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Nano Gets Boost from Bush

President pledges another $500 million for National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The science of small will get a big boost next year, if President Bush has his way.

In his budget proposal released last week, Bush requested $485 million for nanotechnology research in fiscal year 2002, a fifteen percent increase from the $422 million Congress granted last year.

The money will come from twelve government agencies-twice the number currently participating-and will fund research in areas from pollution control to biotechnology to space travel, says Mihail Roco, a key architect of the initiative and chair of the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science and Engineering Technology.

There’s Plenty of Funds at the Bottom

While less than the $495 million Clinton requested for fiscal year 2001, Bush’s request is more likely to be approved by a friendly Congress, Roco told technologyreview.com. In addition, Roco predicts that government agencies will spend at least $25 million on science related to nanotechnology, such as materials research for the space program.

“We have a good reaction from Congress on this initiative,” Roco said, adding that Congress may increase some parts of the nanotechnology budget.

Once again, the National Science Foundation will contribute the most to nanotechnology research: $174 million, followed by the Department of Defense ($133 million), the Department of Energy ($97 million), the National Institutes of Health ($45 million), the National Air and Space Administration ($22 million) and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology ($5 million).

Six newcomers will also participate in the initiative: the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Transportation, Treasury, State, and the Environmental Protection Agency. New programs include Justice Department research into forensic nanotechnology and grants from the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing to support new nano-printing technologies.

Goals and Accomplishments

The initiative will issue two new grant challenges: one for methods of manufacturing at the nanoscale and another for developing tools for nanotechnology research, such as new techniques for experimental research and new methods of computer modeling.

To date, the National Nanotechnology Initiative has helped more than thirty universities launch nanotechnology research centers, including major efforts at Northwestern University’s Institute for Nanotechnology (see Nanotech Goes to Work) and the California NanoSystems Institute, a quarter-billion dollar joint effort between the University of California at Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara and industry.

In addition, Roco said, most wealthy nations responded to the U.S. initiative with nano plans of their own. “Basically, the National Nanotechnology Initiative has become an international nanotechnology initiative,” he says. For example, just last month Japan announced its own $410 million program.

This past year, the initiative also began to address how nanotechnology will affect society. This month, the National Science Foundation will publish a 400-page report, co-edited by Roco, on those implications. In that report, Roco predicts that in ten to fifteen years the entire semiconductor industry, as well as half the pharmaceutical industry, will rely on nanotechnology.

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