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Bush Signs Nanotechnology Bill

President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act Wednesday, authorizing $3.7 billion over the next four years for the emerging science. The legislation puts into law programs and activities already supported by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), one of the White House's highest multi-agency R&D priorities.

The bill, which becomes effective Oct. 1, is the first major technology legislation of the 108th Congress to reach the White House.

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.

The National Science Foundation estimates nanotechnology applications could be worth $1 trillion within the next decade.

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.

According to a White House statement, "Nanotechnology offers the promise of breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way we detect and treat disease, monitor and protect the environment, produce and store energy, and build complex structures as small as an electronic circuit or as large as an airplane."

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

It also 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 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.

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 risks from nanotechnology do not differ substantially from those of other technology hazards, such as toxicity of new chemicals or new biological materials, or environmental impacts," Dr. John Marburger, science advisor to the president and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in an White House online discussion. "I believe many of these concerns can be addressed with existing regulatory mechanisms. The new nanotechnology act specifies that these risks be investigated, widely discussed, and responsibly addressed."

Unlike other technology initiatives in Congress such as anti-spam bills and the extension of the Internet access tax ban, the nanotechnology bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support. The legislation is 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.