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Federal Government Revises Its Big Plans for Little Tech

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A group of federal agencies think nanotechnology could help them do their jobs better, and have resolved to invest more in its development. 

Earlier this week, the National Science and Technology Council updated its strategic plan for nanotechnology research and investment; that document, updated every three years, outlines various goals including committing to host more related contests and challenges. 

The roughly 20 agencies mentioned in the plan make up the National Nanotechnology Initiative—a governmentwide collaboration that has so far invested about $23 billion in research and the "responsible transfer of nanotechnology-based products from lab to market.”

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Agencies vary in their interest. The Transportation Department, for instance, thinks nano-scale solutions could help create newer, more durable materials for highway and transportation infrastructure. The Treasury Department plans to investigate nanotechnology's role in the production of currency. 

Nanoscale development, which the White House defined as about "100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair," could "significantly improve how we diagnose and treat disease, enable comfortable garments that protect our troops from biological and chemical threats, and provide the high-strength, lightweight components needed for the long journey to Mars,” John Holdren, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a foreword. 

Broadly, NNI's updated goals include transferring new technology into the commercial marketplace; investing in a skilled technology workforce, encouraging more public-private partnerships; and matching funds, or providing challenge prizes, for nanotechnology research. 

Other NNI members include the Defense Department, NASA, the Energy Department, the Health and Human Services Department, and parts of the intelligence community. Research funding comes from about 11 of those agencies' budgets, and not from a central budget. 

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