RealTime IT News

Senate Approves $3.7B Nanotech Bill

The U.S. Senate has approved $3.7 billion over the next four years for nanotechnology research and development. The emerging science is the top inter-agency R&D priority in the Bush Administration's fiscal 2004 proposed budget, excluding medical and military projects.

Nanotechnology refers to the ability of scientists and engineers to work with matter at the atomic level. With new tools, structural properties of matter 1/100,000 the width of hair can be manipulated.

The technology could change the way products are designed and made in IT, medicine, energy, bio-technology, electronics and other fields. For IT, nanotechnology processes could possibly allow semiconductor innovation to advance Moore's Law beyond the limits of today's design, development, and fabrication tools.

The Senate version represents a compromise with the House Science Committee, which earmarked $2.36 billion over three years. The House is expected to pass the Senate version within the next few days.

"As soon as we pass, it goes straight to the president," said Jeff Donald, deputy communications director for the House Science Committee.

Sponsored in the Senate by Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D.-OR) and George Allen (R.-VA) and in the House by Sherwood Boehlert (R.-NY) and Mike Honda (D.-CA), the bill provides a structure for coordination of research across agencies.

It also emphasizes interdisciplinary research, seeks to address concerns raised by nanotechnology, and requires outside reviews of the programs.

"The nanotechnology program will be a model of how government, universities and industry can work together to advance science and bolster our nation's economy," Boehlert said in a statement.

The bill creates an advisory board from industry and academia to help articulate short-term (1-5 years), medium-range (6-10 years), and long-range (10+ years) goals and objectives and to establish performance metrics for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which is a collaborative initiative of 13 federal agencies.

Under the legislation, the advisory board will submit an annual report to the president and Congress regarding nanotechnology progress, and a review on funding levels for nanotechnology activities for each federal agency.

In addition, the bill calls for the president to establish a national program to undertake longterm basic nanoscience and engineering research that focuses on understanding nanometer-size building blocks. Emphasis would be on potential breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing, nanoelectronics, medicine and health care, computation and IT and national security.

"To ensure that the United States takes the lead in this new and promising field of science and technology, we must provide for the organization and guidance necessary to foster interaction between government, academia and industry," Lieberman said. "The Senate passage of this legislation today brings us a step closer to providing a strong framework to elicit contributions from all three sectors and move nanotechnology research and development to the next level."

Added Allen, "Nanotechnology is a 'bottom-up' approach much like building a sculpture atom-by-atom and molecule-by-molecule instead of cutting it from a larger rock. As this technology grows, its impact will be felt throughout the economy as the market for new applications grows and thousands of new jobs are created."

Both the House and Senate bills has been endorsed by several 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.

F. Mark Modzelewski, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, called the bill "a vital catalyst for the development and growth of what will become a $1 trillion piece of the global economy."