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Nanoscale science, engineering and technology--commonly referred to collectively as nanotechnology--is believed by many to offer extraordinary economic and societal benefits. Congress has demonstrated continuing support for nanotechnology and has directed its attention primarily to three topics that may affect the realization of this hoped for potential: federal research and development (R&D) in nanotechnology; U.S. competitiveness; and environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns. This report provides an overview of these topics--which are discussed in more detail in other CRS reports--and two others: nanomanufacturing and public understanding of and attitudes toward nanotechnology.
The development of this emerging field has been fostered by significant and sustained public investments in nanotechnology R&D. Nanotechnology R&D is directed toward the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers. At this size, the properties of matter can differ in fundamental and potentially useful ways from the properties of individual atoms and molecules and of bulk matter. Since the launch of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2000 through FY2009, Congress has appropriated approximately $10.2 billion for nanotechnology R&D. In addition, the President requested an additional $1.6 billion in funding for nanotechnology R&D for FY2010. While Congress has passed all of the regular appropriations acts, the precise amount provided for FY2010 is currently under evaluation by the agencies and the White House Office of Management and Budget and will likely be published with the President's FY2011 budget request in February 2010. More than 60 nations have established similar programs. In 2006 alone, total global public R&D investments reached an estimated $6.4 billion, complemented by an estimated private sector investment of $6.0 billion. Data on economic outputs that are used to assess competitiveness in mature technologies and industries, such as revenues and market share, are not available for assessing nanotechnology. Alternatively, data on inputs (e.g., R&D expenditures) and non-financial outputs (e.g. scientific papers, patents) may provide insight into the current U.S. position and serve as bellwethers of future competitiveness. By these criteria, the United States appears to be the overall global leader in nanotechnology, though some believe the U.S. lead may not be as large as it has been for previous emerging technologies.
Some research has raised concerns about the safety of nanoscale materials. There is general agreement that more information on EHS implications is needed to protect the public and the environment; to assess and manage risks; and to create a regulatory environment that fosters prudent investment in nanotechnology-related innovation. Nanomanufacturing--the bridge between nanoscience and nanotechnology products--may require the development of new technologies, tools, instruments, measurement science, and standards to enable safe, effective, and affordable commercial-scale production of nanotechnology products. Public understanding and attitudes may also affect the environment for R&D, regulation, and market acceptance of products incorporating nanotechnology.
In 2003, Congress enacted the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act providing a legislative foundation for some of the activities of the NNI, addressing concerns, establishing programs, assigning agency responsibilities, and setting authorization levels. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate remain actively engaged in the NNI. Legislation has been introduced in the House (H.R. 554) and Senate (S. 1482) that would amend the act. The House passed H.R. 554 on February 11, 2009. The Senate has not acted on this legislation. The 111th Congress may address policy issues related to the NNI through this or other legislation.
Contents Overview The National Nanotechnology Initiative Structure Funding Selected Issues U.S. Competitiveness Global Funding Scientific Papers Patents Environmental, Health, and Safety Implications Nanomanufacturing Public Attitudes and Understanding Tables Table 1. NNI Funding, by Agency Contacts Author Contact Information
Congress continues to demonstrate interest in and support for nanotechnology due to what many believe is its extraordinary potential for delivering economic growth, high-wage jobs, and other societal benefits to the nation. To date, the Science Committee in the House and Senate Committee on Commerce have directed their attention primarily to three topics that may affect the United States' realization of this hoped for potential: federal research and development (R&D) investments under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI); U.S. international competitiveness; and environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns. This report provides a brief overview of these topics--which are discussed in greater detail in CRS reports (1)--and two other subjects of interest to Congress: nanomanufacturing and public attitudes toward, and understanding of, nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology research and development is directed toward the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers. At this size, the physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials can differ in fundamental and potentially useful ways from the properties of individual atoms and molecules, on the one hand, or bulk matter, on the other hand.
In 2000, President Clinton launched the NNI to coordinate federal R&D efforts and promote U.S. competitiveness in nanotechnology. Congress first funded the NNI in FY2001 and has provided increased appropriations for nanotechnology R&D in each subsequent year. In 2003, Congress enacted the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (P.L. 108- 153). The act provided a statutory foundation for the NNI, established programs, assigned agency responsibilities, authorized funding levels, and initiated research to address key issues.
Federal R&D investments are focused on advancing understanding of fundamental nanoscale phenomena and on developing nanomaterials, nanoscale devices and systems, instrumentation, standards, measurement science, and the tools and processes needed for nanomanufacturing. NNI appropriations also fund the construction and operation of major research facilities and the …