2001 budget request, NSF would receive $217 million
for the initiative, an increase of $120 million, or 124 percent,
over FY 2000. Other R&D agencies would receive the following
amounts: DOD: an increase of $40 million (57%) to $110 million;
DOE: an increase of $38 million (66%) to $96 million; NASA: an
increase of $16 million (400%) to $20 million; Commerce
Department: an increase of $10 million (125%) to $18 million; and
NIH: an increase of $4 million (13%) to $36 million.

Congressional response so far seems generally supportive of
federal investment in nanotechnology. At the Senate Science and
Technology Caucus’s April 5 Roundtable Discussion, Senator Evan
Bayh (D-IN) said, “research in nanotechnology is extremely
important to future rates of innovation in the country.
Innovation is the key to our comparative advantage in the global
economy, yet federal investment in the physical sciences that
help drive innovation – math, chemistry, geology, physics, and
chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering – are all
declining, as are the number of college and advanced degrees in
these areas…. It is vitally important that we increase our
investment in the physical sciences, including nanotechnology, if
we are to see increases in productivity and incomes in the years

Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), added that nanotechnology is “a
fantastic new area of technology” with the promise of many
commercial applications, but progress “will only occur if the
federal government continues its investment in basic science.”
At a hearing of the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research
last June, subcommittee chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) agreed that
“it seems obvious” that the U.S. should “aggressively pursue
research in this area.” However, whether congressional
appropriators have sufficient funds and see fit to support the
research at the level requested by the President remains to be
seen. Congress plans to begin drafting the appropriations bills
later this month.

Further information on the Administration’s nanotechnology
initiative can be found at

Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094