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US No Longer On Top When It Comes To Nanotechnology

March 26, 2010

In a report issued to President Barack Obama on Thursday, his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said that the United States needs to invest more in nanotechnology if it wants to maintain a global lead in the promising field.

The council reported that between 2003 and 2008, US public and private nanotechnology investments grew at about 18 percent annually, compared to 27 percent throughout the world.

The council made recommendations that would help bring the US back to the forefront of the nanotech industry. Those recommendations include: Increased overall funding to coordinate research and development in nanotechnology, more focus on commercialization of nanotech products, and incentives put in place for foreign scientists and engineers who study in the United States to stay once they complete their training.

Nanotechnology is the design and manipulation of materials thousands of times smaller than a human hair. The innovation has been hailed as a way to make stronger, more lightweight materials, better cosmetics and even tastier food.

A global leader in nanotechnology, the United States invested nearly $6 billion in nanotechnology research in 2008, more than any other country, according to a report from the President’s council of 21 members.

“Though we are the leader, economic competition from other countries has dramatically increased,” said Maxine Savitz, who chairs the National Nanotechnology Initiative group, which consists of three council members and 12 nongovernmental nanotech experts.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) coordinates federal research and development involving the manipulation of matter at scales smaller than 100 billionths of a meter.

NNI found that in 2005, the European Union outspent US investments in nanotechnology research and development. In 2008, they found that Japan, China and South Korea, and other Asian countries spent even more.

The United States has more nanotechnology patents than any other nation, but China has recently surpassed the US in the number of patents applied for, the report said.

“Going forward we need to place even more emphasis on the commercialization of the technology — through, for example, strategic funding of nanomanufacturing — supported by improved measures of the true value-added that nano products can bring to our economy,” Savitz said in a statement.

To achieve strategic funding, NNI proposed a $2 million budget increase, up from the current $3 million. The funds would strengthen the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office, which oversees the group. The report has also recommended that NNI increase its investment in manufacturing of nanomaterials by 100 percent over the next five years.

NNI has channeled more than $12 billion in funds through 25 federal agencies for nanotechnology research and development over the past ten years.

The report also calls for better ways to track the impact of nanotechnology on the economy, the environment, and health.

Image Caption: Through an electron microscope, it’s possible to see these .5-millimeter images of Barack Obama. Each is made of around 150 million carbon nanotubes Photo: A. John Hart

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