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Senate Committee Approves Nanotech R&D Bill

WASHINGTON -- Nanotechnology legislation remained on the national fast track Thursday when the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill designating more than $2 billion over three years for nanotechnology research and development programs. A similar bill has already passed the House of Representatives.

The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (S. 189), sponsored by Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) and George Allen (R.-Va.), would support nanotechnology programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The legislation has been endorsed by several leading science, technology and business organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Nanobusiness Alliance and the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America.

The bill also requires a panel of experts be established to advise the President on nanotechnology issues. Wyden has strongly advocated the creation of a new panel made up solely of nanotechnology experts, but the existing President's Commission of Advisors on Science and Technology (P-Cast) may be used.

A National Nanotechnology Coordination Office created in the bill will provide administrative and technical support for the Presidents nanotechnology advisors and the research program in general. To study the potential effects of nanotechnology, a new American Nanotechnology Preparedness Center would also be established.

Nanotechnology refers to the ability of scientists and engineers to manipulate matter at the level of single atoms, and small groups of atoms. With new tools, structural properties of matter 1/100,000 the width of hair are being manipulated by researchers, and the technology holds the promise of changing the way many things are designed and made in information technology, medicine, energy, biotechnology, electronics and other fields.

For the technology sector, nanotechnology processes could possibly allow semiconductor innovation to advance Moore's Law beyond the limitations imposed by today's design, development, and fabrication tools.

The emerging science is the top inter-agency priority in the Bush Administration's fiscal 2004 proposed budget for non-medical, civilian scientific and technological research and development. The National Science Foundation (NSF) conservatively predicts a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology in little over a decade.

"Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize health care, manufacturing, agriculture, and a number of other industries, but it also holds great hope for the economy," said Wyden. "Putting America at the forefront of nanotech will ensure that our country reaps both the scientific and economic benefits that nanotechnology innovations -- from new medical devices to new manufacturing techniques -- can provide."