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May 7, 2012

CRS Publishes Nanotechnology Policy Primer

Lynn L. Bergeson

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published an April 13, 2012, document entitled Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer that provides an overview of federal research and development (R&D) in nanotechnology, U.S. competitiveness, environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns, nanomanufacturing, and public understanding of and attitudes toward nanotechnology. CRS states that, since the launch of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2000 through fiscal year (FY) 2012, Congress has appropriated approximately $15.6 billion for nanotechnology R&D, including approximately $1.7 billion in FY 2012. President Obama has requested $1.8 billion in NNI funding for FY 2013. More than 60 nations have established similar programs, and, according to CRS, in 2010, the total global public R&D investments were approximately $8.2 billion, complemented by an estimated private sector investment of $9.6 billion.  Based on the data on inputs (e.g., R&D expenditures) and non-financial outputs (e.g., scientific papers, patents), the U.S. appears to be the overall global leader in nanotechnology, though CRS cautions that some believe the U.S. lead “may not be as large as it was for previous emerging technologies.” According to CRS, some research has raised concerns about the safety of nanoscale materials, and “[t]here is general agreement that more information on EHS implications is needed to protect the public and the environment; to assess and manage risks; and to create a regulatory environment that fosters prudent investment in nanotechnology-related innovation.”