Subcommittee Explores Economic Benefits of Federal Nanotechnology Initiative

Apr 15, 2011
Subcommittee Explores Economic Benefits of Federal Nanotechnology Initiative

Washington D.C. – Today the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and address the nation’s nanotechnology research and development (R&D) priorities for the future.  

“Nanotechnology represents a great deal of promise for the future of the U.S. economy, both in terms of leaps and bounds in the scientific knowledge base and in terms of potential products and employment opportunities as the technology continues to mature,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL).  “Many believe it has the potential to be the next industrial revolution leading to significant social and economic impact.  In these difficult budget times, Congress needs to be sure that all Federal investments will work to strengthen the economy, including our investments in nanotechnology.”

The NNI is a multi-agency coordinating body responsible for overseeing all federal nanotechnology research.  The NNI supports the basic research and development of nanotechnology which has become the cornerstone for U.S. leadership in the field.  The President’s fiscal year 2012 NNI budget supplement includes funding requests from the 15 federal agencies investing in nanotechnology.  The request includes over a 200 million dollar increase from FY10 enacted levels, representing an 11 percent increase.  This funding includes significant increases for environmental, health and safety (EHS) areas; solar energy conversion; sustainable nanomanufacturing; and nanoelectronics.

One discussion point at today’s hearing was the relative importance of EHS activities associated with nanotechnology. The President's FY12 budget supplement increases spending on EHS by 36 percent over fiscal year 2010 enacted levels. When asked today whether current federal and private research efforts are adequate to address concerns about EHS impacts of nanotechnology, Dr. James Tour, Professor of Chemistry, Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice University said that the increased funding would better spent on basic research.  Tour said, "I do not agree that we need that increase.  I would rather see that increase be put into the basic research because as basic researchers, we are already doing a lot of the EHS... I'm not sure that there needs to be that increase."

Another common discussion was the impact of an emerging nano industry on U.S. employment. A recent study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) projects that 6 million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide by 2020, with 2 million of those jobs in the United States.  Discussing the potential economic benefits of the emerging industry, Dr. Clayton Teague, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, told the Committee, “This funding has a remarkable return on investment when viewed in terms of expected job creation and the potential for significant economic growth.”  

Teague also discussed how the nanotechnology industry would employ a broad cross section of varying educational backgrounds. “Nanotechnology will continue to create many jobs requiring college degrees and higher education, but it also will create jobs that can be filled through training and vocational programs, including community colleges and 2-year degrees.”

Echoing these potential benefits, Dr. Seth Rudnick, Chairman of the Board at Liquidia Technologies, said that “[N]anotechnology has the undeniable potential to create entirely new industries and products that will positively impact our environment as well improve the quality of life and prevent disease. But we cannot just innovate, we need to scale our inventions to realize this potential, creating jobs and economic prosperity.”

In the three years since the Science, Space, and Technology Committee last held a nanotechnology focused hearing, there have been several new developments and advances in the field. Witnesses today discussed these developments, as well as the coordination, planning, and review mechanisms necessary to ensure that the involved agencies are effectively supporting program and government goals.

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:

Dr. Clayton Teague, Director, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office
Dr. Jeffrey Welser, Director, Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, Semiconductor Research Corporation
Dr. Seth Rudnick, Chairman of the Board, Liquidia Technologies
Dr. James Tour, Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice University
Mr. William Moffitt, President and CEO, Nanosphere, Inc.