NIST Nanotechnology Open House
Gaithersburg, Maryland June 20, 2002 - Summary -
Global Emerging Technology Institute
The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently held an open house discussing its research agenda for the nanotechnology area. The NIST, the oldest federal research lab in the U.S., is placing an increasing emphasis on developing key areas related to nanotechnology. Dr. Arden Cement, Director of NIST, gave a keynote dinner address the night before the event at the NEMI 2002 Roadmap Workshop. Dr. Bemet harked back to the famous address made by Richard Feynman over 42 years ago to the American Physical Society (the "Room at the Bottom" speech) which led to the creation of the entire nanotech movement that we are witnessing today. Dr. Feynman discussed the possibility of both observing and manipulating strands of DNA and RNA in order to solve the fundamental problems of biology and ways in which to construct computer circuits out of molecules and atoms. A point was made about how one defines the term nanotech, which means the research and development of structures and devices on the scale of individual molecules and atoms, exploiting the unique capabilities that come with working at that scale. Dr. Cement went on to emphasize how "very, very important" nanotech is to the future of NIST and the importance of developing a roadmap, regardless of how "blue sky" it may sound to scientists at the current moment, reminding the audience that the remarks of Mr. Feynman were considered science fiction when he made that speech some time ago.
The nanotech initiative at NIST consists of a number of Strategic Focus Areas, most of which are cross-disciplinary and are very geared toward attempting to measure the potential commercial benefits of developing nanotech. According to the National Science Foundation, the market for nanotech will reach an excess of $1 trillion annually within the next ten years. These figures and how they are broken down play a significant role in following through with the appropriate support for each focus area. Presentations on quantum information research, single-electron devices, nanostructure physics, nanomanufacturing and metrology, and chemical nanoanalysis metrology were made by the participants. Metrology- measurement technology- is an important element in turning laboratory innovation into a commercial enterprise. Measurement helps to control the manufacturing process, holding down costs and improving yield. NIST is dedicated toward providing the necessary metrology infrastructure, which will lead to the efficient commercialization of nanotech borne from the previously mentioned focus areas.
As nanotech mostly relates to molecular biology, some of the most promising applications for commercialization in the relatively near future will be related directly to cosmetics, biotechnology and drug discovery. Also, nanotech will lead to the development of a host of new types of composite materials, referred to as nanocomposites. The first publicly listed nanotech company, Nanophase Technologies, was a start-up company supported and funded by NISTís Advanced National Laboratory for producing uniform nanoscale particles from various materials. Last year, the company produced nearly 550,000 pounds of nano-engineered powders that are used in applications from cosmetic sunscreens to polishing silicon wafers.
Introductory remarks by Benjamin Wu, Deputy Under Secretary for Technology of the U.S. Commerce Department included a strong emphasis on the importance of developing the area of nanotech in the United States in conjunction with the NIST initiatives, as Commerce strongly believes nanotech to be one of the key emerging technologies of the next century. The U.S. Government "National Nanotechnology Initiative" announced by the Clinton Administration in 2000 has been strongly supported and expanded by the current Bush Administration and more funding is expected in the future as the general area of nanotech creates more areas of specialization on the R&D side. Mr. Wu said the government was committed toward supporting the emerging technology and encouraging more cooperation with the private sector in order to ensure the efficient and timely commercialization of nanotech, which will lead to an improvement in U.S. competitiveness. Though international competitiveness was an issue, it was also strongly believed that a great deal of global cooperation is needed in order to lead to faster breakthroughs. The participation of a number of other nations, which announced their own nanotech initiatives, will help expedite the above and global cooperation is expected.