The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Number 99: August 23, 2000

Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology – the
investigation, design and manipulation of materials on the scale
of a few atoms – is a concept that has captured the interest of
many policymakers. As a priority in his FY 2001 budget request,
President Clinton announced a major new multiagency initiative
which would virtually double the current federal spending in
nanotechnology. While the appropriations bills so far have
fallen short of Clinton’s request for this field, Senate Energy
and Water Development appropriators stated that they “strongly
[support DOE’s] role in the government-wide investment in
nanotechnology,” and the chairman and ranking minority member of
the Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Committee cited the potential of
nanotechnology in a letter urging increased funding for NSF.

Clinton’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) would provide
$495 million in FY 2001 to six agencies (NSF, DOE, DOD, NASA,
DOC, and NIH) to expand nanoscale R&D in areas that would support
and advance their missions (see for more
details). “The Administration believes that nanotechnology will
have a profound impact on our economy and society in the early
21st century, perhaps comparable to that of information
technology or of cellular, genetic, and molecular biology,” said
presidential science advisor Neal Lane in a July 11 letter to
Members of Congress. With the letter, he transmitted an
implementation plan for the proposed initiative.

“Thus far,” the plan says, “Federal and academic investments in
nanoscale science, engineering, and technology have occurred in
open competition with other research topics within various
disciplines. This dynamic is one reason that U.S. nanotechnology
research efforts tend to be fragmented and overlap among
disciplines, areas of relevance, and sources of funding. It is
important to develop a strategic research and development and
implementation plan. A coordinated national effort could focus
resources on stimulating cooperation, avoid unwanted duplication
of efforts, capture the imagination of young people, and support
of basic sciences.”

Activities supported by the initiative will be coordinated by a
subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, made
up of White House officials and representatives of the
participating agencies. According to the report, “examples of
NNI coordination include identification of the most promising
research directions, encouraging funding of complementary fields
of research across agencies…, education and training of the
necessary workforce, and establishing a process by which centers
and networks of excellence are selected.”

The implementation plan establishes “Grand Challenges” in such
areas as smart materials, computing and memory storage, drug
delivery and diagnostics, water purification and desalinization,
energy conversion and storage, microspacecraft, biochemical
detection and mitigation, economical and safe transportation, and
national security. It lays out a timeline for the next five
years and research strategies for accomplishing the objectives,
and specifies infrastructure needs and the roles of the
participating agencies. Each agency “will invest in those R&D
projects that support its own mission as well as NNI goals” it
says, and each agency will retain “control over how it will
allocate resources against its proposed NNI plan based on the
availability of funding. Each agency will use its own methods
for inviting and evaluating proposals,” but will be subject to
two overriding management principles: open competition and/or
peer review, and interagency coordination.

“The National Nanotechnology Initiative: The Initiative and Its
Implementation Plan,” runs approximately 150 pages with
appendices and is now available on the Internet at


Audrey T. Leath

Public Information Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094